I’m aware of the irony behind an online life coach taking part in a digital detox, but after realising my anxieties in the last couple of months are directly correlated with my time spent online, I decided it was time to press the reset button on my relationship with technology.
Midlife crisis survey
First, a massive thank you to all who filled in the midlife crisis survey. I’m still collating responses, so if you have three minutes to spare, you can still share your experiences (anonymously).
What’s already clear from your answers is that when it comes to acting out your midlife, meaningless sex wins pants down over red Maseratis.
It looks like you’re one hell of a promiscuous bunch, and I love all you for it.
In all seriousness though, and a few notable exceptions aside, a midlife crisis has been – or continues to be – a thoroughly unpleasant experience for the majority of those who responded.
The more I study it and talk to clients, the more a picture emerges of a necessary – perhaps unavoidable – rite of passage towards emotional maturity. That's certainly been my own messy experience of it too.
For most of us, the midlife point is when we crave being part of something more significant, and a desire emerges to create things that will outlast us.
It often coincides with a broader identity crisis which makes us question some of the core values we've been spoon-fed by our respective tribes, families and societies.
Instead of “What will people think?”, we start asking “What will make me feel good?”.
If we're brave, we allow ourselves to distinguish between what our experience of the world is and what we’re told that experience should be.
But if we cringe, we get stuck in a loop of endless hedonism which only comes to a halt when an external event forces our ego to face a hard, unavoidable truth.
The truth that our time here is finite – too finite to squander our capacity for romance on a relationship that's run it's course or wasting our career capital on an uninspiring status job.
How to deal with it
When this identity crisis hits, you have a choice. You can either anaesthetise yourself with boys, girls, bumps or Amazon Prime.
Or you can start showing up as the person you really are and as best as you can.
To quote James Hollis: “Our life begins twice: the day we are born, and the day we accept the radical existential fact that our life, for all its delimiting factors, is essentially ours to choose’.
And that realisation, my friends, is one big giant pot of gold at the end of a very bumpy midlife rainbow.
I recently read a quote which described the first half of life as one giant, unavoidable mistake.
That simple, liberating truth nearly made me choke on my vegan matcha smoothie – the hippie equivalent of vintage hard liquor.
Whether male or female, it highlights a theme which often repeats itself with clients – that of a presumed midlife crisis.
Define existential crisis
The ‘midlife’ bit is often neither here nor there. We experience it not as a result of our chronological age, but because of our maturity levels.
Midlife marks the point when we realise that if we don’t start taking care of ourselves, the people and the world around us, we’ll end up as stagnant and unhappy Peter (or Petra) Pans.
The ‘crisis’ bit is usually caused by a lack of meaning. For some, it takes the shape of personal tragedy, turmoil and confusion. For others, it’s merely a slump characterised by aimlessness and boredom.
For many of us, however, it’s the equivalent of sticking our heads outside the window and finally being able to breathe in the fresh, crisp air of new possibilities.
I’m intrigued to hear some of your own midlife experiences, which is why I’ve put together a short (anonymous) questionnaire.
If you’ve gone through those feelings – and particularly if you’re going through them right now – I’d love it if you shared them with me in confidence as part of this survey or by email.
And whether you’ve added meaning to your life by becoming a yoga teacher, driving around town in a Maserati, going on a shamanic journey in Peru, or indulging in a series of new lovers – no judgement whatsoever.
I’m the Eat, Pray, Love cliché personified after all, having started a new life as a coach and writer in Bali in my late thirties.
Except that I have better hair than Julia Roberts.
Making friends as an adult
Even if you were lucky enough not to experience a painfully timid childhood, it’s easy to recognise that our coping mechanisms for shyness become way more sophisticated by the time we’ve reached our twenties.
Ironically, just when we’re most comfortable with ourselves, the number of actual opportunities to connect with others in a deep and meaningful dwindle — and often so does our actual desire to do so. Yet, while that desire to make new friends becomes less urgent, our need for intimacy often remains the same.
In my practice as an online life coach — and particularly as a gay life coach — this triangle of laziness, shyness and lack of practice comes up a lot. Certainly anecdotally, it seems the majority of us struggle with an increased sense of loneliness and social isolation, especially once we’ve reach the big Three-Oh.
Aside from having to scroll further down those online booking forms to find your year of birth, there’s of course nothing inherently eerie about turning thirty. It’s just an interesting reference point from which you can look back on a hopefully wild and exciting ride marked by self-discovery, insecurities and undirected focus.
Nights out with Netflix and Tinder
Our thirties usually mark the point where career, relationship and sometimes kids all compete for our limited bandwidth — mostly at the expense of our social engagements. Aside from the office, the gym and the never ending stream of baby showers, opportunities for regular and spontaneous interaction with interesting strangers rapidly dwindle.
Luckily, at this point you’ve also become far more picky about whom you spend your precious time with.
As writer Marla Paul put it: ‘The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita’.
Yet ironically, it’s right at this point when we’re at our most competent and confident that we seem to find fewer and fewer people who actually give a damn about the amazing human beings we’ve turned into.
Plenty of research also points out that our openness to new experiences decreases as we get older. The fear of missing out or FOMO which ruled our teens and twenties decreases steadily, and so does our willingness to to embrace new adventures, people and ideas.
The lure of a comfy sofa, partner and Netflix is so strong that ‘no’ becomes the default response to many opportunities for social interactions, except maybe for the occasional naked stranger if you’re single.
Worse, many people tell themselves stories about how boring their life has become over the years. They become afraid that others will find out just how uneventful their life has become, which only perpetuates the cycle of isolation.
