This article first appeared in Forbes.
Are you like the many women who evaluate an opportunity endlessly, and eventually convince themselves that it’s not right for them? Or worse, decide against it even before they’ve quite thought it through?
You may certainly be right in your judgments and decisions. But if the outcome is that you’re playing small in your life, or regretting the paths not taken, it’s a good idea to try and understand the hidden factors that influence them, because most of them lie below our conscious awareness. If we aren’t aware of them, we risk basing important decisions on irrelevant factors. And that’s certainly not a risk worth taking!
Here are three subconscious factors that can derail us, and what we can do about them to make clear-headed decisions that are aligned with how we want to show up in the world.
# 1: Be Physically Energized
Our body’s energy level plays a huge role in decision-making, especially for decisions that are more complex. The brain needs glucose and rest to function at optimal level, both of which require regular refueling. Research shows that when we’re hungry, or haven’t slept well, we lose the ability to see shades of gray and go for easy Yes or No answers instead. I remember when the kids were little, and I didn’t eat before putting them to bed, I was far more snappy, and quick to think of them as unreasonable and demanding. What about you? Where is your lack of energy affecting your judgments or decisions?
# 2: Be Connected to Your Body
Our physiology affects our emotions, thoughts and behaviors in feedback loops. And it works faster than any of them, because it’s mechanisms are based in the most primal parts of the brain. Think about it — you hear a loud thud, and your heart starts beating faster even before you’ve thought of what it was, or jumped out of your bed in alarm. People who are aware of their bodies can calm them through the breath, instead of trying to argue with themselves about why they need to do something. Or basing their decisions on a racing heart, or how they “feel”, or a general sense of unease. They can also differentiate between a gut feeling and fear — an increasingly important ability during and beyond the pandemic.
# 3: Manage How You Feel
Research in self-esteem shows that people who feel bad about themselves tend to avoid important actions and decisions. Helping them take action isn’t as easy as closing the gap between their perceived ability and the task at hand. Most times they know they are capable. But that’s just not enough. I lost count of the number of times I’ve sat across a client who says “I know I can do the job. But I don’t know what stops me from applying”. What’s stopping them is their emotions — and emotions and reason don’t speak the same language. If that feels true for you, you need to calm your emotions by being with yourself in compassion. No telling yourself what to do, or why it’s important. Just be. Everything else will follow.
We try and manage our lives through our conscious minds. That’s important. But it’s a premature first step. What we miss is the fact that our subconscious mind drives our behaviors. Our conscious mind simply justifies them.