[Another #Trust30 post...For more information about them, click here].
Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Trusting intuition and making decisions based on it is the most important activity of the creative artist and entrepreneur. If you are facing (and fearing) a difficult life decision, ask yourself these three questions:
1) “What are the costs of inaction?” I find it can be helpful to fight fear with fear. Fears of acting are easily and immediately articulated by our “lizard brains” (thanks Seth) e.g. what if I fail? what if I look stupid? If you systematically and clearly list the main costs of inaction, they will generally overshadow your immediate fears.
2) “What kind of person do I want to be?” I’ve found this question to be extremely useful. I admire people who act bravely and decisively. I know the only way to join their ranks is to face decisions that scare me. By seeing my actions as a path to becoming something I admire, I am more likely to act and make the tough calls.
3) “In the event of failure, could I generate an alternative positive outcome?” Imagine yourself failing to an extreme. What could you learn or do in that situation to make it a positive experience? We are generally so committed to the results we seek at the outset of a task or project that we forget about all the incredible value and experience that comes from engaging the world proactively, learning, and improving our circumstances as we go along. - Dan Andrews
I can see how these questions would be useful when trying to make a big decision. They help us place our fears inside a larger perspective. Most of the time when we confront our fears, we will find that although they are real, they are also irrational.
To answer the first question, the cost of failing to act is usually going to be greater than that of acting and failing, so it is better to go for it than to sit back and let fear paralyze us. Unfortunately, this intellectual knowledge does not always translate into action.
I am just about to finish a novel titled When Nietzsche Wept, written to teach some of Nietzsche’s philosophies. One of the book’s protagonists, Josef Breuer, tells Nietzsche that in order to change a person’s behavior, he or she must be touched by something much deeper than intellectual knowledge. Nietzsche abhors the suggestion that people are persuaded by something as frivolous as emotion, but he ultimately concedes that Breuer is right. Being affected at an emotional level is necessary to spur action inside us. Why are we like this? I’m not sure. It is just how humans are. If we remember this about ourselves, we have a much better chance of overcoming our fears.
The second question is useful to help take a long-term view of our actions. It is a legacy question. Chris Guillebeau suggests that as we make decisions about what we want to do with our lives, one of the first questions should be “what do I want my legacy to be?” The kind of person we are is going to reflect on our legacy.
With tomorrow being Father's Day, the question makes me think of my father and my grandfather, both of whom have worked hard all of their lives to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren. They have been unselfish with their time, giving much to their community and their families. Because of this, both of them are well-respected and looked up to by many, including this son/grandson.
The third question is there to remind us to be flexible as we bump along in life. We cannot be too wedded to the perfect outcome that exists in our mind, because it is so difficult to predict the future.
A friend of mine tells the story of how he once got fired from a job, and it turned out to be a great thing because he was forced to start something new. The new path led him to some great successes and he would not be where he is today if he hadn’t been fired. One of the most tired clichés in the English language is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but there is a lot of truth in it. We can’t expect to know exactly the consequences of all our decisions when we make them, so we have to be prepared to change.
When I fall on my face, one way I can “generate a positive alternative outcome” would be to share the story with others, so that they might not repeat the same mistakes I have made. Our collective knowledge is so much more complete than any one individual’s knowledge, and it would be my goal to add to this knowledge.
Together, the three questions seem like a useful way to face our fears. Hopefully, the next time I am faced with a big decision, they will help me keep my irrationality under control, because irrational fears can get out of proportion and create much more angst inside us than they should.