If this is you — don’t worry. I’ve listed thirteen reasons why you might be making it harder for yourself than necessary when it comes to creating new friendships.
#1: You don’t make time to play
Let’s start with an obvious one. Research shows that more than 75 per cent of university students spend at least six hours per week socialising.
Of course, spending that much time in close proximity to people who are only interested in playing beer pong, smoking weed and banging housemates is not advisable when you’re in your thirties. After all, you have a responsible job to hold down, a mortgage to put down and a boyfriend or girlfriend to go down. How could you possible have any time to be sociable?
Let me crash your pity-party here. You do have time. Life is a reflection of the choices you make and as Darren Hardy says ‘your biggest challenge is that you’ve been sleepwalking through your choices.’
If you’re feeling lonely or socially isolated, it’s mostly not because you’re boring and it’s certainly not because you’re unlikeable. It’s often simply a matter of re-prioritising your social life.
Start by consciously directing more time and energy into your social circle, even if it requires reducing the time you put into your work, gym or relationship. It’ll make you a more balanced, resilient and joyful person to be around.
And while six hours of socialising might be a tad on the high side, for many of you––myself included––it’s still a lot less than the amount of time we spend watching Netflix each week. And dare I mention Grindr or Tinder?
#2: You’re unwilling to make the first move
I get it. You don’t want to come across as desperate, needy or horny so you make up a story that it’s not quite the right time to invite your new Crossfit buddy for dinner, cinema or a beer.
But has it occurred to you that your new buddy might be feeling a little desperate and needy for connection too?
When you meet someone interesting but you fail to follow through, you simply lose a great opportunity to add this person to your life. It’s your loss of course, but in many ways it’s theirs too. They’re probably trying to get over the same friendship hurdle as you.
Help them by making a follow up plan to connect again before you say goodbye.
And if you’re naturally more introverted, stop repeating your same story that you’re simply too shy to go out and meet new people. Just because you happen to appreciate the joys of quiet doesn’t make you anti-social. You just happen to find more meaning in one-to-one conversation than in a large group.
#3: You don’t keep up the momentum
Frequency and regularity are vital for developing any type of relationship. The more you see someone, the more you’ll like them. It’s science.
The best way to unlock a friendship is through scheduled activities.
Whether it’s a weekly wall climbing session or the pub quiz every Thursday night at the Queen’s Arms — regular scheduled activities keep the momentum going and avoid any of the awkwardness sometimes associated with having to ask for a follow up. It also bypasses the flakiness that’s so typical of many people living in a large metropolis.
#4: You don’t schedule time for spontaneity
Spontaneous social matching and mixing becomes a little harder after college or university. We may bond and hang out with housemates and co-workers, especially early on in our careers, but once we can afford to live on our own or with a partner — often further away from our previous social hubs––that opportunity for spontaneity tails off.
In recent years it has also become socially unacceptable to call someone out of the blue, while arriving outside a friend’s flat unannounced turned into a total faux pas.
“Having gotten used to so many methods of communication that are available to us, we seem to have gravitated towards the least intrusive ones — messaging — because we know how it feels to be digitally prodded through a range of different channels. “ Daisy Buchanan
So why not come to an agreement with your inner circle that unplanned calls and visits are cool — indeed wanted — again, especially if you happen to live in close proximity?
Stop telling yourself your ambushing your people by calling them. And stop feeling ambushed when they call on you unannounced.
#5: You’re not leveraging your acquaintances
Yes it sucks eggs having to start from scratch. But even if it feels you currently have no friendships to speak of, you more than likely have at least a couple of acquaintances.
The best way to start growing your network is by building, expanding and nurturing that outer circle of casual connections. And if those ties remain pretty weak or you find little in common, at some point they may well the ones who introduce you to someone you totally hit it off with.
#6: You’re not leveraging your interests
In other words, get off the sofa and find opportunities to do the things you enjoy with other people who enjoy those same things. Even in less urban areas, there’s no shortage of MeetUp groups, arts and crafts organisations, volunteering groups, or political movements which allow you to mingle with others who share similar values and interests.
Regardless of your sexual persuasion, sports provide a great opportunity for men to bond with other men while letting their guard down and showing vulnerability in a way that still allows you to feel emasculated.
Plus, you’re doing things rather than sharing things, which is a great start if you’re not comfortable showing too much vulnerability too quickly.
#7: You’re caught up in the never ending catch-up trap
This often happens when you live in the big city or away from your main friends hub. You genuinely adore your friends and love spending time with them, but because you only meet or speak periodically, every conversation is dominated by past events or memories. Three G&Ts and a gourmet burger later, you’ve both run out of steam and there’s a train to catch. We must do this more often! Sure hun, how about November 2019?
Instead of meeting for a catch-up, why not go bowling, go-ape, go outdoors, go on holiday together, or bloody Pokemon Go? As long as you create a spontaneous, fun and meaningful experience that fires up and deepens your friendship again. It’ll give you something new to talk about too during your next catch-up.
#8: You refuse to turn down the sass
Frankness and tactful honesty are wonderful traits if you want to develop a close friendship. Unfortunately, many of us quickly turn it up a notch or two too high in the form form of relentless banter and bitchy sassiness.
Guuuuurl, I’m all in favour of you teasing the hell out of me, but we’re not in RuPaul’s library and you’re way too intense. I’d be more inclined to hang out with you once you drop that coat of armour and allow me the space to drop mine. And if you’re then still planning on roasting me, at least send me some nudes.
