How Do We Make The Best Decisions in Our Lives? Part 1: Identifying the Problem

"Make The Best Decisions with The Intuitive Compass"

Posted Sep 09, 2011

Einstein once said, "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions." Was he crazy? Or was he on to something?

In our normal everyday decision-making, we spend more time trying to "solve" a problem than identifying what the problem is. We're so eager to get to the finish line, so to speak - to find a solution - that often times any solution will do. But is it the best option?

To make the best decisions for ourselves and our families, we need to think holistically. What does this mean? Simply put, it means thinking in "whole" terms. I created the Intuitive Compass for people to do just this - see things in terms of an entirety; a whole picture. And, to some degree, we all draw from each quadrant of the Intuitive Compass in order to live our lives. It is difficult to be content about one's existence if you don't have any insight about your future (northwest quadrant), or if you can't perform and acquire what you need to live a decent life (southeast quadrant), or if you can't keep things in a certain order (northeast quadrant). And even if you have the capacity to do all of these things, it still won't be enough if you don't feel the pulse of life and its deeper meaning (southwest quadrant).

This deeper meaning comes from the actualization of our values in our daily lives. That actualization can come in many forms. It may mean we raise children because we value legacy, or we contribute our talent for the benefit of others because we value self-expression, or we generally make it a point to help people because we value compassion, but in some way all people need meaning and values.

So how does this translate into a) how we identify problems and b) how we solve it?

I decided to break this down into two blog posts, so each part could receive its own focus.

For analyzing the problems in our lives, we normally go by some basic ideas and assumptions. As discussed last week, these are mainly led by logic. When we engage in solving a problem using logical skills, we follow certain rules or protocols based on past experience with a similar problem. The rules and protocols we follow are generally well defined and measurable. If we succeed in solving our problem, we typically attribute it to the efficacy of the protocols we followed. If we fail at solving our problem, we can look back and analyze the steps we took to find where our approach failed.

Conversely, when we engage in solving a problem using our instincts, we follow a path that is highly specific to our problem and ourselves at a particular moment in time. If someone asks us how we solved the problem, we may be able to recount what we did, but even a detailed recounting of what we did will not necessarily apply to a similar problem. And that's fine, because instinctual problem solving isn't necessarily about replication; it's about dynamic adaptation to circumstances. The problem is that when we are successful, we (and others) may attribute our success simply to luck, even though calling on our instincts is a skill we can develop. So although we may never be able to measure the efficacy of instinct-based problem solving precisely, that doesn't mean it is a random phenomenon. The difference between logic-based problem solving and instinct-based problem solving isn't necessarily efficacy; the difference lies in our ability or inability to precisely identify cause and effect. And when we can't identify cause and effect, we feel out of control or inefficient.

But in truth, the best decision-making combines both logic and reason, as we discussed last week. And just as it takes both to be most efficient and holistic in our approach to solving the issue at hand, we need to utilize both to properly identify the problem as well.

Here are some things to try to help incorporate both of these concepts into your ability to define a problem:

1.     Remember that journal we spoke of in the last blog? Use it to write down the problem. For example, "How can I do my job more efficiently?" Once you have that down, look at it again, and think of other ways to say the same thing, without judging what you write. At the end of a long stream, you may have the real problem identified: "How do I make more time for my family during the day?"

2.     Challenge what you know. If you have a child who has cried many times simply because he has not received a new toy that day, does his every cry equal the same problem? If you make the assumption that he is crying because he did not receive something, you are automatically weeding out other issues that may be truth - perhaps he is ill or hurt, or hungry, or tired, or potentially experiencing one of a long list of other problems. These need to be explored in order to address the issue in the best possible manner.

3.     Most importantly, mitigate the stress! Every difficult choice in life brings a set of challenges with it that can create stress, fear, and worry. Before you do anything in terms of trying to solve the problem, you must not panic! Panic often leads to drastic decision making, throwing a holistic solution right out the window. Take a moment, sit, breathe deeply, go to the place of solitude you've created since the last blog post, and allow yourself to feel who you are, and what you truly want to achieve. When you're ready, then complete the steps above.



About the Author

Francis P. Cholle is the author of The Intuitive Compass.

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