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The MythoSelf Experience

The Psychology Behind Sustainable Decision Making

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We can divide the world into two types of people: the ones who can make decisions, and the ones who can't. If we're among the ones who can make decisions, then we may not see the point behind this distinction - surely anyone can make a decision, can't they? But if we're among the ones who can't make a decision to save our lives, then the distinction is already brutally apparent. We look at the people who know how to decide - who seem to have this "magic faculty" to look at the options, to evaluate the evidence, and finally to decide and act on the decision - and we're baffled by their ability to do something that we'd never - we tell ourselves - be able to do without hours of hand-wringing and self-sabotaging delay. We look at these people, and we fail to understand that which sets them apart from us - again, we tell ourselves - the psychology of sustainable decision making.

But even though we can divide the world up in this way if we want, we're doing ourselves a disservice to do so. Any one of us can make an effort to discover the seemingly-mysterious psychological process of making informed, effective, and quick decisions. And by doing so, we can find out how to bring out those psychological processes in ourselves, and so jump the divide: we can learn to make decisions, and to act on them, in a sustainable way.

A key to this sustainable decision-making process is to think in positive terms about what we really want. Those of us who have difficulty making decisions often think about our options in negative terms. We think about how our decisions might affect our fears of financial insecurity, how they might affect our fears about our standing in the eyes of our family and our peers, or even how they might affect our perception of ourselves. In each of these cases, we're thinking in fundamentally negative terms about the rationale behind our decisions. If we worry about financial insecurity, we want to avoid bad credit or a lack of funds. If we worry about our standing in the eyes of our peers, we want to avoid looking ridiculous or unqualified. And if we worry about our perception of ourselves, we want to avoid feeling like a "bad person". These are only a few of the things we worry about; there are many others. But whenever we worry about this type of outcome of a decision, we're worrying about avoiding what we perceive to be a bad consequence. Instead of moving toward something, we want, ultimately, to negate the bad consequence, to move away.

Thinking in negative terms like this causes a number of problems for us. To understand why, imagine - in finest horror-movie tradition - that you're stranded in a vast house. A maniac is after you: obviously something to be avoided. So, thinking negatively, you run away from the maniac throughout all of the hallways, staircases, and connecting doors of the house. Imagine that, in the end, you escape the maniac. Now look around. What room are you in?

Very likely, you don't know: you didn't think to imagine it, since you were so busy running. This is an example - albeit a dramatic one! - of unsustainable decision making. If your decisions are fundamentally based on running from perceived threats, then your attention is directed behind you - at the threats - instead of ahead of you - at where you're going.

Let's return to our house and our maniac for a moment. This time, frame the decision in positive terms: you want to run to the cellar, where you have a strong, lockable door, plenty of provisions, and a phone to the police. Again you run from the maniac, but this time, with an idea of where you're going to, you end up in a much stronger position for the future, with clear, planned-on options. You'll be able to defend yourself against the maniac, get help to get rid of him, and start thinking about where you might want to go once your house is again your own.

In the theory of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), this kind of positive thinking is known as finding a well-formed outcome. A well-formed outcome is phrased in positive terms: we're moving toward something, not away from something. A well-formed outcome is also a concrete goal: instead of wanting "happiness", we might want "an extra ten hours a week to spend with a hobby", "a stable relationship", or "to work as a contractor."

Making our decisions based on well-formed outcomes is the key to sustainable decision making. When we think positively and concretely about the consequences of our decisions - rather than negatively and vaguely about what someone might think about us doing this, that, or the other - it's as if we're drawing a map for ourselves, from one point to the next, leading to us reaching a desired, achievable outcome. If we have a map like this, we can be sure of getting exactly where we want to go, and of fulfilling whatever obligations we place on ourselves.

That's all there is to the psychology of sustainable decision making. We need to think positively, and we need to think concretely. Maybe there is a divide between those who can decide and those who can't. But if we think in terms of well-formed outcomes, then we'll make sure of this: while the people who think negatively worry about falling into the divide and back away, we, with our eyes judging the distance to the opposite side, have no reason not to take the leap.

Generative NLP are a refreshingly plain spoken resource and training centre for the MythoSelf® Process that is based in South West London and was founded in 2001 by Charles Moore who is one of only a handful of people who has the privilege of being in a close mentoring relationship with the models creator, Joseph Riggio Ph.D. from the beginning. 

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