#9: You think it shouldn’t always be you taking the initiative
You’re wrong. In a perfect world you’d both be pulling your weight and put in exactly the same effort when it comes to keeping up a friendship. But for lots of different reasons most people aren’t actually that proactive, especially with the new season of Orange Is The New Black now available on Netflix.
So put your ego aside and actually take the lead in developing the friendship –certainly in the beginning. Be the confident one who suggest times, dates, activities and venues to hang out.
Remember the other person’s social skills may have become more than a little rusty too.
#10: You’re always looking to make bosom buddies
By always looking for a soulmate friend who takes care of most of our social and emotional needs, we end up putting too much pressure on too soon.
Not everyone needs to become our alter ego and there’s nothing wrong with having certain friends for certain situations — clubbing friends, football friends, playing bridge friends or indeed friends with benefits.
Perhaps outside of our usual social scenarios we don’t have much in common with them and that’s fine. They’re a great starting point for developing a more meaningful friendship. And even if there’s no fat chance of that ever happening, at least we can let our hair down around them and they may well be the ones to introduce us to a future bosom-buddy.
#11: You’re looking for that ‘close-knit’ circle of friends
Most people who fantasise about having one big happy group of friends probably have never experienced the realities of being part of one.
Because scratch the surface of most cliques and you’ll find a cesspit of resentment, unresolved conflict and unspoken truths which makes Jersey Shores look like Dawson’s Creek.
It’s difficult enough to expect more than five people to ever get past our ‘brother from another mother’-threshold. It’s pretty much statistically impossible that all five will get past each other’s threshold too.
#12: You’re expecting too much intimacy too soon
A friendship won’t develop unless you give yourself permission to let your guard down around others. For men in particular, this is often a challenge.
“Most men tend to look to others for what’s ‘allowed’ or acceptable; by being willing to open up, you’re showing them that a greater level of intimacy is not just ok, but welcomed.” — Harris O’Malley
So lead by example. Go as slow as you feel you need to. At your own pace start getting comfortable again with opening up to others in a way that feels natural to you. Your new friend probably needs it as much as you do and it will provide them with the encouragement to reciprocate.
#13: You invest your energy in the wrong friends
Author Jim Rohn once said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. In other words — choose wisely.
Some of your friendships may be anything but healthy and enjoyable. Maybe they’re boring, fake, awkward, forced and/or generally toxic.
Do an audit of your current friendships and commit to only investing social bandwidth into those that are both healthy AND enjoyable. Then demote all your other friendships.
Is this friend generally lifting you towards the kind of life you want to lead? If the answer is yes — prioritise the friendship and reciprocate. If it is a clear no, then this relationship should be ruthlessly demoted.
And if you feel you currently have no healthy and enjoyable friendships to focus on, make a commitment that developing a wholesome circle of friends will become one of your priorities.
It might not get easier making friends once we hit our thirties. The endless opportunities for frequent and spontaneous interaction with beautiful strangers that characterised our youth and university years are gone and we find fewer excuses to let our guard down.
To avoid social isolation and loneliness, start reprioritising your social life. Make a commitment to let go of ego and shyness. Be proactive and be the one who keeps the momentum in the initial friendship phases.
And while our friend-making skills may have become a little rusty perhaps — there’s a big plus side. The people we do hang out with in our thirties are generally a wholesome, confident and increasingly self-aware bunch who — like you — are eager to share a sense of connection and community with people of similar values.
Call to action
Let’s be friends! If you want to join my very cool gang of men and women who want to make personal growth as fun and engaging as possible, then leave me your email address.
In return, I’ll teach you our very cool secret handshake.
One perk of being an online life coach who works with lots of gay men is that I get to spend plenty of of time on Instagram staring at people’s abs, pretending it’s for work.
One such six-pack recently provided me with the ultimate boner killer by posting a picture of himself and his dead Tamagotchi with the caption, ‘My best friend is dead’.
His previous pictures didn’t suggest a particular talent for sarcasm, so his post raised two questions. Firstly, how did anyone with a body like his have the time to look after anything else but his own meal plan? And secondly, how the hell did he manage to keep that thing alive since the nineties?
Turns out that Tamagotchis are making a bit of a comeback. See, clever marketing people have figured out that millennials aren’t just the self-entitled brats you love to bitch about. Apparently they can take care of other things too than just their social media accounts. Plus they’re old enough now to do nostalgia. Nostalgia for the days when they were six and you were 26 — in case you’re still clinging on to that ridiculous idea of being an Xennial.
After feeling a tad guilty for unfollowing said six-pack, I started to wonder whether I was the one who was missing a trick here. Maybe it was judgmental and ignorant to think somebody can’t be friends with a virtual chicken. And maybe I could even learn a thing or two about love and kindness from cleaning up some pixelated poop.
So, as the first in a series of articles on how to make friends as an adult, I’m investigating some of the external conditions necessary for making new friends, and whether it is indeed possible to become friends with a robot.
Here are the seven lessons I learnt. You may not like them.
Lesson #1: We need to get along in order to belong
We all depend on others for our survival. Throughout history, those with advanced social skills mostly had the upper hand compared to those who were fit but dim.
From an evolutionary perspective, these social skills served a tit-for-tat purpose. I’ll scratch your back so you can scratch mine later. Throw in a shoulder rub and a happy ending and you have my unwavering loyalty and trust.
Of course we seek more than just practical benefits by being sociable. All humans have a basic need for belonging. We have different interests, preferences and life stories, and we use those differences to decide which tribes and social groups we seek to belong to.
