The Intuitive Compass

Why the best decisions balance reason and instinct.

How Do We Make The Best Decisions in Our Lives? Part 2: Solving the Problem

"How do we make the best decisions ?"

In our last blog, we discussed the importance of thinking holistically, and how that can help us define a challenge. We acknowledged that taking time, and incorporating both instinct and logic, can give us deeper insight on problems in our lives. So now we know what we're dealing with - how do we solve it?

Let's talk about the decision making for a moment. In my research, I found that there are four elements needed to make that holistic (or "whole") decision.

Each area of decision-making defines a human need. And when we make important decisions for ourselves and those in our lives, we often don't incorporate all the aspects necessary to find the most educated, most committed, most organized, and most creative solution.

Let's look at each of those four elements, because each has a unique and specific meaning:

The first element is all about organization, data management, and using your resources in the most rationally effective way. It is reason applied to result.

The second focuses on commitment, action, and follow-through. It is instinct applied to result.

The third is about challenging beliefs, being open to new ideas, and applying creativity to strategy. It is logic applied to the process of play.

The last element all about being open to the forces of nature, the go with the flow aspects of life, and being in tune with the rhythm of the universe. It's instinct associated with randomness.

If you take a look at the description of each element of decision-making, you can probably see which one or ones you identify with most. Perhaps you focus all your attention on data processing, or maybe you are constantly open to new ideas, and never make a decision the same way twice.

And, on the opposite spectrum, you can probably see which elements you utilize least. Perhaps you want to see something through, but you never quite put that plan into action.

When we make decisions holistically, we think in all of these terms, even if we don't know it. But in actuality, we usually tend to think in one or two elements when finding solutions to the everyday - or the larger - decisions needed.

For example, if you are trying to lose weight, perhaps you're doing so by thinking in data processing terms only. So you're making lists of times and items eaten, watching calories every day, and keeping only "diet food" in the house at all times.

Maybe that's working for you - or perhaps you're still not losing weight. If it isn't working, the key may be in tackling this very same problem in the holistic way needed - by bringing in other elements of decision-making you've never thought to utilize before.

Why don't we do this naturally? Well, some of us do, but a majority don't. Here's why: We know many theories, we have had many experiences; they all contribute to our personal belief system and collective knowledge. Although there is definitely more of what we don't know than there is of what we know, culturally we tend to evaluate everything through what we already know. Embracing new situations and new ideas with an attitude that is as open as it is critical, as candid as it is discriminating, is the only way to enter uncharted territories and conceptualize new ideas.

For example, the unconscious does not follow the logic of analytical reason, yet new ideas stem from our unconscious. So we need to open our minds to the paradoxical logic of the unconscious to reach beyond common ideas and beliefs, which is exactly the meaning of the word paradox. To do this it simply requires giving up our need for immediate logical understanding of a situation and trusting our other form of intelligence-at work, for instance when we get insights from our dreams or myths.

So let's get back to the decision regarding losing weight. How can we address all aspects of holistic thinking to tackle this problem?

1. You're keeping lists of goals set. You're watching your calories and keeping only healthy foods in your home.  

2. You are committed to the goal of losing weight. You are now rewarding yourself with something you enjoy (a movie, a new clothing item, a piece of music you enjoy) with each pound lost.

3.  You are challenging the way you've lost weight before, because you understand that the "crash diet" you did in your 20s may not work with your current metabolism. You are open to new ways of eating and exercising, and learning about them and how they can apply to you.

4.  You are having cravings for several different kinds of foods. Instead of ignoring them, you try to understand their deeper meanings. For example, if you are craving a cheeseburger, why? Is it protein? Iron? Or comfort? Notice what it is you may be missing, and try to attain it. If it's comfort, maybe there is something emotional going on that needs addressing. If it's iron, perhaps spinach will do the job. And if it is protein, then perhaps a small steak will do the trick.

Take a look at the above elements and apply them to whatever decision you may be wrestling with this week. When you've done this, notice your results. Has incorporating something new helped you? Was it difficult at first? Feel free to post them here; I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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Francis P. Cholle is the author of The Intuitive Compass (Wiley/Jossey Bass, October 2011).

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