Critical Decisions: Making Better Choices
By: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2015 (edited September 2018)
Our lives get set in motion early. We are not condemned to these childhood trajectories, but they impact our choices. If we are not succeeding, we must change directions.
Felt experience is complex. The mind experiences the world through the senses—sight, sound, touch, and smell. The firing neurons absorbs the information creates order, extracts meaning, and records the findings. This is a biological process. The process is certain, biologically dictated but the results are individual. The stored meanings become the foundation of new experience. Newness is measured from the patterns of established understandings.
Our explanation of causes impacts the felt experience; we individually weigh an event with varying importance. A single event registering as insignificant to one may be devastating to another, leaving new psychological scars or boosting healing (depending on the foundational past giving meaning to the experience). The building blocks of feeling are complex and compounding.
Underlying biological constructions (our genes) intermingle with childhood experiences, creating the foundations that influence interpretations and shaping the world as safe or dangerous. The interaction between the biological and the social are behind the patterns of openness or protectiveness. These underlying attitudes towards experience limit or expand our lives. The sensitive child avoids novel exposures essential for growth, creating a greater disadvantage.
All of us build our lives on the foundations of the past, brick by brick. Our history, then, is not the past at all but a dynamic piece of the present.
Critical Decisions are decisions most likely to have a significant impact on our future.
Critical Decisions Not Final
The good news is this: most critical decisions are not final. Their importance typically makes an about face costly but not impossible.
While our childhoods and early adult decisions set our lives in motion, the direction is still negotiable. We can change. The critical decision at the moment is to continue moving with our current trajectory or sucking up the losses and reconstructing our lives.
Changing the Trajectories of Our Lives
Established inhibitions and inclinations are not death sentences in a predetermined world. They exist but are not a single determining factor. Instead of excusing a disappointing life on a lousy childhood, we can confront memories, reshape meanings, and use that colorful past to give deeper purpose to the glorious present. The past is not an obstacle to success but a defining element of our achievement, adding depth, wisdom and empathy to our present.
As we mature, we exercise more control over the circumstances—a child is limited. We can strategically make choices that limit exposure to harm and improve surroundings. Our choices, even the mundane ones, slowly reshape earlier foundations. Unlike the infant, we’re not completely dependent; we can constructively respond to life, shaping a better future. Adults have immense cognitive capabilities that can adapt to the complexities of existence—not just external elements, but also the disruptive inner agitators.
We can invite healthier futures. The more skilled we act in the present, the more empowered we become to shape the future.
Sensitivity to future implications of action is essential. We must abandon tendencies to thoughtlessly react in an emotional stupor; and then valiantly defend the stupidness with well-sounding and intelligently constructed justifications. This will not do; justifications don’t erase the impacts of poor choice.
Our choices, even the mundane ones, slowly reshape earlier foundations.
Small Mundane Choices have Critical Consequences
Difficult choices and critical decisions bombard daily life. Often the choices appear insignificant from a present-minded perspective. We must act with care, realizing the mirage. The inconsequential appearance deceptively directs attention from the importance of present action. Because of complexity, we must operate in the present without complete knowledge of the future implications.
Wisdom tells us; don’t burn relationship bridges; continue to gather knowledge; and develop skills. We may not know what we need so we collect a variety of skills, not sure what and how things will be called into play later. Intelligent choice demands healthy preparatory action without certainty how the behavior will be of use in the future.
"Research shows that wise reasoning is associated with a greater quality of life satisfaction, less negative affect, less depressive thinking, better social relationships, speech that consists of words that are more positive than negative, and, perhaps most important, longer life."
Suzanne Kane | PsychCentral
We all make a few bad decisions. If we wait to act (over intellectualizing, worrying and avoiding), we may miss rewarding opportunities, continuing in sameness while blaming the stinginess of the world for our rotting stagnation. However, we shouldn’t haphazardly chase every perceived pot of gold. This leads to chaos. We must wisely and cautiously approach novelty, while not investing precious time on unneeded risks. Resources must be treasured, prudently guarded, seizing on promising opportunities while avoiding the riskier ones.
Even cautious approaches may fail. Persistence when chasing dreams can bless and curse. Sometimes cutting losses and abandoning a dream that has become more of a nightmare is prudent. By continuing for principles sake, we waste energy that could be better redirected towards something more profitable. Wisdom helps with these difficult choices. We will make errors, holding on too long or cutting loses too early. We will stay in relationships we should leave or leave a relationship we should develop. We never know the destination of the unchosen path. We must live with those decisions, move forward with grace.
Avoidance and Pursuit
The choice between avoidance and pursuit are not clearly discernible. Living life in a forward-moving course requires risk and courage. Inherited temperaments dictate the workable levels of risk and the level of courage available for engagement. We can break through the glass ceilings of biological and social givens. We can utilize the biological and early social givens in wonderful new ways. We shouldn’t curse our pasts; we must embrace our present. The small child underneath the rough protective exterior needs compassion. In the warmth of a self-accepting environment, the inner child can explore with safety.
The marble block of our biological and childhoods is formed and refined through present choices. Healthy choices, even the mundane ones, chip away the rough edges of our pasts. Being sensitive to the implications of simple choices empowers the self-creation of futures—not magical transformations but directed change that comes from living right.
Guiding Values and Decisions
To effectively navigate life with incomplete knowledge, we need solid standards instead of impulsive reactivity. The conditions surrounding choice constantly change. Choices made in the expediency of heated emotions often lead us off course. Without a structured foundation, our lives are subject to circumstances. Identifying and embracing principles of honesty, compassion, kindness, caring, fairness, and civic responsibility anchor choice, strengthening decisions and narrowing possibilities of error.
With strong ethics as a guide, the wind of change doesn’t toss us into uncontrollable chaos. A person of character moves forward, trusting in proven paths of virtue, no matter how damning outside circumstances may be.
When felt experience confuses, the emotions bubble up from the unseen world and we are pushed towards destructive habits or heated attacks, take a deep breath, soothe the system, and review strong guiding principles to direct action. As we do right, we build a wealth of resources that will bless our futures in rich and unexpected ways.
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