Like any other close relationships, friendships therefore play a very important role in the development of our self-identity and self-esteem.
Friendships allow us to compare ourselves with others — inside and outside of our group — and through that comparison we get to understand and define our own likes and dislikes, as well as our own beliefs and values.
So unless and until we belong to a tribe or a number of tribes, we can’t really build a clear identity for ourselves. Without knowing who’s in and who’s out of our circle, we don’t know who we are ourselves.
Lesson #2: Proximity is the key to starting a new adult friendship
The functional distance between two people is the most powerful predictor of whether you’ll hit it off as friends. It refers to how often your paths cross, rather than how physically close you are from one another.
This is basic mathematics. If you keep you bumping into Stephen from Accounts in the Starbucks downstairs, you’re way more likely to become aware of his existence. You’re also way more likely to strike up a conversation about his disgusting banana split frappuccino habit.
But there’s another factor at play here too. In social psychology it’s called the ‘familiarity principle’. Often used in advertising, this principle banks on people having a preference for certain things or people purely because they’re more familiar with them.
That means that even if you don’t like someone to start with, that dislike often fades once you’re exposed to them more often.
I can already hear you protesting as you think of that muscle-mary in the gym who’s been testing your nerves for months with his endless grunting, and I don’t blame you.
See, the familiarity principle only works when there’s something in it for you. We’ll only go out of our way to find things in other people we can like if polite society or the particular social set up requires us to do so.
When there’s nothing or nobody riding on it, we notice our own dissimilarities with others much more, which then leads to less liking. So unless you secretly want to do naughty things with Mr Muscle there, your dislike is only going to get worse.
Lesson #3 — Physical attraction matters, even if you don’t want to see your new friends naked
This may come as a surprise, but physical appearance is one of the most important indicators of whether we’ll initiate a friendship or not, alongside proximity.
Plenty of research shows that we have a preference for hanging out with people we deem attractive, just like we have a preference to interact with things that are beautifully designed. We rightly or wrongly associate beauty with other socially desirable traits.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, and when it becomes beauty standards we are one narcissistic and incestuous bunch.
Studies show that in terms physical attraction we’re most drawn to those who resemble ourselves and our parent of the opposite sex.
Which perfectly explains why all my friends are hot. Thanks mum.
Attractiveness is important in predicting whether we become friends with someone. But other things being equal, physical appearance usually doesn’t outrank other qualities — especially when it comes to developing the friendship further.
Also note that there’s a distinction here between physical attraction and sexual attraction, so you can take your mind out of the gutter. Or you can leave it there if you wish, because plenty of great friendships do indeed start off in the sack.
Lesson #4 — Birds of a feather rock together
Proximity and attractiveness may determine the first move, but personality takes over once you both decide to take the friendship further.
We like those who like us. Or at least those who like the same things we like (including ourselves). The more similar someone’s attitudes and character traits are to yours, the more likeable you’ll find that person.
If someone acts, talks and thinks like us, then that validates the way we act, talk and think. It supports our sense of self, our values and our core identity. So by interacting with others that are like us, we get to reinforce and validate our own identities.
Creepily enough, a recent study by Dartmouth College found that friends have similar neural responses to real-world events and researchers can predict who your friends are simply by looking at how their brains respond to video clips. Friends had the most similar neural activity patterns, followed by friends-of-friends who, in turn, had more similar neural activity than people three degrees removed (friends-of-friends-of-friends).
It gets even creepier. Research by the University of California suggests that we naturally seek out friends with similar genotypes to our own. In fact, their data found that friend pairs were on average genetically as close to each other as they were with their fourth cousins.
So you might want to be careful about that sleeping with friends thing after all.
Lesson #5: Show them yours and they’ll show you theirs
Intimacy and proximity are a powerful friendship mix. That is why intense experiences such as group therapy, hikes, retreats, or wasted cuddle puddles in the bowels of Berghain can create lifelong bonds.
According to psychologists, for intimacy to take place one person needs to disclose personal information, thoughts and feelings to a partner. They then need to receive a response from that partner and interpret that response as understanding, validating, and caring. Easy.
In other words, without some level of self-disclosure and an appropriate response to it, there can be no friendship. This self-disclosure can be factual (I don’t drink coffee) or emotional (banana split frappuccinos make me want to vomit). It can be non-intimate (I don’t like the sweet taste of it), or intimate (I have IBS).
In any budding friendship you’ll walk a tightrope between being boring (factual) and intense (emotional), although research does show that friendship is more highly related to self-disclosure in intimate than non-intimate topics.
You might want to keep your IBS stories for another time though.
Beware also that emotional intimacy doesn’t mean an unrestricted license to vent. Remember that like seeks like. If you’re on a downer, you’ll find that negative people might flock to you, while the same is true if you’re feeling positive.
So go ahead and be vulnerable. Vulnerability elicits trust. And it’s pretty damn attractive too.
Lesson #6: Flattery (and frankness) will get you everywhere
Closeness, contact and supportiveness are very good predictors of whether a friendship will be maintained, but if you want to turn it up a notch or two, add flattery.
Also known as ‘social-identity support’, it refers to the way in which a friend understands and then supports our sense of self in society or in our group. That social identity can be based on our nationality, job role, sports team, sexual preferences, religion, or any other ‘special club’ we might be a member of.
Best friends are often part of that same club or category. But what made the friendship so strong is that they boosted each others’ self-esteem by affirming one another’s identity as a greatly cherished member of said club or category.
