Decision-making and Balance

We all have many components to our lives that each require attention and effort to work well for us. We must constantly juggle competing demands for our time, energy, and attention: wash the dishes or catch up on the news? Organize our finances or go for a workout? Work on disaster preparedness or tax preparation? Organize our files or go out with friends? Work on long-range goals or take care of immediate needs? For any activity, there are multiple others that we want, need, or ought to do that pull us in different directions.

Even though there is no wrong answer to these questions, it often feels like all choices are wrong. This is because no matter how much we accomplish on the task we choose, many more tasks were not done. Unfinished tasks nag at us and make us feel badly about ourselves. Feeling badly creates a sense of pressure to catch up so we can soon feel better. Our responses to this pressure may make us feel more scattered, and instead of putting our things away in their designated homes (next month’s newsletter, “Creating Item Homes”) we pile or toss them anywhere just to get them out of our way. Shortcuts like this are usually harmful because then we have another mess to deal with that is often even more difficult to deal with than the original problem. Putting things in a pile makes deciding what to do with them harder and makes us feel worse about ourselves because we made a bigger mess. (read my newsletter article “Staying Organized Under Pressure” for help on not getting rattled by disorder or other sources of stress; many other newsletter Article in the archive are also relevant)

Being bombarded with choices can make decision-making almost impossible. When all choices are important and valid, making just one can feel stressful – no matter which one we pick, the others seem equally worthwhile and make us uneasy about our choice. For some people, this decision-making difficulty can create a near-constant state of distress and even lead to depression. Distress and depression are compounded if we berate ourselves for the choices we did not make or the tasks we did not do.

My motto for resolving these decision-making ambiguities that we all must live with is “Just do the next right thing.” What is the next right thing? That depends on where you are in life. If you are depressed, the next right thing might be a walk or just neatening the area closest to wherever you sit or stand. When you are more in control of your emotions, the next right thing might be a workout, meditation, or cleaning the kitchen. There is no one activity that is the “next right thing” – anything could be if you will benefit from doing it, especially if the activity will boost your spirits or self-esteem. In a state of emotional distress or when decision-making is especially hard, the least challenging tasks are a way to be active without creating more distress and can help get beyond a low mood.

All positive, constructive activity is beneficial, even when it means that other equally valid, important activities must be delayed. The trick is to not let remaining tasks on our to-do list cause us to take false shortcuts, such as ignoring messages that our struggles with tasks are giving us or feel badly about ourselves. For example, if a task is too hard to do, stop and THINK: what would make this task easier or more tolerable? If you struggle with clutter, stop piling and ask basic questions: Do I (or will I in the near or likely future) use everything I have here? If not, then you probably need to clear out. If yes, then you probably need more, better, or different storage than what you currently have. Any time you are tempted to pile things rather than put them away, alarm bells should go off telling you to stop and re-think the assumptions behind this temptation. If choices are too stressful, back up and think calmly about what might make them less stressful.

After boosting our spirits with activity, we can think about what else in our immediate circumstances needs attention. Usually it is some form of balance – of getting the various components of life all working together. When we create balance and stable, consistent routines, we make decision-making easier and reduce our stress levels.

The balance to most activities or states is its direct opposite. The table below shows some paired opposites, both sides of which are essential:
         Work – play
         Spirit / art / soul – finances, career, work
         Movement / exercise – stillness / rest
         Reflection – action
         Seriousness – lightness

These are only a small part of the essential areas and pairs that we all have to balance. The relative importance of each area will vary for each person.

To maintain a healthy, balanced life, we need to give some attention, however small, to most of our essential life areas every day. This could mean that each area needs as little as fifteen minutes of attention per day or could take substantial hours as for work or family time. Although initially, scrapping together fifteen minutes for exercise may seem impossible, doing so for just a few weeks will likely lead to a great increase in energy and enthusiasm for tackling other elements of balance. Begin adding the elements described in The PRESENT Principle one by one and you will soon experience an almost magical change in your ability to maintain balance and cope with the many decisions that life requires.


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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