Difficult Choices

In every moment, of every day, we are making decisions. We decide where to direct our attention, we decide when (if) we should take a break, we decide whether to answer phone calls or respond to emails. Most of us make those decisions automatically, without much thought. But what about the decisions that really FEEL like decisions? The types of decisions that keep you up at night with anxiety or rob your afternoon of several hours spent fretting over the options. When it comes to big decisions, what is the best approach?


Decision-making is a huge part of my coaching practice. I work with all of my clients to examine and execute on big decisions including whether to file for divorce, quit the job, fire the paralegal, or take the big leap. If you are contemplating a big decision, schedule time with me to get support and clarity.


We have talked about decision-making in several contexts but today I want to focus on actual steps to evaluating and making a decision. But first, let’s recap:

Step 1: Take the Decision off the Pedestal

Many of us have struggled with decision paralysis from time to time because we put these decisions on a pedestal. We allow them to loom ahead of us like giant crossroads in our lives. We have to first recognize that we are making this decision WAY TOO powerful. One decision will not make or break your entire life.

In order to move forward you have to separate from the facts from your primitive-brain-thinking. You have to first recognize the thoughts you are choosing as just that: thoughts. Focus on the facts of the situation and examine how else you could be thinking about them.

For example, consider these thoughts:

I need to figure out my practice specialty this year otherwise I will fall behind.

I need to figure out whether to hire another attorney before everyone gets fed up and quits!

When we scour those sentences for cold hard facts, I find none. Those sentences reflect our internal catastrophizing and dramatizations. Neither of which are helpful. When we can get clear on the facts, the frenzy in your brain calms considerably. We are left with:

I am thinking about narrowing down to a specialty this year.

I am considering whether to hire a new attorney.

Simple. Factual. Nothing to see here.

Step 2: Take a Hard Look at Your Worst Case Scenario

Whenever we are avoiding a decision it’s because we have convinced ourselves that there is a right and wrong path ahead of us and if we choose the wrong one, our world will fall apart. When we look at our worst-case scenario, we can see that it is really comprised of only two things: obstacles that you can navigate and negative self-talk you can address. We don’t have to allow our brains to tell us that if we make the wrong decision not only will everything fall apart but it proves something negative about ourselves: we aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough, we can’t do this, this will never work out, etc. Instead, take a long hard look at your worst-case scenario, decide how you would handle it and decide what you would make it mean. In doing so, you rob it of all it’s power.

Again, this is just a recap! More on Steps 1 and 2 is available here.

Step 3: Get Clear About Your Why

In any choice that we make, there will be pros and cons. There will be consequences of many varieties, even when the opportunity seems too good to be true. In those instances, we have to consider what we gain by acting. When we have clarity about what is at stake with every new decision, that clarity will light the path when things get murky (because they will). That clarity will allow you to keep moving.

More on Step 3 here.

Step 4: Embrace Fear

Fear, self-doubt, and guilt are all parts of the bargain when we choose to make changes — those feelings do not mean you are making a wrong decision.

More on Step 4 here.

Step 5: Commit to Having Your Own Back

Part of the reason we avoid making decisions is because of how terrible we are to ourselves when a decision doesn’t work out how we imagined. We beat ourselves up, we judge our past actions, we rewrite history to make ourselves feel even worse. If you can commit to making a decision and having your own back no matter how it plays out, what is there to be afraid of?

More on Step 5 here.

Having worked through Steps 1 through 5, we are ready to make a decision…but how?

How to make the decision

First we have to take a look at the options we are considering and set forth our justifications for each option.

Why would we go that route?

What is the benefit?

What is motivating us?

Why is this decision hard?

This step is critical and must include some serious introspection. Are you wanting to keep that paralegal because you don’t want to have to deal with the discomfort of firing her? Are you saying yes to that new project because you’ll “feel bad” if you say no? In this step, we have to get brutally honest about our reasoning. Ask yourself why the decision is hard. Consider all of the thoughts swirling around–are we worried about what others will think? Are we forecasting the future?

Once we have all the justifications set out for each options available to us, I recommend reviewing those lists and highlighting only the justifications that are factual. “Difficult” decisions are often soaking in drama. We have to get really clear about what is the true and what is just dramatizations.

For instance, we might believe that if we fire our paralegal we will “devastate” her or “ruin her financially.” But we don’t know if that’s true. What if she really hates the job but was too afraid to quit? What if she knew she wasn’t the right fit? Or instead, we think that if we say “no” to a project/engagement offered to us, the other person will be disappointed or angry. What if that’s not the case? What if they really don’t care they just asked you because you were the first person they saw?