“John, nobody else in this room full of Crossfitters smashes his weights on the floor as loudly as you do.” Or, “Will, you’re the prettiest twink at this Ariana Grande concert”. You get the drift.
Our desire for identity support can be so strong, that it may even make a difference for the those who are addicted. Studies found that people with substance abuse problems were likelier to kick their habits after three months when they felt more conflict between their drug use and their social roles and sense of self.
Those who felt socially in sync with the drug use were less likely to become substance-free. Something to think about if you’re feeling affected by the ongoing chemsex epidemic.
And yes, while social identity support is important, do keep it real boys. Friendship is based on trust and that involves frankness and honesty in equal measure.
Lesson #7: You can become friends with Siri
Friendship might be a big word in this context, but people can and do form strong attachments with objects.
In the 2013 film Her, Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a Siri-like operating system that’s designed to meet his (almost) every need in life. Of course falls in love with it.
When he finally admit to his ex-wife that he’s in a relationship with an operating system, she furiously blurts out: ‘You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of actually having to deal with anything real, so I’m glad you found one.” After which she storms off.
Honey, truth be told, we all want a husband or a wife like that. Ideally one that’s faster and has a bit more depth than my current Iphone 5.
According to researchers at Brown University, our universal need to belong means that — at least in theory — humans can bond with robots, provided those robots are social enough to reciprocate with regular and meaningful interactions.
What those interactions look like is somewhat open to interpretation of course, but here’s another key. People are also very good at projecting human-like characteristics to objects, animals and robots, potentially turning a cold piece of metal into a living being (at least in our minds).
In other words, any object or robot that we perceive to have a capacity for meaningful interaction with us, could pass a legitimate partner in social interactions with humans.
It doesn’t matter whether your Furby, Tamagotchi, IphoneX or Japanese love doll has the technical ability to interact socially with you or not. As long as you experience it to be social and you project a personality onto it, you can become friends with — or at the very least become attached to it.
So here you go, I’ll eat my words and admit I’ve been a tad judgmental.
Now, Siri sweetheart, please find me that six-pack again on Instagram. This gay life coach has some more work to do.
Join my cool gang
If you want to join my very cool gang of men and women who want to make personal growth as fun and engaging as possible, then please leave me your email address. In return, I'll teach you our very cool secret handshake.
Also, this is the first in a series of articles on friendship after 30. If you don’t want to miss out on the next instalment, then you really should subscribe.
And feel free to share the hell out of this article of course. My little ego enjoys the occasional tummy rub.
When was the last time you made a really bad decision?
I’m not talking about that roadside hotdog on the way home yesterday.
I’m talking about taking a turn which proved so monumentally wrong that you’re still bearing the consequences.
Remind yourself of how you came to that decision. And then let go of it.
Life’s a constant succession of forks in the road and plenty of them lead to tattoo parlours, STD clinics and divorce lawyers.
Question is how to do better next time?
Neuroscience in a nutshell
For a long time philosophers and economists agreed that good decision-making was based on the triumph of reason over emotion.
With advances in neuroscience we now know that emotions play at least as big a role as logic.
While the rational parts of our brain are centred in the frontal lobes, most of our emotional structures are based in the Amygdala, deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe.
People with a damaged Amygdala don’t feel emotions in the same way as others. They struggle to make even the most elementary decisions.
They provide evidence that effective decision-making is impossible without the meaning and motivation we assign to it through our emotional input.
In other words, without accessing our emotions choosing literally becomes impossible.
Maximisers verus Satisficers
American psychologist Barry Schwartz divides decision-makers into two categories, maximisers and satisficers.
Maximisers are perfectionists. They’ll consider every possible alternative imaginable, because they want to be certain that every decision or purchase they make is the best they can possibly make.
Satisficers think differently. They have certain minimum criteria they want to see fulfilled, but they’re quite happy to settle for any option they feel is good enough, even if it’s not necessarily the best option in all respects.
Research shows that satisficers on the whole lead far less stressful lives and are consistently happier than choice maximisers.
Schwartz blames what he calls the curse of discernment, where the maximiser’s rising expectations in life can no longer keep pace with the choices he or she is presented with.
He proposes a simple solution:
“If you’re out to find ‘good enough’, a lot of the pressure is off and the task of choosing something in the sea of limitless choice becomes more manageable.”
So while good enough might not be your best choice, it’ll probably make you the happiest.
Settling for good enough doesn’t necessarily mean settling for the safe option.
As entrepreneur and writer Derek Sivers puts it:
“Every time you’re making a choice, one choice is the safe/comfortable choice, and one choice is the risky/uncomfortable choice. The risky/uncomfortable choice is the one that will teach you the most and make you grow the most, so that’s the one you should choose.”
Even if your choice doesn’t play as well as you’d hoped for, having pushed your skills and capabilities to the next level is a great result in itself.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never return to its old position.” — Oliver Wendell Jones Jr
Below are the thirteen most common reasons I’ve come across in my practice as an online coach for why we end up regretting the decisions we make, and advice on how to do better next time.
1) You gave yourself too many choices
Choice overload leads to choice paralysis.
If you’re a maximiser, the sheer volume of choices means you may no longer be able to do the maths.
So you decide not to choose.
If you’re a satisficer, you get equally worn down.
There are too many options available, so instead of finding out which option fulfils your minimum criteria, you settle for the one that seems easiest.
Overload also makes it more likely you’ll regret your choice later on and encourages you to regret the alternative choices you didn’t make.
Professor Sheena Iyengar at Columbia Business School call this the paradox of choice.
“Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increasing people’s ideas about how good those options will be. This will produce less satisfaction with the produced results even if those results are good results.”
