Sunday, 11 November 2012

Life changing decisions - Example of South Africa

Future - how can you influence your future? How do you make decisions that, when you look back at it, you can say they have changed the course of your life and hence your future? How to make the RIGHT decisions? EVERY DECISION CAN BE THE RIGHT ONE - it depends on YOU!! While the decision to go to South Africa at the time seemed to be a very courageous and daring move, it was probably one of the most important and lasting decisions I ever took. All the plans I had for my life changed 180 degrees. It was an amazing experience in several regards. Being exposed to a totally different culture has opened up my eyes to many things in life. I learnt about how to priorotise in life and really focus on the aspects of life that are really important (family, friends, love etc.). It also taught me what it means to be really ‘open-minded’ about other cultures. It’s very easy for everybody to say that they are, but let me tell you that if it comes down to it, only very few really practice it. People there have taught me what it means to appreciate life and what it means to really enjoy life. The time also opened my eyes to the hardships many (actually most) people face in this world, that are far worse than anything the few privileged in the Western societies think are challenges.  Above all though it taught me that regardless of the danger of any context or situation, if you are willing to change your behaviour and ADAPT, no situation has to be any more precarious than living at home. Again, it is about how YOU act, interact and adapt in the context at the decision you took brought you. Your future is going to be entirely build around how you behave in the environment you put yourself through your decisions. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Making the Right Decision - Turning Fear into Future Opportunity

In life everybody is faced with very difficult situations, which require some tough decisions. These decisions and the potential consequences can often seem scary, either because of the unknown, or the known outcome of the decision just seems too intimidating. Without realising, some of the most daunting decisions in life often turn out to be the most rewarding ones. I would like to borrow the analogy of risk and return, which is probably the #1 commandment for investment banker - the higher the risk the higher the return (For more information see here or here). While in business this is accepted as an universal rule, in your private life it doesn’t always turn out that way, but it certainly exemplifies an important issue - many of the decision or consequences that appear particularly scary, can also hold the greatest rewards in life. 

After my high school graduation I was confronted with the choice between going to university or spending one year gaining some experience abroad during a social year. The opportunity abroad was a project working with HIV/Aids affected (not infected!) children in South Africa. The path to university was of course what most of my peers opted for and would have definitely been the safe and normal choice. At the time, South Africa in my mind called for Safari, Zulu warriors and the Lion King. However, after my initial research I also realised that the area the project was based is the region most affected by HIV/Aids in the world (!), with prevalence rates over 50% (the national level is lower, more information on statistics here). In addition, South Africa was well-known for its violence and crime rates, again the area I was supposed to be working in was the battleground during the fight between the ANC and INKATHA in the years following the end of apartheid (I just want to point out that this was my view at the time and does not reflect my view of the country today). So the choice was to go to this seemingly dangerous place, where I don’t know the rules, habits and culture, where I won’t be able to do very much due to security, won’t know any of my future colleagues and don’t even know how emotionally challenging the work with the children will be. Compared to that I had the option of the comfortable, quiet and fun life as a student.  The majority of my peers again went for the latter, the safer version. However, I thought to myself how many times in life are you given an opportunity to experience something so fundamentally new and can even contribute to the wider society. I thought that if I just accept the limitations the new environment imposes on me, listen to the advice from people who have been there or are living there and embrace the new life I will be fine. In fact, I went with the feeling that ultimately for everything I will miss from home, there will be at least one new opportunity or door that opens for me. And sometimes one just have to look at things that way and also seek these new opportunities to turn daunting situations into very valuable experiences - hence making the ‘right’ decision. 
In my next post I will tell you all about how the time in South Africa went and what I learnt from that. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Top 5 Strategies for a Better Future - Improve your Decision Making Skills

The inspiration for my Top 5 Strategies for a Better Future - Improve your Decision Making Skills came from PicketBrain and their “3 strategies for radically better decision making”. In their model, the three strategies consist of Manage your Emotions, Create a Vision and Control your Needs and Neediness. For everybody who has read my previous posts I don’t need to point out that in my approach I am not so much interested in the mainstream notion of decision making for future business success, but rather am I interested in the way people do and/or should approach decisions in their private life that will shape their future. While I would like to keep the first two components from the existing model, my complete Top 5 Strategies for a Better Future - Improve your Decision Making Skills are as followed:

