We make decisions constantly, including decisions to not to make decisions and postponing. We often fail to make the best decisions because we don’t pay attention to our state of mind, and how it affects our perceptions and decision-making process.
There are several versions of you in there. Which one are you, right now?
No, I’m not talking about some sort of multiple personality disorders. I’m talking about a normal, regular person.
Thought there was only one version of you around? Think again. The chances are, you’re reading a blog like “Our Best Version” because you are trying to be, but not already are, who you are “meant to be.”
So there are at least two versions of you. The current one, and the best one.
Another example. My 4-year-old daughter becomes her crabby self sometimes. She gets sulky and whiny, and starts making high-pitched shrieks of horror to Every Little Unfortunate Accidents That Were Not in Her Grand Scheme of Plans. I’m sure you have seen little kids throw tantrums.
In her case, I can predict when her crabby self is about to make a showing. Toward the end of the day if she had no naps, for example. Or if she’s very hungry.
Now, it’s safe to say the person who’s reading this is a lot older than my 4-year-old. But in my experience, this concept of rather wide variations existing within one’s character is completely lost to most post-preschoolers. They think they are the same people when they wake up early in the morning, when they’re rushed off to school/work with little breakfast in them, after they come home, overworked and overwhelmed, ready to just turn off the mind by filling up with whatever low-ball engagement TV happens to offer that night, and when they stay up too late, either watching too much TV, playing too much video games or having had a few too many drinks.
To you, I offer one word. Doh.
Just as you don’t expect 4-year-olds to behave the same way (the ideal way that parents want them to be) with or without naps, neither should you expect yourself to be the same person in varied conditions. Yes, we grown-ups (or teenagers) can cover up a little better. But how we respond to outside stimuli, interpret unexpected events, form an outlook of the future — change dramatically depending on the state you’re in.
If you’ve had a 4-hour-sleep night for two days in a row, I’m sure you find yourself to be a little grumpy. Or lethargic. That is not who you are meant to be, is it?
If you just broke up with a long-time boyfriend/girlfriend or lost a loved one, you would admit to being “I’m not myself right now,” wouldn’t you?
Yes, you would, and that’s OK. Who We Are is not just one two-dimensional snapshot of your set of characteristics. It is an ever-changing, constantly varying organism that calls up multiple (and contradicting) sets of characteristics fluidly depending on the mode you’re in.
The key, however, to living well, is to know your own variations, and more importantly, to be aware of which one you are at any given moment.
Are you your jolly self? Loving life and optimistic? Or is your default mode stuck in a moody, bluesy chord? Do you always find yourself wondering why you aren’t somewhere else — anywhere but where you are?
Let’s go back to my 4-year-old. She is a good soul, and I love her dearly. I would say her best self (which she is, most of the time) is ample evident when she has plenty of personal attention from Mommy and Daddy, has had engaging things to do (not bored), a good night’s sleep, and have had a good meal. During this time, she can go off and find something to do by herself. She’s very interested in learning something new. She’s not clingy or morose. She laughs all the time. She’s not afraid to venture off by herself.
OK, you get the picture. This is a lovable kid, someone who’s obviously enjoying life.
And I don’t think anyone would argue about this is who she is meant to be. And the same is true for you.
How often are you in your best mode, the happy self? Once a day? Once a week? Can’t remember the last time? If you’re not who you are meant to be, then who are you, most of the time? Who is your default character?
Think about this carefully, if you haven’t before. Because while the next piece of information may seem obvious, but its implications may not be.
Imagine asking the 4-year-old to share a toy with her 1-year-old brother. The same question, but two different occasions. Once in the morning, when she is her best self, and once in the evening, when she is tired and crabby.
I’m sure you can guess that she would answer differently.
What seems totally easy, agreeable and safe in her best self would turn into a most difficult, threatening, demanding request (that feels like a marching order) to her tired self.
And if you have been your crabby, stressed, under-rested and under-nourished self most of the time, you have been responding to various questions and stimuli that life throws at you, the same way.
With an overwhelmingly negative attitude.
This is one of the reasons why unhappy people stay unhappy. They think that they can expose themselves to some happy signals — from the rush of shopping to relief of drinking to numbing of TV shows — but these are more of pain killers, if anything. They don’t solve the fundamental problems. They just temporarily numb the pain and basically prolong the overall state.
Changing the outside doesn’t change what is coming from within you. And most importantly, the decisions you make in your not-best mode are very unlikely to magically turn the switch on for your best self. Why? Because it’s exceedingly hard to make good decisions, with great considerations, when you’re not in the best frame of mind to begin with.
For example, if you’re tired and overworked, will you sign up to take an additional training that will equip you to make a career change that can improve both your job satisfaction and salary? Not impossible, but hard. An overwhelmed person assumes negatively first (“well, I don’t know if I can really get that good of a job, even with that certification anyway”) and thus are less likely to take risks. And even if you force yourself to, will you be able to get the most out of the training, when you’re already feeling overloaded?
I’m not saying there aren’t external factors that are keeping you away from being your best self. But if you perpetually feel like a 4-year-old at 9pm with no naps during the day, then you have to realize that you’re letting your not-so-optimum self to make life-affecting decisions, with pessimism, lethargy, and self-pity. And decisions made of such state of mind can’t produce the best results. Your judgments were pretty obscured by your poor attitude to begin with. Your follow-throughs also tend to be mediocre, which aggravate the problem.
Here is what you need to do. If you find yourself oscillating between your optimum self and Lesser Favorable Variations, then hold off on making big decisions until you know you’re in a good place mentally. Recognize signs in yourself when you’re not in the right frame of mind — by reading your own cynic, pessimistic scripts running through your consciousness. Learn to say “let me think about it.” Sleep on decisions.
Get in the habit of getting yourself into the right mindset first, and then consider your decisions.
If you’re more or less stuck in a self that is far from who you are meant to be, then we obviously have more work to do. The best advise, which often gets overlooked (especially to someone in a rather troubled frame of mind), is to give yourself at least some moments, some windows of opportunity of being in a better frame of mind, by meeting your fundamental needs. Are you getting a good night’s sleep? Are you eating good food — both in terms of the nutritions they offer (or reduced amount of junk) and to your taste? A good laughter is an amazing turn-arounder for morose moods. And healthy emotional/physical outlets — exercise, engaging in creative activities like art, singing, writing, and so on.
Yes, you’ve heard that before, I’m sure. But I actually haven’t heard anybody say “I treat myself to favorite food before making life-changing decisions,” which is an excellent idea. The last few years, I’ve been really discovering the power of food has on lifting our spirits, I have definitely taken advantage of it to put myself in a better state of being. I love eating (who doesn’t?) so experiencing a delicious meal always lifts my spirits.
Try to make as many decisions as possible out of the better frame of mind, and when you’re back down to your regular/poor frame, then remind yourself “this is not real me.”
Stick to the decisions the better you made, even if you can’t believe in it at the moment. Avoid making decisions or changing what you set in motion (like canceling something you signed up to when you were better). If you feel that you must change, first try to get back into a better frame of mind, and then evaluate your situation.
We make decisions almost ceaselessly. The life you have today is the consequence of decisions you made in the past. While all of us have various versions or variations of who we are, if you want your happy and hopeful self to be the default and dominant mode, then you need to make decisions out that self. Because while you may not realize it, there is a pretty big gap between how your happy self sees the world and how the morose version sees the same picture.
Find your best mode, and be that person first. Then you’ll begin to create a life that’ll help you stay there longer — and quite possibly, all the time.