2) You weren’t in a peak state
With peak state I don’t mean being medicated on margaritas and that mystery bag you found on the dance floor. Unless you enjoy having your face tattooed.
According to author Benjamin Hardy, a peak state is when you’re in a position of growth and flow, a state of passion.
Making decisions outside of a peak state will make your choices weak and small-minded.
The best way to put yourself in such a state is to get out of your routine and spend time in an environment that’s optimal for learning and growth.
Take yourself out to the country side for a couple of days. Spend time in nature, be inspired, meditate and move around.
3) You researched your choices to death
There’s logic in the idea that the more information you have, the better decision you make.
But after you reach a certain threshold, any additional information will only confuse you.
It’s in our nature to try and fill in the information gaps as a way to reduce uncertainty.
Unfortunately this information quest can quickly lead us down some rabbit holes, especially with information so easy to come by.
The process therefore isn’t so much about finding out more information, it’s about finding the right information.
As Psychologist Ron Friedman points out:
“In a world where every click brings the promise of a discovery, we’re all at risk of becoming addicts. The challenge lies in differentiating between questions worth exploring and questions best left unasked.”
4) You over/underestimated your future self
We find it easy to remember who we were ten years ago.
Yet, for some reason we find it much harder to imagine who we might be in ten years’ time. And because we can’t imagine it, we mistakenly think it’s not going to happen.
When we make decisions we follow a process called affective forecasting, where we try and predict how the outcomes of that decision will make us feel in the future.
Trouble is we routinely overestimate the impact of the decisions we’re about to make, no matter whether we think the outcome will be be good or bad.
In the words of Kate Douglas:
“Remember that whatever the future holds, it’ll probably hurt or please you less than you imagine.”
Unless that choice involves late night carbs or a face tattoo.
5) You procrastinated
If you’re an indecisive procrastinator, you’re probably not someone I’d like to go shopping with.
You find it hard to make up your mind because you know that committing to a particular choice leads to the loss of many alternative choices.
You also know there’s social pressure to stick to that choice once you’ve made it.
The anxiety caused by this internal battle makes it tempting not to choose and instead bury your head in the sand a little while longer.
In the end, the only decision you make is to withdraw to the last remaining place where you feel truly safe, Netflix.
Always set yourself a deadline for when a decision needs to be made if you want to avoid ending up in procrastination hell.
6) You didn’t pass the buck
Most economies are fixated on the idea that plenty of choice must be a good thing.
It only takes a trip to any US diner to experience the opposite.
As a European, having to choose between ten different fries is deeply distressing, and so is the over the top friendly waitress.
Even if I enjoy the fries I chose after long deliberation, the thought of not having chosen the best fries causes stress.
Here’s a tip.
The moment you realise you’re unable to obtain the right information or knowledge in order to make a choice, is the moment you delegate it to someone who can.
So if you can’t tell a Maalbec from a Merlot, let your dinner date pick the wine.
And if he takes you to a US diner, always choose the Disco Fries.
7) You weren’t systematic
Satisficers take note: Always. Do. Your. Homework.
That homework involves having a logical and structured process in place to guide your decision-making.
Without a system, you’ll struggle to think of all the necessary factors before you come to a decision.
By being systematic you create an environment where you can explore all options, either on your own or as part of a team.
From decision-making trees to paired analyses, there are plenty of helpful tools and techniques available online that’ll help you identify and rank your options.
8) You were all brain and no gut
Various studies have shown that when we feel happy we’re more likely to be blinded by optimism and the attractiveness of a choice.
Feelings of sadness or slight melancholy on the other hand encourage a rather more systematic and realistic look at your options.
As a rule of thumb:
For small decisions always give more weight to rational arguments; for complex decisions give more weight to your emotions.
Take note of your physiology.
If you feel your body expanding when visualising the likely outcome of a particular choice, that’s a good sign.
If you feel your body contracts when visualising the outcome, then that’s usually a bad omen.
9) You were all gut and no brain
Personal development 1.0 has brainwashed you to always trust your gut.
There are literally hundreds of psychological biases that lead you to making decisions in a blinkered and illogical way.
Here are the most common ones to watch out for when making decisions:
Wishful thinking: a tendency to be over-optimistic so you overestimate favourable or pleasing outcomes. ‘He has zero experience, but I’m sure he’ll learn on the job.’
Anchoring: basing your final decision on information you gained very early on in the process even if that information turns out to be irrelevant. Often this happens when you’re under significant time pressure to make a decision. (both candidates are equally qualified, but this one had a firmer handshake)
Halo effect: where your overall impression of a person (he’s really hot) impacts your impression about individual traits of that person (he’ll make a great addition to my team).
Gambler’s fallacy: you expect past events to influence the future. You assume that because you’ve been successful or unsuccessful in your previous five business decisions, the same will happen this time. (I’m usually able to tell straight away if someone’s going to be a good fit in my team)
Listen to your gut like you’d listen to the advice of your slightly prejudiced aunt.
Pickled from life and too many G&Ts. But she means well bless her.
10) You didn’t play devil’s advocate
Maybe your past careful and skilful decisions-making earned you a reputation as a great judge and choice expert.
But often as you get more confident, you start relying more on gut feeling than on solid analysis.
This is where sloppiness and errors of judgment start slipping in.
Confirmation bias means you choose to look only at evidence that confirms your existing beliefs or theories. In other words, you get cocky.
Don’t just rely on past experience and information which confirms how right you are.
Actively seek out information that proves how wrong you might be about your preferred option.