  1. Manage your emotions
  2. Create a vision
  3. Develop a plan -  Future planning
  4. Believe in yourself and your decision
  5. Take responsibility 
1. Manage your emotions (from PicketBrain) Decision making is an emotional event. Emotions bog you down and cloud your ability to make good decisions. Medical science has shown that we make decisions emotionally, not rationally. The data behind this theory points to a small, almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala receives the information before it is passed on to the cognitive part of your brain. The amygdala is primarily responsible for controlling our “flight vs. fight” responses. Its purpose is to help us react quickly, without really thinking through the situation. This is good if you are confronted by a hungry tiger, but not so good if you are faced with deciding which job offer to take or any other life-changing event.
Based on this theory, science also suggests that 78% of what we think is wrong. Therefore, controlling your emotions and changing how you think is a big contributor to making better decisions. To do this, you must work on your emotional state. If you sometimes struggle with controlling your emotions, try these ideas:
  • When confronted with a decision, create a visual image of a blank slate
  • Pay attention to your body’s physical clues
  • Don’t get too high, or too low, when confronted with a tough decision
  • Practice
2. Create a vision (from PicketBrain) Your decisions are also formed by your vision. When you see something, clearly and personally, your opportunity to make a better decision is improved. Consider wearing seatbelts in your car. Many studies have proven, without a doubt, that wearing a seatbelt can dramatically improve your chances of surviving a car accident. So, why do some people ignore this? The answer may be they have not visualized the outcome of their decision. If someone you know refuses to wear a seatbelt, ask what he or she think would happen if they were travelling down the highway at 70mph and hit a tree? Ask them to visualize what this would look like in the future. Perhaps, a different decision would be made. On a similar note, every year around the time for the prom our local high school puts a wrecked car in front of the building. The purpose for doing this is to give the administration the opportunity to show, or visualize, to the students what can happen if they drink and drive after the prom. This technique is more powerful and effective than quoting statistics which may not be heard by the students. However, they do grasp what a wrecked car looks like and the tragic outcome of making the decision to drink and drive.
3.Develop a plan - Future planning In the plan you should clearly identify what exactly are my options, who are the important actors affected, usually one would start with her- or himself and then family or friends, and what outcome would be desirable for each of them. Think how each option you have in front of you affects them (most importantly how they affect you). Then consider what, once you take the decision, this will mean in terms of concrete actions that need to be taken in the immediate future. Be aware of spillover effects and what problems some of the required future actions can potentially cause. Overall, it is just important that you are very clear about what the implications of a decision are, what actions are required in the immediate future, what additional adversities these actions can cause, and what needs to be done in the longer run to make the decision a successful one. This leads me to the most important component of my Top 5 Strategies for a Better Future.

4. Believe in yourself and your decision I think this is probably the most important part of the decision making process that will turn any decision into a positive outcome for your future. It is based on a very simple fact in life - we can’t run a randomised control trial (RCT) on how a situation would have turned out if we had taken a different decision in the past. We only have the example of the decision we took. Therefore, any decision you are about to make is the right one - why? Because it is up to YOU to make a decision the right one! Any decision can turn out to significantly shape your future and it is up to you to make this a positive influence. In my example “First important decision in life” I could have easily chosen not to go abroad, as so many of my peers did. I would have never found out what I missed, and equally I now don’t know what I probably missed staying at home. But I took the decision to go and I went with a positive attitude, determined to make the decision I took the ‘right one’ for my future. I knew at the time that if I had the right attitude towards my decision and the trust, faith and confidence in me, that the year abroad could be the best time in my (then young) life - and that is exactly what happened. 5.Take responsibility One of the most difficult parts of the decision making process is to take responsibility for the decisions and actions taken. However, it is undoubtedly one of the most important ones. Because while all the previous four points should help you to make the right decision for a positive future, everybody will err. The Top 5 Strategies for a Better Future - Improve your Decision Making Skills are not a recipe for always making the right decision for your future, but rather they will significantly increase the proportion of right decisions. So when it comes to the point when you realised a decision didn’t turn out to be the ‘right’ one and the results are not as expected, it is important to embrace that fact and try to learn from it.If you take responsibility:
  • You can never feel like you’re the victim of somebody else’s action or decision
  • You can evaluate why the decision didn’t turn out well, identify the reasons and act upon them
  • You fully ‘own’ your decision and actions, you can feel proud of them and others will respect you for that
  • You won’t be scared of the consequences
  • You can act as a role model for other people and encourage them to take action and responsibility for their future

A selection of additional important sources on this topic:

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