This part of the process can be helpful in distilling our justifications down to the meat of it. Usually justifications surrounding “difficult” decisions are rooted in avoidance of some negative emotion–we don’t want to feel bad if others are hurt, sad, disappointed, etc. While we can recognize that they might not be any of those things, our fear around how we will feel if others are hurt by our decision can keep us paralyzed.

Now the magical part:

You just decide.

Seriously.

You look at each list of justifications and you pick the list you feel most strongly about.

That might mean that you don’t fire you your paralegal because you don’t want to upset her but at least now you will be very clear that the real motivation behind that decision is because you don’t want to feel bad if she’s upset. On the other hand, you might decide that you don’t feel good about that justification. You just have to ask yourself–do I feel good about my reasoning for selecting this option? That’s it.

There are no right answers. The only thing that matters is making a decision for reasons that you are honest about and for reasons that you feel good about.

Then we circle back to Steps 1 – 5 and execute, paying close attention to Step 5 where you commit to having your own back. We commit not to second guess, back down, or shoulda, coulda, woulda, ourselves later on.

“Every decision brings with it some good, some bad, some lessons, and some luck. The only thing that’s for sure is that indecision steals many years from many people who wind up wishing they’d just had the courage to leap.”

Doe Zantamata

Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels

Putting Out Fires

How’s your day going? Are you doing one million different things at the same time, answering phone calls, responding to emails, getting yelled at, blurting directives in the hallway, yelling at someone else, and juggling flaming torches, while running a marathon and planning a birthday party for your spouse all before 10am?

Just a regular Tuesday, eh?

Oh the panicked frenzy of practicing law! On those days, your brain is laser focused and you can feel the adrenaline coursing through your body as you move from one thing to the next with effortless precision. For many of us, we get addicted to this frenzy. We develop a strange love affair with the pressure and intensity of those days. We feel alive! Connected to the work! Like a boss. If only we could feel like this all the time!

While these bursts of energy and manic productivity can be incredibly addictive and create tremendous surges of satisfaction, working from this state is problematic for two reasons.

First, it is not sustainable. During these moments of manic productivity and putting out fires we are actually operating from a primitive state. Our body has infused our system with tremendous amounts of adrenaline because the pressure and stress that we have put on ourselves and created in our minds has led our primitive brains to believe that we are on the verge of being murdered by carnivorous clients. We switch into survival mode operating on adrenaline; our hearts race and our brains become laser focused on the task in front of us because it suddenly equates the task with survival.

Our primitive brain and the survival mechanisms that kick in are powerful and addictive in many ways but we must recognize that living day-in and day-out being driven by adrenaline and our primitive brains is not sustainable. Our bodies were not designed to flourish under those amounts of adrenaline, which is a finite resource. It’s simply not possible to maintain that high and that level of focus and productivity long-term. We are literally living everyday in fight or flight, frenzied panic. Our bodies are preparing for battle. Productive? Yes. Sustainable? Sadly, no.


Sound familiar? Most of my clients reach out to me from that state of panicked frenzy or shortly after the inevitable crash. Stop the madness (literally). Work with me and let’s develop some tools to turn down the noise and put your logical brain back in charge.


Add to this madness, the physical and emotional toll of living on adrenaline for too long — persistent surges of adrenaline can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure, and elevate your risk of heart attacks or stroke. It can also result in anxiety, weight gain, headaches, and insomnia. I’m not that kind of doctor but the Google box and real doctors will back me up on this if you need more convincing.

When we operate from that space of fight or flight and let our primitive brain drive our actions and our responses, we also lose the ability to think rationally with our prefrontal cortex. This brings me to reason number two as to why this is not the best mode of operation.

We do not make good decisions with our primitive brains.

Our primitive brains were designed to keep us safe, seek pleasure, and be efficient. Our primitive brain is the fast acting part of our brain; it is not designed to move slowly, analyze facts, and make well-reasoned decisions. That part of our brain is designed simply to react: everything presented to your primitive brain will be perceived as an emergency, a matter of life-or-death. That means that every email that comes across your desk, every person that darkens your doorway, every phone call that comes in, your brain is going to interpret as an emergency that must be attended to immediately. Simply put, we are not biologically capable of making the best decisions when we are operating from fight or flight and letting our primitive brain drive the boat.

It’s like letting a toddler make decisions about your finances. They are going to spend all of your money going to the amusement park, eating cotton candy and raw cookie dough, and ordering all of the things from the late night shopping channel. They are not going to tell you to eat the damn salad, go to the gym, and “no, that designer purse is not the solution to your tale of woes.” The primitive part of our brain will seek the pleasure that comes from responding to that email immediately and from trying to please the client/partner rather than focusing on the project that you told the client you would get done today.

