How Do You Decide Your Life?



It is an everyday task, it is something that can sound so simple in a trivial and everyday context, and so powerful in life threatening situation or when the impact of that decision will change the course of your life. As humans, and equipped with a much more complex set of tools, we separate from other animals by the power to decide for “ourselves”.


However every decision we make is influenced by a huge amount of variables, the country you were born, the parents you chose (because I believe you chose your parents), the education and traditions they had and will passed on to you, even the moments that you were in the womb receiving all the chemical signals of your mother’s emotional state will influence the way you will develop your temperament and probably some traits that will also influence your decisions.


Not to put more pressure on this task but more now than ever we have to be able to protect our inner self, our environment and the people we surround with in order to take clearer decisions that will lead us to where we want our lives to go.

So, to previously take a decision you have to know what is your destination (the whole direction or purpose of your life will be a topic for another discussion). Each season and time in the world has faced its own challenges, however we can’t deny that in this time we have a lot more triggers and distractions that might get in the way of our decisions. No wonder young adolescents and adults have such a hard time to decide what they want to do with their lives.


To make a decision we need to know the problem, the need and purpose of the decision, the criteria of the decision, their subcriteria, stakeholders and groups affected and the alternative actions to take. We then try to determine the best alternative, or in the case of resource allocation, we need priorities for the alternatives to allocate their appropriate share of the resources (1).

A good place to start when taking every decision is the impact and purpose of it as mentioned above, every major decision can be divided into some smaller sub-decisions or scaffolds that will make up the whole ladder towards what we want.

Whenever we are faced with important or life changing decisions, we tend to freeze and activate, sometimes unconsciously, our stress response as fear enters the equation in the decision diagram.


However when fear take us as hostage of our decisions, the immediate result is that we can’t decide anything, we are suddenly corroded by all the chemical substance released inside our body and everything looks fuzzy. Let’s dive into this amazing cascade of internal exchange of chemical reactions that will lead us to stop deciding or taking our best decisions.


When we feel fear a cascade of adrenal substances starts releasing, the most important ones are cortisol and adrenaline these substances interact with every structure of our brain and body inducing a threat response and stopping the flow of blood to the prefrontal cortex (which is primarily important when taking a conscious and rational decision). Our body starts to feel also the effects of cortisol which in general stop almost every metabolic function to be able to save energy for the threat (even when is just a “decision” that is activating this system). That is why we also feel confused and fuzzy.


In addition to that on the nervous system level we have the following phenomena:


1. The hypothalamus evaluates the emotional relevance of environmental events; 2. The expression of emotional responses is mediated by the discharge of impulses from the hypothalamus to the brainstem;

3. Projections from the hypothalamus to the cortex mediate the conscious experience of emotion. (2)


If we analyze all the interactions that happen in our body we can see a clearer picture of we taking a decision is not a simple task as many people might diminish the importance of them or the impact that they can have even for your internal health. Can you imagine what is happening inside your body when you build up the effect of many decisions that you have to take each day and then you multiply those decisions for the week or a month. It is a huge even exponential number of internal effects that we are activating. That’s why the theory of simplifying our decisions or at least having some peace in our minds will help us decide with more assertiveness and clarity than if we are just reckless and engage in small meaningless decisions that eventually will lower your ability to take the important decisions when faced to them.


“Absolute judgement is the identification of the magnitude of some simple stimulus...whereas comparative judgement is the identification of some relation between two stimuli both present to the observer. Absolute judgment involves the relation between a single stimulus and some information held in short-term memory, information about some former comparison stimuli or about some previously experienced measurement scale... To make the judgement, a person must compare an immediate impression with impression in memory of similar stimuli.”

— Blumenthal (1).


Most of our decision rely on a previous experience and the judgement that we already generate from that experience, therefore they will most of the times be biased by our past If we let them be. In spite of this emotional charge that we have from our past we can always re-create a new scenario for our decisions, a clean slate, a new page where to start archiving a healthier set of experiences.


How can we create such a “clean scenario”? Let’s rely on the hierarchy process to start making our decisions (adapted & simplified from Saaty, 2008):


  1. Define the problem and determine the kind of knowledge or purpose you want.

  2. Structure a decision hierarchy from the top with the goal of the decision dividing your “smaller decisions” or milestones that will contribute to the major goal or purpose.

  3. Construct a set of comparisons where you have an alternative scenario (which is usually the one one that is making you hesitate).

  4. Assign a value for each of the “smaller decisions” and add all of the values (1).

  5. You’ll know your best decision by the number obtained when adding all the possibilities, ideally try to make maximum 5 “small decisions” or steps so you don’t feel overwhelmed when dividing them.


This process is only suggested of course with “Major/Complex decisions” that you might encounter in your life.


For “Middle Class Decisions” decisions you can just quickly construct a filtering mode that takes you 7-10 seconds to apply. My proposal for other kind of decisions that apparently are not as important as they seem is the following:


Identify the final result wanted, Breathe, Create a result scenario when choosing from two options, meaning ..”imaginary scenarios” of what would happen if you follow one decision or the other,Quickly enlist three persons or directions where your decision might impact.