11) You didn’t get an outsider’s opinion
Colleagues, family, friends and mentors can have great insights and information that help you make better choices.
It’s useful getting others on board early, especially if you depend on them to implement your decisions.
If you’re not keen on involving anyone else, or you don’t have access to anyone, apply the technique of trusting the crowd within.
Visualise how you would advise a close friend if they presented you with the same scenario and the same options.
In psychology this is known as dialectical bootstrapping.
It helps you to step outside your vantage point and to think a little more broad-minded.
12) You thought there was only one right decision
For a maximiser this is a tough nut to crack.
Author Susan Jeffers suggests switching from a no-win mindset to a no-lose mindset.
Instead of questioning whether you made the right decision, a no-lose mindset means reminding yourself that whatever choice you made, it was a good one.
After you made your decision, you let go of your expectation and your image of how things are ‘supposed’ to go.
Even if that choice turns out not so well later on, trust you can handle the consequences, and trust you can handle them well.
13) You didn’t pull the plug in time
Plenty of big decisions involve serious financial and emotional investment.
These sunk costs often make it impossible for us to walk away, despite mounting evidence that the decision is harming us.
After all, you put in all the hard labour, and cutting your losses now would mean accepting defeat publicly.
You become so fixated on your choice that you’re not willing to recognise when you need to change course, or when it’s time to choose something different altogether.
How do you know when to pull the plug?
As Seth Godin says in his book The Dip, the best way to find out whether you’ve reached a dead end is to ask yourself:
“Is this a project that is going to respond to my guts, effort and investment?”
If it’s a yes, then commit and invest. If it’s a no, then get the hell out.
There’s no such thing as the right choice. Some choices are better than others, so focus on making a decision that’s good enough.
When considering your options, find a balance between being systematic and being emotional. Remember:
Limit your choices
Only make decisions when you’re in a peak state
Focus on finding the right information to help you decide
Don’t overestimate the impact of your decision
Delegate decision-making to an expert
Check in with your emotions
Beware of psychological bias
Seek information that proves how wrong you are
Ask for advice
Move from a no-win mindset to a no-lose mindset
Beware of sunk costs
Call to action
Want a practical step-by-step breakdown on how to find your way through making a difficult decision?
Click here to download my free guide with 12 Easy Steps To Help You Make Tough Decisions In Life.
In this article I’ll help you a develop a better understanding of what willpower actually looks like.
I’ll also give you three simple strategies to stop you from depleting your willpower and help you deal with temptation.
The science behind willpower
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines willpower as the ability to delay gratification and resist short-term temptation so one can meet your long-term goals.
The APA also describes it as:
The conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self; the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.
In plain English, it’s your ability to delete Tinder/Grindr from your phone and use the extra ninety minutes you’ve gained today to fill out your tax return instead.
This ability to self-regulate is a vital life skill.
In a classic sixties Stanford experiment, pre-school children were given the option of either eating one marshmallow immediately, or waiting a couple of minutes and receiving an extra one.
When researchers followed up with those same kids forty years later, those who’d shown greater constraint by not eating the marshmallow had been significantly more successful in life by a number of standards than those who hadn’t.
In other words, your ability to self-regulate shows at an early age and has a significant impact on the course your life takes.
If you want a good laugh and watch a repeat of this epic battle of the mini-self versus the mini-self, take a look at this modern take on the marshmallow experiment.
Next time you want to shut down that toddler in the seat next to you, simply dangle a marshmallow in front of its face and tell it not to eat it.
A limited resource
The cliché that willpower is a muscle which gets fatigued when overused definitely holds up.
Every day, the whole day, you exert willpower in one way or another.
Plenty of studies have shown that the more self-regulation you practised this morning by denying yourself that bacon and egg sandwich or by being two-faced to Suzanne from accounts, the more likely it is you’ll lose your rag with your partner tonight when he suggests you do the dishes for once.
I’m paraphrasing some of those studies.
Indeed, there’s a strong scientific case for willpower depletion, or ego depletion, as some experts call it.
There’s simply not enough of it to go round.
Of course your willpower is never really entirely depleted, no matter how much of a stinker your day’s been.
And like any other muscle, it can be trained and strengthened.
So while depleting it may not seem like a sensible option in the short term, there’s plenty of evidence that regularly showing self-constraint increases your overall willpower.
Below are three easy strategies which have proven extremely effective for clients in my practice as an online life coach.
1) Avoid temptation
Some of us seem to be have a knack of avoiding temptation naturally, but most of us seem to be total masochists when it comes to putting our self-regulatory powers to the test.
But as Benjamin Hardy says:
If your external environment doesn’t support your goals, you’re simply not going to achieve them.
In other words, don’t put the cat among the pigeons.
Speaking of temptation, studies show that a brain in reward-seeking mode gets flooded with dopamine, the world’s favourite feel-good neurotransmitter.
That same neurotransmitter that gets you hooked on internet smut, Amazon and Instagram likes.
Once your brain flies high on dopamine, the appeal of instant gratification is amplified, making it much more likely you’ll take risks and forcing you to dig far deeper into your limited well of willpower.
2) Apply the ‘if… then…’ strategy
There’s a technique in psychology called implementation intention.
In simple terms it means coming up with a specific plan for carrying out your goal, and for addressing any possible obstacles you can think may be coming down the track.
So take a close look at your goals or your resolutions for this year.
How specific are they?
What does success look like?
What metrics did you put in place to measure whether you’ve achieved them?
