I have bipolar, it means my past is littered with lots of bad choices which I came to regret, choices I made when I was manic, undiagnosed and unmedicated. I’ve bought a business, I bought a new car, I enrolled in numerous courses, took risks that, in hindsight, were very dangerous and, I took on massive clients with no help. None of these were positive choices but ALL of them were learning opportunities.
Since my bipolar diagnosis in 2017, medication, therapy, a clearer mind and better understanding of myself, I feel my ability to make positive choices has improved tenfold. We all have to make choices, every day. I believe our life path is determined by the choices we make which is why it’s been so important for me to start getting it right.
Here’s how I’m focusing on making good choices and being more mindful of my decisions.
The path to making positive choices
Previously, my decisions have been spontaneous and I haven’t really thought about the future, I’ve just made a decision based on how I felt in the moment. What I’ve learnt from this is that it’s so important to stop and gain clarity, figure out what it is I want, what I want to achieve. Particularly with big decisions, I stop to consider if the decision is in line with my goals and my beliefs and if I’m actually capable of doing it. Narrowing down my focus is a way to get really honest with myself and not being afraid to say no if it’s something I feel isn’t right for me.
2. Consider emotions
This is a biggy. It’s incredible how big an effect emotions can have on our decisions and, just because you’re feeling happy, doesn’t mean you make positive decisions. I’m a good example of this.
When I was manic, I felt like I was on top of the world, like I could do anything, I felt like negative outcomes weren’t possible and so, I made bad impulsive decisions. Research also suggests that happy people tend to see few negative outcomes and therefore tend to overestimate the likelihood of positive outcomes. The same goes with feeling angry. Research has found that people who try to make good choices while angry are likely to take greater risks, their optimism is fuelled by their negative feelings of past events, yet they forget to stop and consider alternative options.
In addition to feeling happy or angry, love and fear come into decision making too and the outcomes can be very different. I’ll share an example of mine.
Last year I applied for a full-time position. My decision on whether I should proceed with the application went back and forth. I remember thinking, “Do I continue to work from home with a flexible part-time self-employed job that allows me to be with my kids when I need to be and which I’m really comfortable with or, do I take a job that’s a great step up in my career but where I’ll never see my kids, where I’ll have to work overtime and that will make my anxiety go into hyperdrive?”
In the end, I made my decision based on love and withdrew my application. I identified that it was best for my mental health which would make it better on me and my family. If I had have made my decision to continue with the position (I actually got an interview), I believe it would have been a decision based on fear – a fear of pulling out of the interview, a fear of disappointing others, a fear of missing out. If I had have continued on the basis of fear, resentment was likely to follow along with regret and a huge effect on my health.
3. Stop comparing
Just because Sally has it, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s the comparison trap and it affects many decisions made. Go back to your focus and ask yourself what you really want to achieve. And remember, just because someone looks happy and like they have it all, doesn’t mean they really are.
4. Gather information
When it comes to making good choices, gather information if you have the time. Ask questions, talk to your friends and family about the potential decision. The thing with gathering more information is that it can open up other opportunities and change your decision altogether.
5. Have perspective
We all have our own perspective but what about looking at it from a different angle, from someone else’s point of view? This is why it’s useful to gather information from other people, it could very much change your perspective and the decision you make.
6. Learn from the past
This is one of the reasons I’m writing this post, because I have learned from the bad choices I’ve made over the years. Apply the lessons you have learned from the past to approach decisions differently. If, like me, you have been too impulsive with your every day in the past, take your time and work through these steps of making a positive decision. If the decisions in the past have always left you with regret or anxiety, consider making decisions out of love for yourself instead of for the fear of hurting someone or being an inconvenience.
7. Know your goals
I know goals sounds a bit cliché but really, making a choice that will completely hinder you reaching your goals is counterproductive, you’ve got to be realistic. For example, if you decide to start study while working full time but you decide you’re not willing to give up your Netflix and social life, you’ll be at odds with your goal. Know your goals and how the decision will affect reaching them in order to make positive choices.
I believe that knowing how to make good choices all comes down to knowing yourself and being mindful of thoughts and emotions. I also know from experience that my best decisions are made when I take the time and really think about it. It’s ok to take time if it means positive choices and positive outcomes.
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