For Trivial Decisions or Everyday Tasks we should start learning to trust our instincts more and our body sensations which you can quickly detect in 7-10 seconds. It is also important that this type of decisions are analyzed to see if you’re overloading your system with meaningless decisions and “wasting time” that can practically serve another purpose.


In this broad realm of decisions that have been already divided into three categories for the purpose of distinguishing what kind of decision we are faced with, we also encounter a hot topic that nowadays is caving its path when taking a decision of any kind of the categories described above.  


Within biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience there is currently a surge of interest in interactions between body and brain, and the embodied mechanisms that support feelings and thoughts. Interoception is defined as: The afferent flow of information concerning the internal state of the body to the brain and the sensing of these signals.


Interoceptive representations in the brain are informed by distinct neural and humoral channels. Neural (ascending spinal and cranial nerve) pathways communicate the filling and stretching of the visceral organs, their cellular integrity, and their inflammatory state. The brain also directly samples the contents of blood to index oxygen and carbon dioxide levels as well as the hormonal, metabolic, inflammatory, and nutritional status of the body. Together this information enables homeostasis, keeping the internal biological environment within physiological limits that make life viable through regulatory reflexes (e.g., the baroreflex) and feedback control of secretions (e.g., insulin response to raised glucose). Physiological boundaries are dynamically adjusted and occasionally breached, to adapt to ever-changing demands (3).


Baroreflex is defined as: the negative feedback reflex evoked by aortic and carotid sinus arterial baroreceptor stimulation that regulates blood pressure by controlling heart rate, strength of heart contractions, and the diameter of blood vessels in muscle vascular beds. In simpler words this reflex senses how much blood needs to be pumped throughout your body and in this case it is a very important signal when faced with emotions that will trigger this reflex (3).


The sensing of individual heartbeats is also the basis for tests of individual differences in interoceptive sensitivity involving heartbeat detection. If changes in bodily physiology trigger and intensify emotional feelings (as suggested by the James–Lange and related theories of emotion), a person's emotional experiences may reflect the degree to which she or he is sensitive to changes in bodily state. The functional integrity of interoceptive pathways can therefore amplify or attenuate emotional feelings, particularly the somatic sensations of fear and anxiety.

Interoception can guide cognitive processes. Physiological arousal can facilitate memory encoding, such that arousing material usually has an advantage in memory (3).


To start closing the Reflection of Decisions and the Impact in Your Life is of paramount importance that we take into account also the trending vortex of our spiritual component mixed with our physical signals, every time we are faced with a decision that is not “simple” we have an internal feeling and emotion inside ourselves and the guidance of our heart comes into play here, the beats, the pulse that we can distinguish when making a pause to decide and reflect allow us that perception of what we are feeling and if we are careful to listen the message we can identify what is the best course of action for us and usually is what benefits others too.


That’s the reason why previous articles have been focused on knowing yourself, of being free to decide, on being a wise listener of your own voice, distinguishing your reality from past experiences or environmental influence and then we can add a huge component, our heart.


It has been proven that our heart possess also neurons called neurites which allow that fast track pathway to connect your emotions with your cognitive skills and be able to act on your best “hunch”. Additionally our heart doesn’t have memory, it acts on present tense, it can be overwhelmed with fear, but that is if you have been building up negative feedback loops without releasing the emotions that have been stored in your brain. Your heart cannot store those kind of emotions it is the connection and loop that you’ve created through conditioning your body and your mind to feel threatened.


This new tool introduced here called interoception will enhance the way you re-connect your emotions, feelings and internal chain reactions that are happening throughout your body in order to embrace more inner platforms that in the end will lead you to become a better self, will allow to synchronize your mind and body into one whole network that will be oriented in the same direction, eventually if you keep practicing listening to your heart and making those pauses in your life to breath, this will allow you to become more in charge of survival decisions with a wiser consciousness, you won’t be that attracted to toxic/processed foods, as you will know that they also trigger your internal hormones and lead you to feel anxious or stressed. More importantly you will no longer allow your mind to be so often exposed to toxic also ironically processed information that is designed to target you and to control you and your emotions, you are now understanding that every external stimuli is shaping also your inner world and eventually is shaping the way and direction of how you decide your life !!.


Finally what is the best technique to impulse and fine tune your decisions in terms of accuracy and potential…


Your Breath, Your Ability to Pause, Your Ability to Reflect, Your Ability to Sense your Body, Your Ability to Listen to your Heartbeats and then DECIDE !!


I deeply encourage you to take a plunge into all of your inner tools mentioned here and in previous articles because all of them are YOURS, are FREE, are MODIFIABLE, are DIVINE MIRRORED, can be CLEANED, REFINED and EXPANDED!!


#decisions #decision #impulse #reaction #heart #synchronize #refined #sense #body #mind #fear #listen #life #trivial #potential #breath #weight #threat #stress #cortisol #conditioned #Saaty #LeDoux #Garfinkel


References.

  1. Saaty, Thomas. (2008). Decision making with the Analytic Hierarchy Process. Int. J. Services Sciences Int. J. Services Sciences. 1. 83-98.

  2. LeDoux, J. (2003). The Emotional Brain, Fear, and the Amygdala. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 23(4/5), 727–738.

  3. Garfinkel, S. N., & Critchley, H. D. (2016). Threat and the Body: How the Heart Supports Fear Processing. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(1), 34–46.

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