How to Make Successful Decisions in Spite of Yourself

My father used to be full of sage advice. He would walk into a room where I was playing, then he’d start to talk to me about life.

He was full of sayings, and poems about how to be better at something when faced with the confusion of life’s choices.

I listened obediently each time, stopping my play, and then watched through the big window as he left the house, got into his car and drove away to work as a salesman.

I wondered what the hell he was on about most of the time, but I loved the one about the donkey starving between two bails of hay. It made think about life’s mysteries.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” Nelson Mandela

The conundrum of having a choice between two of the same, and not having the intelligence to quickly figure out that the decision was already settled.

We make choices based on hopes, or we make choices based on our fears. It depends on our mind-set, are we a person who runs from problems? Or are we a person who creates change and deals with the consequences?

It’s like the shiny-object-syndrome, we become beguiled by all of the possibilities, wondering which choice is going to be most pleasant.

We love to be active, so long as it’s not strenuous for our brains and bodies.

It’s easier to switch on a film than to pick up a big fat book and start reading. How often have you started a book, and after a few minutes stopped, and taken a look at the thick block of pages yet to read?

Each time we stop and look, pause in action, we are going into a faulty decision making process. We are becoming like the donkey and the bails of hay.

We are looking for the easy way to continue with the actions. The least painful process always seems to be the best way in the end.

We know that the book is fat, and large, and it will take us time to read it. We focus too much on the work of reading through what appears to be something boring and tedious — we have made a wrong association with the object by using known ideas about big blocks of writing. Everybody baulks at enormous amounts of black and white text to be read and digested, as if it were a homework task set by a strict teacher.

Our reasoning is often based on what we already know, and not on what the facts are. We don’t know what’s inside the book, the information, the story, the fun and games of having our mind led along to be tricked and duped by a smart author. That’s something good and it fits in with many other games that we would normally jump at doing.

We do know what we like, and why we like it. Decisions are often based on the need for satisfaction of the senses rather than the best outcome.

Money isn’t food, water or shelter, but many people focus solely on money, hard cash as their goal in life. Their decisions are based on whether a new action will lead to them putting money in the bank.

These type of people miss out on so many enjoyable situations because they can only see the money value in a thing, or not. Social events are meaningless to them, unless it means new introductions, an exchange of business ideas and a profitable evening with the promise of new money opportunities.

I’ve always thought that people who have taught themselves to be focused on cash only decisions, are very much like the stupid donkey and the bails of hay. One day they will be faced with a dilemma of taking an opportunity that will lead to great profits or choosing to follow a path that leads to money — then, they’re gonna be totally stumped.

Their thought processes were designed to keep things so simple that everything else that is possible should never be taken into consideration.

These types of people often make terrible decisions about how they live. Their homes are garish objects of fancy glitter, they own cars that are big and uneconomical gas-pumps on wheels. They’ll go on vacation to a country that is considered the “in-place” and eat in restaurants that offer food-decadence for a high price that would make me feel ashamed of myself for participating in.

They are allowing the group mentality of the worst type of wealthy people to make decisions for them. The result is to be sure that they fit in and show compliance to a mind-set of decadence. They follow a dogma. They are often driven by fear.

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Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

We make decisions based on what’s possible, and often we know that a good decision isn’t about whether it feels good to do it. It’s about the results that we will experience.

We want wealth, in a healthy way. We need to flourish as humans on an individual level so that society will enjoy the benefits of many people doing well, living the life, or just being able to get on with interesting projects that make life worth living.

Decision making processes dominate our minds everyday. To make a decision is to commit to an action and then get on with it. The action will bring results.

The problem is that when we exercise intelligence, we don’t want to be like the rude rich who just want the money only and make a false decision about how to spend it later. We want to know, through correct decision making processes, what we want, and why we want it.

These thoughts help us feel better about the decision and give us motivation that causes our actions to be easier and more successful.

When you know why, how is easy.

The decision is not about how, that’s a question that can be answered by doing. Many people fail to make a decision because they jump the gun and start thinking about how hard a thing is. They don’t even ask themselves the better question of why they are even thinking about the decision.

In doing so, they allow themselves to fall into group mentality and be swayed by collective thought about the whole affair. They’re going to make their decision based on what other people think is best.

This type of thinking happens when we allow ourselves to block reason and open up a vein of thought that smacks of superstitious nonsense, something we read on the internet about what another person did to get rich, build a house or have a successful start-up.