So what does all this mean?

When you find yourself in that panicked mode of productivity, recognize that your primitive brain has taken over and is clouding your judgment. You need to disconnect and reengage your logical brain. That might mean getting up and walking away from your computer and going outside for 5 minutes. Connect with nature. Take some deep breaths. Spend 5 minutes in meditation. Ground yourself and connect with a mantra–

This is not my life, this is not who I am, I am more than this job, I am more than this day.

By doing these practices we allow our primitive brain to disengage and we put the adult back in the driver’s seat so that we can start making better decisions for the long-term. We make decisions taking into account our priorities and the facts regarding what needs to be done and what does not need to be done in that moment. Save your primitive brain for real emergencies. Do not let your primitive brain drive the bus in your career. From that space you will only create burnout and block yourself from that conscious focus that will take your career to the next level.

How to Make Any Decision

We are all given so many opportunities in our lives to take action in a big way. One of the challenges that come with those opportunities is the fear that this action will dramatically change things.

When we are faced with a choice that could have lasting repercussions, how do we know when to take the leap and when to stay put?

While I am not a soothsayer and I do not pretend to have any answers for anyone’s life other than my own, what I can offer is what I have seen so many women grapple with as they sort out big decisions. When new opportunities come to our door, they often bring the same party favors with them: self-doubt, fear, and guilt are common accompaniments.

We worry that we won’t have what it takes, what will happen if it doesn’t work out. We feel guilty for contemplating decisions that might upset those around us.

When all of those fuzzy feelings come to the door, it can be very difficult to think clearly and decide whether to act. In those instances, I work with my clients to start getting very clear on what it will cost them to act or not to act. In any choice that we make, there will be pros and cons. There will be consequences of many varieties, even when the opportunity seems too good to be true. In those instances, we have to consider what we gain by acting.

What could we gain if we try and end up failing?

What could we gain if we end up succeeding?

What does it cost you to NOT act?

The answers to these questions are something we all must answer for ourselves but these questions force us to look beyond the negative feelings that accompany change.

Fear, self-doubt, and guilt are all parts of the bargain when we choose to make changes — those feelings do not mean you are doing it wrong.

But we must set those feelings aside and focus on weighing the costs. For instance, when we know with certainty that staying in our current job or relationship will stifle our development and we can see what taking a risk will force us to grow and develop in new ways, we then have the assets we need to push through those negative feelings and take the leap.

When we have clarity about what is at stake with every new decision, that clarity will light the path when things get murky (because they will). That clarity will allow you to keep moving.

So when all those wonderful feelings meet you at the door of opportunity — self-doubt, fear, and guilt — invite them to sit down at the table because they will most certainly be coming along for the ride.

That is simply the price of evolving.

We have to ignore those feelings in the short term so that we can truly focus on and weigh the options ahead of us and make an intentional rather than an emotional decision.


Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

The Career or the Family?

I can’t have a family and practice law.

This type of thinking is common for many women seeking their place in the legal industry. We are often surrounded by women who seemingly sacrifice everything to find success. They either choose not to have children or family for the sake of climbing the ladder or they have the kids and family but they trade their health and well-being–they never sleep and perpetually seem to be running a race against themselves.

Work and family: despite everything we see suggesting that these things are mutually exclusive, there is a significant fault with this thinking.

It is rare in this life that things will be truly mutually exclusive. We live in a world where dichotomies seemingly flourish, if we only look hard enough to see them. But when we subscribe to ‘either or’ thinking, we foreclose any solution to the dichotomy that might be truly our own. With ‘either or’ thinking, the only thing we will see are more reasons why it won’t work.

Our brains must be given some direction. Without adequate supervision and instruction, our brains are like children running down the stairs with knives — no one will come out of this unscathed. What this means is that, in every moment, of every day, we are giving our brain direction and instruction with our thoughts. From there, our brains will whir to action ferreting out evidence to support the thoughts and beliefs we offer it (hello, confirmation bias). So when we offer our brain thoughts of mutual exclusivity, our brain will not seek any evidence to the contrary.

Our brains are not designed to argue with our beliefs. That is a skill we must develop on our own. The first step is recognizing the beliefs that you are choosing are just thoughts–they are not facts but we are treating them as if they were.

When we subscribe to “either or” thinking, as if it were the holy grail of truths, we foreclose any innate ability we may have to merge the dichotomous elements. We overlook any creative solutions to the exclusivity and we don’t invest any energy developing creative alternatives.

