Nov 032008

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about how they decide something – they are too busy deciding. But knowing how and why you decide can make the difference between finding your true path and wandering along a series of blind alleys.


Many of my life coaching engagements initially focus on the question of how we decide to do what we do – be with the people we are with – live where we live – and so on. Sure, most of my clients have not put a lot of thought into the question – and that makes it interesting to them. However, the real benefit from asking it comes because it touches on issues that are central to the human experience. How you decide not only determines how you will live your life – it also determines what kind of a person you have and will continue to become.

The assessment process that I use for life coaching is a bit different from the ones I use in either executive or leadership coaching. The life coaching approach is much more personal – centered on the individual and their approach to living. Three ‘ways of deciding’ tend to show up in the results of any assessment.

  • Accidental Decisions: “I don’t know how it happened, it just did.” If you kept track of the number of decisions you make during an ordinary day, the large number would surprise you. We make decisions all the time – some incidental and rather unimportant – others monumental in their implications. The former kind comes in herds – lots of them – and we make them without thinking much about either the implications or the facts surrounding them. We just decide – and, in deciding, we roll the dice. These random decisions tend to lead us towards other unanticipated – accidental – decisions. We make them often in the same way that we made the decisions that lead us to them – casually and without a lot of thought. These gently trends tend to bring us to big decisions unawares of their significance and, before we know, we have chosen.
  • Inertia Decides: “I’m happy with the way my life is.” Inertia comes in lots of forms. Technically, inertia does not mean staying on one place but staying in one state. An ocean liner under steam has inertia – it moves in the same direction and is difficult to stop or turn. A rock has inertia – it sits on the ground and is heavy to lift. The antidote to inertia is change and it is the aversion to change that preserves it. Some people see inertia as ‘familiar’ or ‘comfortable’. For them, life continuing pretty much as it has been makes a lot of sense. Habits are the most noticeable evidence of this tendency towards inertia. Habits tend to keep us within narrow channels. We make decisions based on them and, in the end, nothing much changes. The problem is that life is change and change means breaking inertia and moving on to another way of living.
  • Reacting Decides: “I just couldn’t stand being in the same room with him.” Reactions can be aversions or attractions – and many things in between. We sometimes react out of our current state of mind – loneliness, hunger, greed, melancholy and more – and that reactivity more than the facts of the decision we face, makes the decision for us. One of my life-coaching clients had an aversion to large, open rooms that were noisy and crowded. He adversaries actually figured this out and maneuvered him into those conditions whenever possible. In his ‘reactive state’ he was capable of making al sorts of mistakes – and sometime did. The point is that reactive states can drive your decision process and cause you to make choices that are not in your best interest.

So, how do you break these cycles? How do you take control of your decision process and avoid the potholes of accidents, inertia and reaction?

The process begins with thinking. A quote from Inherit the Wind may help. It starts with a question that goes to the heart of the matter.

Why do you deny the one thing that sets above the other animals? What other merit have we? The elephant is larger, the horse stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, the mosquito more prolific, even the sponge is more durable.

The question that I put to my life-coaching clients is ‘why do you deny yourself the benefits of this singular merit’? Well, why do you?

The truth is that you do not have to be a victim – you do not have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You do not have to be an alien in your own world. Do not look at the past and ask why. Look to the future and ask why not.

If you want to know more about my life-coaching, send me an e-mail and we will arrange a time to talk.


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