How To Become More Conscious In Your Decision Making
Conscious decision making is both easy and hard. Easy because some decisions can be made on the spot based on gut instinct. Hard because the decision is harder, it needs more time, more reflection, you may not be good at making decisions for new things, or you are just rubbish (or think you are) at consciously choosing, you may need external validation or there may be some other reason that makes this a hard decision.
There are some simple rules about becoming fully conscious in your decision making and that is to first understand how you do things. If you do not know how you do anything, how can you know how conscious decision making will work for you?
What about decisions like food choices that are traditionally hard to spot?
What I am talking about is making choices about what to eat based on your emotional state. It’s something most of us do on an unconscious level.
In this video, where I chat with Mel Wakeman of Wakeman Nutrition I talk about choosing a Magnum ice cream over the more sensible choice of a banana.
I had been working with a client and we had a fantastic session that went on longer than usual. This made me late for someone I had an appointment with somebody to collect some eco veg. Halfway down the mountain, I got a call from the woman to say she’d got the wrong day. (I did pull over when I heard my WhatsApp call)
Because I was late and I hadn’t eaten I was immediately cross. As I sat in the car I could feel my annoyance grow. Taking a few deep breaths I asked ‘what choices can I make instead’ and ‘how can I make the best of this?’
I did a quick reframe and thought, well that’s okay, I know where I can get a gluten-free sandwich and there’s various errands I can run which will be useful.
However, my luck was out and the cafe was closed, I could feel my energy dip even more, but thought one last errand and I can get home.
When I reached the final shop I was feeling lightheaded and uncomfortable and so when I passed the ice cream freezers I was immediately seduced by a deliciously dark Magnum. Of course, I was and it was very tasty.
Gut, heart and head
In simple terms when we make a decision based on our guts it is usually fast, we just do it, however, we often do not listen to our guts and immediately override it with our heads, missing out that vital ingredient of the heart.
The head is usually best left for slow decisions that need some reflection time. If too much head is given (excuse the picture in your head) then you can risk never making a decision.
The heart is where your divine inner wisdom resides, where you have a knowing based on your values.
Each of these has a rightful place in conscious decision making. The question is how do you know when you make decisions, which of these is right for which situation.
Four stages of the conscious competence model
I believe how we form our decisions is progressive. You can use this model to consider how you made decisions through the stages of your life and how you learn.
- Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know.
- Conscious Incompetence – You know you don’t know. This is a fantastic learning stage.
- Conscious Competence – You know that you know, you’re just not entirely clear on how.
- Unconscious Competence – You can do what you are doing with your eyes closed. At this stage, you will have gathered immense knowledge, skills and experience.
One way to understand how this works is this.
Stop and think about how you might make a cup of tea. Now write all of the steps down and then teach someone else what you do. Easy?
You might think it’s easy, but I bet you missed loads of things out like you had to pick up the kettle and carry it to the sink, before lifting the lid, placing it under the tap, etc.
What I mean by this is we forget how we make decisions, because we become competent at making them.
The same thing applies when you choose food and drink – you become competent at making your choices.
This model shows us the stages that we go through when acquiring new skills and knowledge. It is really useful to consider this when reviewing our decision making as it reminds us how we become unconsciously competent and serves as a useful reminder of the stages we go through when acquiring new knowledge and to be mindful of this when making choices.
This model is also known as the Learning Stages model was developed by former Gordon Training International employee, Noel Burch in the 1970’s.
Naturally, the more experiences and skills you acquire, the easier it becomes when making a decision.
But as you will know that isn’t always the case, things can come at you and throw you off track when you least expect it.
In my case, eating the Magnum was an aberration and a decision that I would come to regret. Later that night I woke up with horrendous itching from the sugar in the ice cream. Which mean that I didn’t sleep. The knock-on was that my energy was lower and I was a tad ratty that day.
Conscious decision making journaling exercise
When you are faced with things that you do at an unconscious level which could go on to cause you problems there are a few things that you can do. One is to stop and assess and two is to become aware of what is happening – this is often hard to do in the moment.
Use this exercise to record the event and to then discover what your decision making process is.
Grab your journal and write about the event. This is best done while it is still fresh in your mind. When you have finished stop and reflect, allow your muse to connect the dots.
Just stop. Allow yourself a few moments or minutes to take in what was going on. Breath and assess the situation. You will find all kinds of thoughts going on.
What is coming into your awareness?
What are your unconscious rules that you are playing by? All you need to do is become aware of them. How do you do things – is there a process or a pathyway? What are your criteria for decision making?
Consider, three other similar events. What do you learn? Do you see a pattern?
How awake are you to the effect your decisions have on you, others and your environment? Again go back to the last decisions you wrote about and consider this. Also, look at how connected each was to your beliefs and values. What does this tell you? Consider the outcome and how awake you are to what this means to you.
In my example, my belief was that it would be ok, just this once to eat this ice cream. Of course, I now absolutely believe that it is never ok…
After being very unwell with a fractured spine and other complications I value my health. So why I ask did I eat this ice cream? This goes against all of my values around my health.
The bottom line is I don’t believe it is ok to eat rubbish as I value my health. However, I was hijacked by my low energy and emotions. As I am sure you will be occasionally.
How did your decisions make you feel? What was the core emotion and how does this or these emotions run your life?
Good decision making should make you feel more alive.
This is not in the sense that you are leaping around for joy because sometimes good decisions are gut-wrenching and difficult. This is alive in the sense that they are completely connected to who you are and you believe that they are right in the moment.
No, you cannot turn back the clock. What is done is done. Accept the decision you made and then decide what next, what did I learn and what, if anything will I do differently next time?
