I’d like to share a tool that would help you achieve clarity and disclose hidden worries and issues when making a decision just about anything, especially decisions that are ‘life changing’. Sometimes facing them can keep us on hold for a long time, as our brains don’t distinguish the stress produced by a real threat from a perceived one, and often use the stress model of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mechanism to cope. Often we put our lives on hold while making those decisions as we cannot face all the aspects of what is stopping us from moving forward.
This tool has a fancy name Cartesian Questions based on Cartesian logic founded and used by the 17th century philosopher, mathematician Rene Descartes. Present day Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), sometimes used in coaching practices to a great effect, became very fond of it too.
The beauty of the questions construed in this way is in its simplicity and yet it is capable of uncovering the depths of one’s unconscious mind and bring it all to the light of day. You can do it on your own or your can talk it through with someone.
So when you have a certain outcome in mind or need to make a decision about changing something or starting a new project, ask yourself:
‘What would happen If I did fully achieve the intended outcome?’
This asks you to see clearly the effects of your decision. How would this affect my situation, my relationship, health, work, leisure, possessions, achievements, my other desires and aspirations, new goals? Another huge thing to consider – do you expect that achieving a certain outcome will make you feel differently? Compare it to what you feel now and is it the change of your feelings you are after? As honestly as you can evaluate your feelings in your current situation and find all the pluses in it. Often changing your feelings first is a solution by itself. It’s not the easiest but certainly healthier way forward. Feelings are only a part of your current state that includes your thoughts and behaviour as well. All these have to be taken into account when evaluating the total outcome of your decision or goal setting. As there often enough is at least one if not a range of possibilities to find an easier and less costly way to achieve what you are after.
Here is a sample of questions to have a structure to work on:
- How certain am I that I really want this?
- What do I expect to have once I reach the goal?
- What is it I am really after?
- What changes will it bring to my situation?
- How will I accommodate the changes in my current situation?
- What does it mean and will mean to me to achieve this goal?
- What is next?
‘What wouldn’t happen if I did achieve it?’
Posing this question will help you see the good things that you habitually overlook in your current situation because often enough you take them for granted. These ‘goodies’ might be lost to you when you get to your new goal/decision. For example, a career woman, let’s call her Anna, and her partner wanted to get out of London to be closer to nature and have a more relaxed life style and bigger space for themselves. It only became obvious to her after couple of years of commuting that her leisure time that she spent shopping on her own after work and walking in a nearby park was swallowed by the commute as well as almost three hours of sleep. Anna noticed it only after she got tired and exhausted which was exacerbated by a stressful work situation. The shopping time on her own – her little pleasure she never thought much of – turned out to be her major ‘me time’ which was a way to reconnect with self and be on her own however public the shopping environment might seem to others. It wasn’t a big deal to think about and admit it when they decided to move out of London, but became apparent in crisis that eventually brought her to me and other professionals. If she’d asked herself this quite simple question when moving she might have identified her little pleasure habit and it would give her a new perspective on the house-hunting location. Her daily ‘me time’ and several hours of sleep, foregone due to the extra commute, over years accumulated to the point that when she needed her power (adrenal strength) to carry her through stress, the resources weren’t there.
‘What would happen if I didn’t achieve my intended result, make this particular decision?’
Answering this honestly will show you the price of not changing and staying where you are. Often it is a painful experience in our present situation that motivates us to change. So if you continue, the pain continues. Or if there is no pain involved the exact cost of staying put will show up anyway and still be enough to move you forward. I like this simple saying: ‘This day next year you’d wish you started today.’ My best example is about my relationship with my mother, my dearly beloved mum for whom I felt I lived all my life. Yet, when I brought her to live with my family I couldn’t live in peace. My whole baggage of ‘childhood trauma’ drama of being emotionally disconnected from her came out and played often enough to make our lives miserable. It’s only when I faced the future cost of my behaviour that I could make a decision to change my attitude and behaviour.
‘What wouldn’t happen if I didn’t do, decide, achieve my goal?’
This question on the face of it doesn’t have any logical meaning, yet the semantics of it create a chaos in your rational mind and provokes you to think intuitively. It opens up the possibilities that were never there in your intended rational decision making and yet invites you to play with different eventualities of life that otherwise never come to mind. Basically it gives you the opportunity/permission to create the other reality without directly saying to you “don’t do what you want to do”. If you say to your brain don’t pursue your goal you have other things to do, it often creates a mental block against those other things, because the aspiration or the desire of the intended outcome is so strong that it won’t let you think anything else. In other words this brings you back to your conscious mind and senses to evaluate life as it is (It’s lack, abundance and everything in between) without jeopardising the confidence and the strength of the intention to achieve what is desired.
This process of going through a decision making or goal evaluation is totally useless when you have a moral duty or obligation to fulfil. In such situation only the values and commitments matter and cost and possible side effects won’t make any difference to a conscientious human.
In all other situations have fun (as much as you possibly could) exploring the depths of the Cartesian logic in problem solving such as moving up or down a career ladder, expanding/downgrading your house, moving the country, or out to the country, changing profession or work/living place. These are not light-hearted decisions to say the least and if you need help to make them, yours truly is a phone call away.