I was recently asked a great question following a guest appearance on a podcast that focused upon success and happiness. Following the interview about my new book, The Decision Makeover, he asked, “How does Mike make decisions?” I took a long pause, trying to comprehend what I was missing. “We just discussed that topic for an hour!” I replied. “No, no… that’s not what I mean.” He clarified, “Today, at your age, at your life stage, in your situation… how do YOU make decisions?” I have to admit, from all the writing and speaking on this topic, I was facing a question I had not considered recently. I became excited to hear my answer because it had never been so important and I knew my answer wasn’t polished. So here goes…
My book explains decision making discipline that can be used at every age to get what we want from our lives. But, knowing what is in my book and using it as my foundation, I can see how I am able to juggle so much at this point in my life. Today, my issues are unique to my circumstances. I’m in my late 40s with a wife, three children, two golden retrievers, a mortgage, an aging athletic frame and the pressures of an entrepreneur who is running a startup business as well as advising clients and partners while trying to save money for a whole lot of college tuition. Life has never been busier and there have never been more people depending upon me. Some days are intense and some weeks are overwhelming. Decision making is at the epicenter of my life. A good decision streak has never been more important than now. I use all the concepts in my book and today I wish to highlight three areas of discipline that help me operate best.
First, one of the mental separations I make (I believe successfully) is to not let one area of my life cause me to make bad decisions in another. An example would be making good health decisions daily even though my work often makes me want to skip the gym, have a beer and eat nachos. My goal is to keep my health as I get older and I can succeed regardless of how other areas of my life are working – and that is a powerful separation. Another example is setting firm limits on how and when my work can interrupt my family goals. I have always had a personal motto: “No regrets that can make me say ‘I wish I had done that’” when it comes to being there to see my kids’ events or making memories with my family. Thus, key family moments are prioritized higher than unscheduled work demands. So, no matter how crazy my work can get, I will still make good decisions that guarantee the family highlight reel. Yet another example is not letting your relationship goals contaminate your career progress. Pursuing a relationship is fine but do not let those pursuits negatively affect your career goal attainment. Keeping primary goals at the forefront and avoiding cross-contamination is an important skill.
Second, as I have gotten older, I see my mind as a tool, but not something in charge of me. That may seem a deep commentary but if you think about it you will realize the same. Our minds often behave like children, wanting satisfaction now, whispering negative messages in our ear at the wrong time. There are times when my mind is sharp and ready to work and I have learned what that feels like. In my book, I warn against becoming “The Decisionator”, which is you and me trying to make a decision when our mind in not in balance due to fatigue, pressure, trauma, hurt feelings, or any other external factor that makes our minds desire the option that feels good – but not necessarily the best decision. I avoid making decisions when my mind is not prepared. Thus, I have learned to assess if my mind is in a good mode to think about a decision and I give my mind time to process information (e.g. “sleep on it”). With this approach, I am rarely second-guessing my decisions, which leads to less regret and stress.
Finally, I must constantly deal with decisions about money. We all do! Yet, it seems at this point in my life, everybody and everything has its hand out. Life has never been more expensive. At this stage, I am not spending money on “stuff” but I am spending money investing in people (kids’ college, my business) and experiences that I will never regret. I worry less about scratches and worn surfaces and I set financial goals that will allow for freedom to do, see and experience those moments that we remember for a long time. In business, I judge other entrepreneurs and management significantly by how they have used money and whether the money they spent created more money or went down a hole. More easily avoided than in any other decision category, you and I know an unjustified personal financial decision every time. We know when we shouldn’t pull the trigger. The simple filter question I ask myself about discretionary spending is: “A year from now, will I still value this decision the way I value it today?” The answer is often “No.” I need my financial decisions to pay off with freedom down the road so I protect that goal with the extra consideration I explain in my book.
I’m sure my priorities will continue to change as I get older. However, I am also certain that my decision making methods will not change as I cannot argue with the logic of tying my greatest goals to my decisions and pulling myself as swiftly as I can toward achieving them.
You can read free downloadable portions of my book at mikewhitaker.com