If we truly believed that we could have a full professional life and a home life and if we actively invested in that belief, we would be much more willing to explore ways to make it work. We would be much more invested in drawing boundaries that would give us both. Instead, when we subscribe to dichotomous thinking, we set ourselves up to fail; we buy into the notion that one of those commitments will have to suffer for the other. What’s more, that thinking allows us to ACCEPT those sacrifices as part of the invariable truth. That truth being: you can’t have both.

Says who?

Investment in that type of thinking is only hurting us. When we allow ourselves to believe that we can only have one or the other, we stunt the development of the legal profession. Imagine where women would be today if our predecessors stopped challenging dichotomous beliefs!

One of the reasons this type of thinking often wins out is because it’s easy. It’s a very clear rule establishing choices that must be made. It confirms that anyone who tries to have both is only setting themselves up for failure because they are violating the rule. This ignores the underlying truth that sometimes getting the life that you want requires you to do the hard thing. Sometimes, challenging established beliefs requires more from you than simply accepting the limiting rules. So when we start to challenge those norms and feel that struggle, we give up and we release our will to the power of the belief.

But what if that struggle was the whole point?

What if just beyond that struggle and a whole host of difficult conversations and boundaries, you could find a way to live a life that flies in the face of the old rules?

We don’t have to believe that you must make a choice between family and a career. It can be done but it will certainly require more from you and it will most certainly require you to do more than simply buy into a belief. In order to deconstruct outdated thinking, we are going to have to invest in some difficult conversations and boundaries. We are going to have to re-examine how we envision our lives and our practices. We are going to step out of the black and white (victim, villain) thinking and start crafting solutions that actually work for us.

Besides, what’s the alternative?

Challenging systematic beliefs we hold about ourselves and our careers is at the core of what I do with my clients. When we believe we don’t have any other options, we stop growing and we stop challenging the status quo. We become the victim to a faceless machine. That is the death knell for our success in the legal profession. Start paving a different path, marked by an honest investment in your true wants and needs. Let’s re-chart your course — what do you have to lose?


Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash

Motivational Triad

When it comes to practicing law, our minds and our internal conversations will be our greatest assets. It won’t be the accolades and background that make or break your practice. It all comes down to your relationship with yourself and the internal discussions no one hears but you. Given this, it seems that the greatest tool we must understand and hone is that magical mind of ours. Specifically, why is it that our mind sometimes goes rogue and makes it seemingly impossible to move forward?

Our mind will analyze the data before us, we must decide what facts are unimportant and focus on the primary issues to maximize our efficiency. At the same time we must manage our emotional impulses associated with stress.

Practicing law is grueling. It challenges our self-worth, our values, and our ability to honor commitments both to ourselves and our clients but also to everyone around us. It is an emotional and mental boot camp of careers of sorts–it even comes with those fun “drill sergeant” type characters who seem to relish in screaming at you letting you know how pathetic you are.

Surviving these challenges not only requires a good amount of grit but a simple understanding of our basic impulses and how those impulses interact with our brains can be a complete game changer.

We are all familiar with “fight or flight” concepts but many of us are not attuned to our basic, biological instincts: the motivational triad. According to the motivational triad, we are wired to prioritize the following:

Seek pleasure.

Avoid pain.

Maintain efficiency.

Within the realm of a law firm environment, the triad can be found in the following tendencies:

Try every way imaginable to squeeze a compliment out of the difficult partner (seek pleasure) even if it means being on call at all hours of every day

Do not stand up for myself when I am being thrown under the bus to the client by a partner that dropped the ball (avoid pain) because I don’t want to get his wrath

Stay at the firm that I hate because this is what I know and I don’t want to rock the boat (maintain efficiency)

Understanding our basic instincts will help you sift through the BS your brain offers you at times. When you desperately want to leave your job and your brain offers you 1,000,000 reasons why that’s a terrible idea, we can recognize that your brain is responding as it was designed. It is trying to keep you safe. It is trying to keep you in the cave, lest you be eaten by cannibal litigators.

When you want to engage leadership in discussions about your work environment but you decide that it won’t be worth it and won’t make a difference. Those. Thoughts. Are. NOT. True. Those are biologically driven responses. Fear-driven, flight responses. Your brain is trying to keep you safe. On the hamster wheel.

When you are contemplating doing something uncomfortable, your brain will flood itself with all sorts of reasons not to act. They will seem reasonable. They will seem perfectly logical. But we mustn’t be persuaded by these biological responses. In those moments we foreclose our own innate knowing. We put blinders on to the other possibilities. Our brains get to work compiling evidence to support those biological responses and will ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Knowing this will allow you to recognize those thoughts just as they are: thoughts. They are not facts. They are not truths. They are not more important than any other thought. They alone are not reasons to act or not act.