For example, if your goal is to hit the gym three times a week, then plan ahead and write down exactly what time you’ll be going on which day; which route you’ll take to get there; what clothes you’ll be wearing; and even which exercises and in what order.
You can use a variation of this technique if your goal is to stop a certain behaviour.
If you know that putting yourself in a particular situation will make it tempting for you to fall back, then come up with a so-called ‘if… then… ‘ strategy.
For example: “If I go out for a beer on Friday and I feel like having a cigaret, I will not join my friends for a smoke outside”.
In other words, you visualise how you’ll respond in your mind and commit to it.
This simple technique but it allows you to be mentally prepared for anything that might throw you or tempt you to fall back into old behaviours.
By pre-deciding what your response will be in a future scenario situation, you won’t need to rely on your willpower once the situation arises.
3) Practise willingness
Even if you manage to avoid temptation altogether, it’s inevitable that cravings will set in at some point, whether those be physical or emotional.
By applying a concept called willingness, you’ll allow your cravings to come and go while not acting upon them.
As psychiatrist and addiction expert Judson Brewer puts it:
“Willingness is about dropping into the struggle, opening up to your cravings, letting them be there, and making peace with them”.
So instead of powering through your cravings, you apply curiosity to them as a way to take off the edges.
Imagine a donut starts smiling at you from across the office and you’re thinking of smiling back at it.
Instead of thinking ‘I’m craving that donut’, say to yourself ‘I’m having the thought that I’m craving that donut’.
Or better even: ‘I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that I’m craving that donut.’
Doing this will put some welcome space between yourself and your thoughts; a space in which choice becomes possible, and where you tell that donut to go and stuff itself.
Call to action
As Tony Robbins says: “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
So don’t wait until the pain becomes unbearable. Sign up here for more practical tips on how to do life better, win the lottery and never have to work a day in your life again.
In the meantime, stay away from that marshmallow.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
For some of us a time of joy. For the rest of us four days (tops) of bearable family time until we regress into that delightful fifteen-year old we once were.
But for many it's also a time of intense loneliness. One made worse by the festive cheers from the next door neighbours, the soppy department store ads, and the carefully curated Instagram posts from estranged friends.
There’s a cynicism about loneliness. You see yourself and you feel completely disconnected. Yet, you forget there are millions of people in this very moment feeling exactly like you.
Togetherness in feeling alone. That's loneliness sticking both its grubby fingers up at you.
Not to be confused with solitude, loneliness is based on perception. In my practice as an online life coach, I speak with clients who might be surrounded by people, friends even, and still feel lonely. It’s perfectly normal and happens quite frequently, but once you’ve settled on that perception, reaching out to others becomes harder. Especially given the changes in our brain chemistry which can increase social anxiety and make you more socially awkward.
Loneliness is also a ruthless killer. Statistics show that living life in loneliness increases your odds of dying an early death by 40 per cent.
But what does science say about social isolation? Is there a purpose to it?
What happens to the brain of a person who’s lonely that makes it just so much more difficult to reach out?
How do you start lifting yourself out of it, especially when you don't have many people around?
Answers below, along with a very special Christmas gift at the bottom of this email.
The science behind loneliness
Social isolation has in the past often been characterised as a non-chronic disease associated with shyness, depression, being a loner, or simply lacking social skills.
But according to neuroscience, the pain and aversion towards loneliness and of feeling isolated from those around you, while extremely unpleasant, are vital for survival. Neuroscience professor Dr John Ciacoppo found it's part of a biological early warning machinery to alert you to threats and damage to your social body, which you also need to survive and prosper.
But our brains can be unreliable allies. The same neurological processes that are at work when we feel lonely, also severely impact on our social skills, hence why you might feel cynical and disinclined to reach out to others.
The epidemic of gay loneliness
From depression and suicide to chems and other risky behaviours, Michael Hobbs’s makes an excellent argument about the blight of loneliness on the lives of many gay men, blaming it on ‘minority stress’ among other things.
In his response, Ben Miller throws some serious shade on Hobb’s arguments in an equally compelling way. I’m staying comfortably on the fence because essays are well worth a read.
How do you lift yourself out of social isolation?
Yep, the million-dollar question that can literally save your life.
If you want to get past those feelings of loneliness, here are a couple of steps YOU need to take.
1) Acknowledge that you’re feeling lonely. Admit it, own it, don’t deny it.
2) Understand what loneliness does to your brain, to your body and to your behaviour. Your brain is highly likely to be in self-preservation mode. It’ll tell you to lash out at others and be cynical about their intentions.
Recognise that you’re not the best judge of character right now and cut the people around you some slack.
3) Respond by developing a relationship with individuals you feel could trust. This really isn’t about quantity. It’s about quality. There are people out there who really care about you, if you gave them a chance to.
Find even just one individual who you can confide in and who can confide in you. Develop and nurture that relationship, be patient, and by all means reciprocate.
4) Start developing your interests. See if you can connect with something that’s bigger than you. I’m not even necessarily talking about joining a Meetup group, although that’s an option too.
I’m talking about developing a wider sense of purpose. Maybe one that you'll find in spirituality, or perhaps through volunteering with a local charity.
These four steps are a slow and messy process. But remember you're hardwired to be a social creature and continued isolation will be a far messier option in the long run.
Unless YOU take the first step, your situation is unlikely to change.
Here are some further useful tips to address and prevent social isolation.
You're an amazing and supremely loveable human being. My hope is that the whole of 2018 proves me and you right about that.
If you’d like a confidential chat to talk about how you’re feeling about your relationship with others, do get in touch.