Stories of wealth and success are read quickly, and the feelings they invoke raise the blood of a warrior business person, the quickness of mind fills the thoughts with tales of successful lives and soon we can be sure that the decision has been made to become wealthy and buy a beautiful house.

How the decision was made is a mystery, but it feels made, and it feels right.

Often, these type of decisions are made through fear of missing out on something big, or believing that what we see is the only opportunity that will come our way.

Feeling right is what we all want. It envelopes the emotions, gives us confidence and allows us to go into action without foolish feelings that could cause shame.

But to be right, a feeling so strong, is not the same as weighing up the odds and concluding that an action is going to turn out favourably for us.

Decisions made with habitual thoughts that evoke feelings are often based on information gleaned from other groups of people. Their lives, circumstances and way of doing things is not the same as our lives.

My father was salesman. He wanted to build a brokerage which would mean that he could have other salespeople doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Good capitalistic thinking, the “all’s fair in love and war”, thinking of money making.

He worked hard, made sales and enough money to open offices. He was successful and it was definitely based on good decision making. He knew the business and the market.

He employed new sales people based on his own knowledge of what an effective salesperson needed to be.

Things went well, sales came in and business was flourishing. The office looked like a hive of activity with salespeople manning the phones, people coming and going and new people walking through the door asking for a piece of the action. I observed all of this from my corner seat in the boss’s office.

Great salespeople led to more and more sales. My father made a new decision, he would allow the salespeople he had employed to get on and do what they do, they were good enough. He designated one of them as sales manager and trainer.

He sat back and watched and enjoyed.

Soon though, sales figures dropped and things were changing. Everybody seemed to be doing the same as ever but the income was beginning to thin out.

His decision to allow the creme-de-la-creme of salespeople to run the sales side of things wasn’t a constant. It wasn’t based on knowing exactly who these people were and how they felt about things day by day. It was based on trusting his instincts about what he had set up for himself.

He was hoping that he had got it right, the whole configuration of business mechanisms in sales, and that would be enough. He felt right about his decision making process.

It soon became obvious as salespeople had nothing more to offer, and started to look elsewhere for juicy sounding opportunities in business.

Sales is a tough business to be in, you have to be a self-motivated, fast moving type of animal who has self-knowledge and knows why they want something. That’s how salespeople tick, and high energy people are often the ones who have constant success in a field of work that requires high energy. Intelligence, creativity and vision are also said to be success factors in sales, as well as a lot of other businesses.

My father was flummoxed by the experience. He went back to making sales calls and doing the whole thing himself. He flourished but continued to be baffled by the other salespeople, most had left the company and one or two continued to work successfully.

What he didn’t take into consideration was that he was dealing with a group of people who were feeding off each others’ enthusiasm and positive outlook.

They had made decisions to become salespeople after listening to the great opportunity that my father told them about. Then they confirmed that this was a real thing by chatting with each other about it in the phone booth area of the office. For them, everything felt right.

Their neighbour had confirmed that what the other guy felt about the situation was the same feeling that they had. So, it must be all true — you can make a bundle of cash if you go out and sell to XX many people each day, just don’t give up.

The enthusiasm that ruled the sales office was great. You could feel the buzz in the air and the talk of victory from each person created a feeling of being in the right place at the right time.

The problems that caused these salespeople to fail and drift away from the success they were having was because of the basis of their decision making. They had heard about something great happening, they went and got involved and began to run with the winning pack.

As soon as they were separated from the office environment and away from the group mentality, they were faced with their own thoughts about what they were doing. Constant nagging thoughts about “how long can I keep this up?”, or, “when do I get to quit, just for a while?”. I can imagine those were the thoughts they had as they knocked on doors, visited offices and were glared at by unwelcoming receptionists.

All these doubts eating away at a decision that, apparently, they had already made.

To know yourself, is to be in the position to make decisions about your life.

To know what others are doing, is not a basis for your own decision making process.

It doesn’t matter if twenty people are successful at doing something, and when observed appear to have common characteristics in their actions, they are not us, or not you.

The actions of a human being working are so intricately entwined with emotions, thoughts, impulses and set-plans that are being followed, it is probably impossible to say exactly what it is that is causing their success — or failure.

Results observed after action are judged as success or failure. We make judgements that we believe are rational and those decisions help us to make wise choices in future.