In a world where our brains are going to fight us to keep us safe and cozy in the cave, we must become practiced at asking the right questions and evaluating all the options. We cannot allow our motivational triad to push us to act from fear. To seek safety and avoid challenges.

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some of the work I do with my clients supports them to examine their beliefs and the source of those beliefs. We analyze beliefs and thoughts to ensure that in anything that we do, or don’t do, we aren’t acting from a place of fear and safety-seeking unless that is our CONSCIOUS decision. I love helping my clients observe the motivational triad at work in their lives, then dismantle it! Sign up today, to start your own journey and see where you biological brain is holding you back.


Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Giving Away Our Power

As a basic premise, we as humans have the right to determine how we spend our time, where our energy goes, who we have relationships with. We have complete autonomy over our lives. We know this at our core but when it comes to implementing it and OWNING it every day, we give away all of that power.

With my clients, I most often see this happen when we start envisioning changes they want to make in their life.

Making commitments is easy. Following through on them is what distinguishes successful people from the rest.

Many of my clients have similar items on their wish lists —

I want to make time to workout

I want to spend time playing with my kids

I want to have a date night with my partner

I want to leave work at a reasonable hour every day

When it comes down to implementing and executing on those wish lists there are a mountain of reasons why it never happens–I’m just so tired at the end of the day, I just don’t have enough time, it’s just not a priority, something always comes up.

Any of those sound familiar?

You have the freedom to make your life whatever you want it to be.

If you don’t want to workout everyday, want work late every night, and want to rarely have one-on-one time with your family, that is absolutely your right. But let’s get one thing very clear: you are CHOOSING do to do those things. You are CHOOSING not to play with your kid when you get home, you are CHOOSING not to go to the gym, you are CHOOSING not to make your self-care a priority.

In order to get serious about creating the lives we want, we have to start getting honest with ourselves.

This life is not just happening to you–you are creating it.

You have to take ownership for the choices you are making every day.

Being tired at the end of the day is not a universal justification for not going to they gym. You are choosing not to go to the gym. People do all sorts of things every day when they are tired. YOU are doing all sorts of things every day even though you are tired. You are simply choosing not to make the gym one of those things.

When it comes to work, it is no different. You are choosing to answer that phone call right before you were supposed to head to your kid’s soccer game. You are choosing to work late and honor that last minute deadline.

You do not have to honor any deadlines.

Seriously.

You do NOT have to honor any deadlines.

Ever.

You are CHOOSING to do so. Maybe you believe that if you don’t you will get fired or you will lose the client, whatever your justification may be, there is likely a reason you are doing it.  A reason that you believe you HAVE to do it. But the truth is, you are simply making a choice. People blow off clients and deadlines and bosses and phone calls every day. You are choosing not to and that is your right. Own it and stop blaming your choices on everything else. Take ownership of the decisions you make in every moment.

Recognize the reasons for your choices and own them for what they are–choices you are making for whatever justifications you decide are important.

I pay my taxes every year not because I “have to” but because I choose to. I choose not to commit tax fraud. I choose not to violate the law. That’s my choice. Many others in this world do not make that same choice.

Sometimes, I choose to disregard my schedule completely and make something else a priority. Whenever I get a call from my family during business hours, I answer immediately and drop everything else. That is my choice. In that moment, I remind myself “You are choosing to do this, you do not have to do this.” I don’t let myself be a victim to circumstances outside of my control. I choose to blow up my schedule and best laid plans if I want to. Because that is my choice. It’s as simple as that.

When we stop telling ourselves we “have” to do things or when we make excuses for not acting, we are ignoring the simple truth of it all–we are choosing to do or not do those things.

When we take ownership of the choices we are making in every moment of every day, it allows us to hit the reset button. It allows us to ask whether that is a decision we WANT to make. A decision we would make again.

In every moment of ever day, you are making choices. Do you like the choices you are making? Are you blaming someone else for your decisions?

When you look at your life and your days as a series of choices, you take back all of your power.

You reclaim your ability to decide how you want your day and your life to play out. Don’t allow yourself to believe that your life is at the mercy of anyone other than you. Live on purpose and choose consciously how you want to spend your time.

We struggle to make ourselves a priority. We are really good at not choosing to put ourselves first. Make an investment in yourself and your life.

What do you have to lose?


Photo by Robin Glauser on Unsplash