Responding to Ryan (Part 1): You Don’t Need ACT, You Need a Decision

Dear Ryan,

my heart ached for you when I read your email, and your question about competing values struck a chord for me personally.  Like all good questions, they provoke something in others, and I feel like you’ve helped me to reflect on values conflicts in my own life.

So here’s my own personal take on your questions – in two parts.  Don’t take this as advice per se – we’d need a more in-depth discussion for that.  These are only my personal reflections, but I hope you find some of it useful in turn.

My own experience of being trapped in a job I hated was that I got trapped inside my own head, like this:

Unlike me, you’ve already been brave enough to change roles a few times.

But I’m wondering whether these changes have ever been really strategic?  Have they been organised around the things you want, or around the stuff you don’t want?  Does your current role feel like you have defaulted to something, rather than chosen it?

If so, you must address this first.  You must choose, even if that means choosing to stay where you are for the sake of your family.

ACT is great, and very useful in career change, but it is especially great for problems that aren’t really problems to be solved.  This is largely a problem to solve.

So it felt to me like you have to somehow make a decision – and use ACT as part of this process (that’s part 2).

The Need for a Good Decision

You already know there’s no ‘right’ decision.  All of your options involve compromises.  But you can make a good decision.

A good decision can still go horribly wrong, but it will de-risk those chances considerably.

On a bad day a good decision feels like you took the least-worst option. On a good day, a good decision feels like you’ve permanently stacked the odds in your favour.

And without a decision, it is harder to be more mindful and focused on one’s current life.  You’ll always be wondering about the alternatives.  And then values are more likely to appear as though they depend on external forces, rather than our own choices.

So, how?  Funny you should ask, as in our experience there are…

5 Key Stages (of a Good Decision)

Some of these stages might take 5 minutes, some may take 5 months.  But each is critical to the process of getting unstuck.

Step 1 – Understand your Stuckness

Your mind will be impatient to press on with the process.  But try not to.

Slow down.

You may well be feeling exhausted – and so busy that it is hard to think.  It may take some time for the world to stop spinning.

See if you can find some time for reflection.  Take a long weekend. Try to get some distance (physical and mental) from your situation.  In your case you’ve been stuck a few times.  What experiences in your life may help explain this?

Step 2 – Identify your Decision Criteria

Should you quit and start your own gig?  Stay put for the sake of your family?  I don’t know.  You don’t know.  No one can know, because we haven’t specified what ‘good’ looks like for you.

Imagine you were buying a house.  You can’t visit every house in the world, so you need a set of criteria to help you narrow the list before you start visiting.

Your list of criteria will include lots of stuff, and some of it will conflict.  Somehow when we buy a house we see this as normal – it’s all a tradeoff.  Career choices are just the same.  Not all of your criteria will point conveniently in the same direction.  That’s normal, too.

But sometimes our minds want to punish us for our lack of consistency.

Step 3 – Identify your Options

Humans make decisions based on comparisons with other options.  So without fully understanding your options you cannot make a good decision.  For all you know your ideal job could be out there, but you’ve never heard of it.

Therefore, you need to dedicate at least some time to understanding what your options are.  This means a period of creative thinking, generating as many ideas as you can think of.

Of the options you know about, like starting your own business, bring them to life by specifying exactly what type of business and what your role in it would be.

Step 4 – Make a Decision

Now everything gets real.  You need to get out of your mind and make some real-life experiments.  But where to start?  Most people need to whittle down their options first.

One helpful way of doing that is to score all of your options against all of your criteria.  This isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely rigorous.

Once you’ve scored all your options, get rid of the options that score badly.  As you narrow your options you can spend more time researching the options that remain. Eventually, most people are left with one or two options to take forward, so they can…

Step 5 – Make a Plan and Get into Action

Now it’s all about getting out of your mind and into your life.  You can’t make a good decision in your mind, you’ll have to get out there and test it.

So you’ll need a smart plan to help you articulate your goal and then get moving:

As you know however, the plan is one thing but reality will look more like this:

So you will need a support team around you. And you will need a plan to manage your risks.  That’s a whole other post, but I suspect you’re already good at this bit.

Does it work?

This is a long post, so that’s the question I’d be asking by now.

I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘work’.

Does life get easier when you make a decision and get out of your mind and into your life?  Undoubtedly not.  It may even get harder.

But I think most people feel that life somehow gets more meaningful and satisfying.  So in my view, that’s a ‘yes’.

For me personally it is ‘yes’.

But in the end, you must decide.



Career Change, Developing Coaches - ACT Training, Getting Unstuck coaching

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