A difficult decision is any decision where we are ‘in two minds’. Every time we find ourselves struggling to decide what we should do, it’s because we have conflicting motives, pulling our minds in different directions – the struggle of our For and Against motives. I think everyone has had mornings when they wake up thinking about whether they should get up and go to work… or not. Should we…or shouldn’t we? Yes or No? If there were no conflicting motives, it would not be a difficult decision – we’d just do it. No problem.
In this article, I’ll give examples of how we always make difficult decisions by using the same mental processes – by assessing our conflicting motives, and how, what we decide to do, depends on how our conflicting For and Against motives balance out – on which competing side wins. And which side wins, depends on our thoughts feelings, and beliefs.
Thoughts, feelings and beliefs can change – or be changed (see How and Why I Gave Up Smoking) – and this is why CBT is so effective in helping people with addiction to change what they do. CBT tries to help addicts shift their thoughts, feelings and beliefs to a place where their For and Against motives balance out on the side of wanting to Change, and believing that they can. See How Does CBT & Rehab Shifts Our For & Against Motives?
It’s important to realize that we always, always, always have choices. No one ever ‘makes’ us do anything – not even our addiction. The motivation to obey an addiction is strong, but we still have choice. It doesn’t have to be the choice of quitting, it could be the choice of reaching out for help, even though we don’t know how we can quit, or even believe that we can. We always make a choice, and it’s always OUR choice, and we have to realize that – and live with that knowledge.
But first, it is helpful to understand what is happening in our heads when we try to ‘make up our minds’ – when we are struggling with any difficult decision. We make choices everyday, whether we realize it or not. This balancing out of for and against arguments might be done in half a second: ‘Should I have that last slice of pizza?’ or be agonized over for weeks: ‘Should I quit my job?’ or ‘Should I stop smoking?’
A Difficult Decision: Should I Go To Work Today…..Or Not?
Let’s face it, we don’t always want to go to work. As we lie in bed wondering whether to call in sick, or get up and go to work, we start to calculate the For and Against arguments of each potential course of action.
The Benefits: our ‘For’ going to work motives
- I’ll be able to pay the rent
- I’ll able to buy food for the week
- I’ll be able to go out on the weekend
- I’ll able to buy the electronic toy my heart desires
But… on the other hand, if I do go to work (in order to get the advantages of doing what I don’t want to do), there are also disadvantages:
The Disadvantages: the ‘Against’ Factors what we have to put up with if we want to get the benefits of getting paid
- I’ll have to put up with my boss and his bad temper
- I’ll have to do all that boring filing and stacking
Hmmm….Do these disadvantages outweigh the benefits of going to work, or not?
Then you consider the alternative option – staying in bed and not going to work – what you do want to do
Option 2: Not Going to Work
The Advantages: the ‘For’ factors – the motives pulling you in favor of choosing not to go to work today
- Staying bed for an extra hour
- Relaxing at home
- Playing computer games
- Going shopping….etc etc
These all seem very tempting – yes, we definitely know this is what we do really want to do, but…. unfortunately it’s not that simple: If we decide to stay at home today, that decision could come with costs to us and our family.
The Disadvantages: the ‘Against’ Factors, pushing us towards choosing to do what we know we don’t want to do, but might decide to do anyway:
- risk losing the job
- risk losing a promotion
- and the loss of income
Mostly, we choose to get up and go to work, even if we don’t want to, because we’ve worked out that the ‘benefits’ of going to work, outweigh the potential ‘costs’ of not going. But maybe not!
Maybe we decide we can get a better job somewhere else, or we decide we’d rather starve and risk losing our home rather than keep doing that particular job. It’s always a personal assessment of the costs and benefits to us, and we act accordingly. We always act in accordance with the side of the cost/benefit analysis that we think, and feel, is most beneficial for us at that particular time.
What we don’t do – what we never do – is get up and go to work purely and only, because that is what our boss wants us to do, unless, of course we have a particular reason for wanting the boss to like us, such as being in line for a promotion. If that is the case, we’ve already factored that in to our cost/benefit analysis.
Every choice that we make depends on the balance outcome of our motives – the relative weight of our For and Against factors – they are always OUR motives, feelings and needs, but…… that doesn’t mean we always put our own interests ahead of someone else.
We Don’t Always Put Our Own Interests First
For example, we might decide to put our childrens’ interests ahead of our own, for reasons that satisfy our own need to be the sort of parent we want to be. And because of that, we decide to do something we don’t really want to do – because the weight (value) we give our personal reasons for doing it, outweigh our personal reasons not to – and so we do it.
But we are still weighing up the balance of OUR conflicting motives – we are choosing to do something we don’t want to do, because we decide that the weight WE place on OUR need to put our child first, outweighs our need to put ourselves first.
So in these circumstances,
putting our child’s interests ahead of our own, becomes what we really want to do
We are still choosing what WE want to do. The fact that it coincides with what is the best interests of our child and not our own, is a motive, but it’s the weight we personally place on that motive that dictates our decision. But – maybe we don’t feel that our child’s need is more important to us at this time than our own needs.
It always depends on the different strengths of the opposing forces involved in our decision. It’s always personal. There is always choice, and we are responsible for the choices we make.
Many people with an addiction understand the devastating effect of knowing that the weight they place on continuing their addiction outweighs their desire to look after their children in the way they would like to. For most people, that is a difficult fact to live with.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective in helping people with addiction or other problems in their lives, because it helps people to change the balance of their conflicting motives. Motives are based on our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Thoughts, feelings and beliefs can change, or be changed by new information.
New information, greater understanding of ourselves, and insight into why we do what we do, can change almost everything in our lives. It can even restore the belief that change is possible, and then recovery becomes an achievable reality.
If you are struggling with the decision to reach out for help – just do it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see how anyone can help you, or you believe that your situation is hopeless, or you believe that changing what you do is not possible. There are always choices, and change is always possible. So make that difficult decision to get help – just do it – for your sake, and for the sake of people you care about. Do it. See Who Do I Call?