This type of thinking creates a process of thought which causes us to focus on results — everywhere. When we decide that we will undertake a new enterprise, we want to know if it will be successful so we take a look at what other people are doing in that field of work, and we decide if it suits us, if it looks good. It’s good if a large group of people are successful at the work. It’s not good if only one or two people seem to have cracked the code on how to be successful at the job.

The outcome that we observe in other people will often be the basis for our decisions about whether to go ahead with a business or task. This is wrong thinking, and leads to confusion.

This type of thinking comes from our “old-brain”, the part of the brain that is still looking out for predators and environmental dangers. Our “modern brain”, is still not big enough to deal with all of our decision making processes, so we automatically use thought processes that go back thousands of years. We call them instincts.

Thinking of the results of an action as proof of a good decision is far from being logical or reasonable. Hindsight will show us that we have done something right, but it doesn’t mean that we can get the same actions right each time. Conditions change and are often beyond our control.

Our brains are just not developed to deal with a simple correlation between success and action on a logical basis as being solid proof of successful actions.

Annie Duke, the author of “Thinking in Bets”, a book about how her poker playing decisions helped her understand life’s choices, states that our brain is geared towards making assumptions based on our fears.

As Annie points out, when our ancestors were out on the plains of Africa and they heard the wind rustling in the bushes, they would investigate and discover that it was indeed the wind in the bushes.

Later, when they were out on the plains hunting and heard another rustling in the bushes, they assumed it was the wind. A lion then jumped out and ate them. A type II error of the brain making false assumptions based on previous knowledge led to what’s called a ‘false positive’, and death.

A type II error is when we assume that every rustle in the bushes is not only the wind, but a lion waiting to attack. The brain seeks confirmation by creating connections between various actions and environmental happenings and this makes us feel certain that we know what’s going on in the world.

We begin to believe that our correlations between events are actually signs of causation to successful results. This is what leads us to making bad decisions.

There are so many parts of the brain that seem to work well together to enhance our intelligent thinking, but we are also plagued by the old and deeply rooted patterns of thought, or impulse, that our ancestors learned in order to survive in a savage world.

Fear is always present in our thoughts.

Our brain always seeks certainty so we have devised ways that help us feel certain about our decision making.

We feel right about things, we just know that we are in the right place at the right time, or we claim to have studied every detail of an idea so that we are so certain we are right about what will happen, we feel confident about going ahead with our actions.

Yet, we don’t know how to predict the future, so we look at the actions of other successful people, make assumptions about correlating actions and assume that it is proof that if we do what they are doing, we will certainly achieve success.

Psychologists who have studied the decision making process are more focused on why we make bad decisions. I suppose they hope it will give us clue about finding a fool-proof method of decision making for us, so far they haven’t found one.

When ever I must make a decision, I go into study mode. I start to investigate and discover everything I can about my subject. The process is about wanting to reach a decision about whether I should actually take action or drop the whole project.

My experience of taking action is interesting. Action never reflects much about what I studied and found. I often feel that I’ve wasted my time reading up on something, talking to people about the subject etc. It was a decision made in action, really.

Action is the Key

It was when I acted that I realised that I really wanted to do what ever it was that I had started. And sometimes I’ve acted, then realised that it’s not for me.

A lot of time saved. Investigating by watching, reading and asking is okay for some, but the information gathered often doesn’t have anything to do with the reality that we experience when we get on do something.

It is often information based on the opinions of others, and the actions of other people who are living a very different life to us. This can’t be helpful for us when it’s all about making a decision.

Summum Bonum

Anyway, another salesperson story. I once went to a big sales meeting to listen to the top sales stars in the industry. It cost me a bucket load of money for a ticket, but I was told that it would open my eyes to how to be a great salesman.

There were several very successful salespeople on the platform, all of them earning up to 500,000 bucks a year, one woman had just hit a million bucks at the end of the last year.

Hundreds of very keen and dead serious salespeople listened to the speakers tell their tales of success. People made notes, grinned and rubbed their chins as they took everything on board.

When the top salesperson got up and talked, she told us that basically she goes out, talks to people everyday, makes lots of appointments with the right people and ends up making a ton of solid sales each month. And, oh yeah, she said, with so much success now, she feels she deserves a break, so she decided to take Fridays off and enjoy a long weekend in her beautiful country house.

The audience smiled at each, shook hands and went back to the office.

When the following Friday morning came around a week later, our sales manager was complaining that hardly any of the sales team had turned up for work.

If you got this far, thanks a million for reading and I really hope it’s food for thought and helpful.

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living http://seandurham.eu

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