There are power and peacefulness in acceptance. This is not about giving up or not taking action, rather it is knowing that pushing against a closed door will always hurt. Whereas finding ways to open the door and walk through it without resistance will deliver far greater rewards.
Acceptance is a choice. You can see the positive or you can fight what is going on. Why would you want to wander around a littered battlefield?
Acceptance is living fully present in the moment. It’s not about the past, while that is a great source of reference for peeling the onion; it’s not where to live. Neither is it about the future because we cannot force it.
We can create visions, make decisions and we can take action, but we already know stuff can happen to throw these visions off course. That is why it is important to understand yourself, just a bit more…
Whatever happens, you need to take action, even if the action is inaction. I know that there have been times when my decision has been to simply let go, to not be attached to the outcome and quite frankly let others get on with it.
My action was to throw the rest of the ice creams in the bin and remind myself to be better prepared. Because of how important my health is to me I know that this will not happen again. The pain of the night long itching is far too good a reminder…
Ask your heart
When faced with a decision that right choice will depend on so many things. However, I like to take my choice (if I have time) to my heart.
Typically when I am journalling and I feel that the piece is finished when I stop this is when I place a hand on my heart, connect my breath, ask for guidance and wait. I will feel, see or sense something.
It is always interesting to notice what comes up.
What happens for me I find that I am checking in with my values when connecting with my heart.
I’ll look at how I can reframe something so that I get a better outcome. I like this opportunity for reflection.
My favourite question is do I love myself enough to? If the answer is yes, the decision is also easy.
What do you think?
Another fundamental part of conscious decision making is to also stop and ask ‘what do I think?’ Out loud, not just in your head. That question is not for your conscious mind to analyse, more to ask the question and go deep into yourself – trance-like to allow the answers to surface.
It is not sufficient for you to look at my journey, my healing or my transformation and to say ‘I’ll do the same.’ The same will not work. What works is self-enquiry. What works is considering what I or others have done, trying things on for size if you want.
Most importantly is to always ask your divine inner wisdom what she thinks. You must only take on board what you can. After asking ‘what do I think?’ take action based on your intuition (gut) and divine inner wisdom (heart) – not mine or Betty down the roads – yours.
Decisions from the gut
We make reference to our guts for all kinds of actions and activities that are going on. This is because unbeknownst to us our gut is a powerhouse that serves and supports the rest of the body and as a result our lives.
It’s fascinating to think that science mainly focuses on other aspects of the human body and has mostly relegated the gut to the bottom of the pile. It’s tended to be thought of as a plumbing system that takes in nutrients and sends the waste out – which it does
In 1998 Michael D. Gershon, M.D wrote a book called “The Second Brain. The Scientific Basis of Gut Instinct and a Ground-breaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine.” I think he could have shortened it!
Professor Gershon’s work describes something called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which controls digestion. The ENS has a complex system of approximately 100 million nerves, all found in the lining of the gut.
He was shocked when the scientific world did not laud him as a genius. Instead, they ignored the fact that the first brain is connected to the second brain (the gut) via something called the vagus nerve.
The gut-brain connection
The vagus nerve goes straight from the stomach to the brain. This second brain sends signals to the first brain which advises it of our emotions which naturally affects our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the gut is responsible for a lot of how we feel, our ability to live well and make decisions for our well-being. It’s a bit of a circle, what you eat affects your brain.
What’s going on in your brain affects what you eat, how you eat and why you eat the way that you do and how you think.
What you eat (and drink) affects every cell in your body. In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about how our thoughts affect our cells. If you are living in a perpetually stressed place, imagine what kind of thoughts are being passed to your cells. The cells will respond in the best way that they know-how, which might not be very beneficial.
I certainly feel that the better my diet the better my ability to listen to my gut. Maybe that’s just me?
You may get something different, but I get a funny feeling in my gut and a knowing, which alerts me to be on the lookout. When something is ‘right’ for me, I get the funny feeling in my tummy and all the hairs stand up on my arms.
Check out what happens for you.
The energy of your decisions
Energy has been described by many different cultures, as Chi, Ki, Prana, and a life-force. Scientists describe in a different way by measuring ions and atoms. Both are valid and have a place in our understanding of self and transformation.
Energy for me is everywhere and everything. Our food contains energy, the air that we breathe has energy, and every cell in your body has an energetic impulse.
As you sit quietly and consider you – you are using and harnessing energy. Breathing circulates and connects your energy. Without breath you are dead.
Healers harness energy to heal. People with passion bring energy into everything that they do, and this energy creates action. To transform and grow, you need energy.
Everything you do consumes large quantities of energy. If you cultivate good habits (conscious decisions) and look after your energy, it will stay healthy and provide a powerhouse for your life.
To become physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy, one must have an energy system that is balanced and in harmony.
I believe gut decisions are also based on energy, which is connected to how well you are looking after yourself, your thoughts beliefs and behaviours and your connection to your consciousness.
There is always a moment when you just know, isn’t there?
Ok, massive subject – we’ll look more at intuition, energy and the gut more another time.
11 quick decision-making points
- Get to know you and how and why you do things
- Know why you have made previous decisions
- Look for patterns in your gut, heart and head
- Practice asking and listening to your heart
- Understand your values, and you will certainly know what decision you will make next time you are faced with something
- Get in tune with your gut and look out for your bodies signals
- Ask. Other people can be very insightful, even if they don’t know the answer
- Always know that you are using the best resources you have available at the time
- Practice journaling around different decision-making choices and ideas, from the very easy to the very hard. What do you learn?
- Look at decisions from many angles. What do you learn?
- Remember you cannot turn back the clock, so make a conscious decision to be more conscious next time you are faced with a choice
Have fun, I’d love to know what you discover…