Growing up, my dad was always – and still is – a highly cautious person. He would repeat little phrases that he concocted, which were designed to help protect us from doing anything dangerous.
Hearing his little phrases was helpful to me – not only from a security point of view, but as I grew up I realised that they were applicable to a range of other situations which could be “dangerous”: such as, spending money that you shouldn’t.
One such phrase was, “if in doubt, don’t.” This was mostly applicable to situations when you are driving. If you are in a tricky situation and you are doubtful of whether to turn, wait until you are certain. If in doubt, don’t.
I’ve learned to apply this to shopping expeditions! I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve been in a dressing room, wearing some outfit and staring at my reflection; feeling really unsure of whether or not to purchase the thing. If I apply the phrase, it works! If I’m unsure, I just don’t bother going through with the purchase. Chances are that if I do buy it despite the doubt, I’ll feel guilty, I won’t wear the thing, and every time I look at it in my wardrobe I’ll feel bad that I’d spent money on it. Just don’t go there.
Sure, it can be easier said than done, and I’ve certainly bought many outfits that I was doubtful about at the outset. But, if you are strong and you repeat the phrase, it really can work.
I’ve also applied this phrase to drinking with friends. I adore a drink (or three!) with a friend over a nice meal, but I’ve learned to stop when I feel that I’ve had enough. If I’m doubting whether to have another drink, then I know my answer. I’ve learned to be strong within myself, and to know when I feel that I’ve had a good amount and I don’t need any more. I’m not sure of how exactly I’ve mastered this, but it’s taken time and plenty of practice. To this day my partner is amazed that I am able to just stop.
I was reading about self-discipline in some psychology texts, and apparently it’s the single greatest indicator of a person’s success. If you can master it, then imagine what you can achieve! We all know that to be successful – in whatever pursuit you are interested in – it takes determination, but most especially it takes dedication. You need to stick to your goals; ploughing through and working at those details that may be tedious and boring. You need to continue to work at those goals and truly stick to them in order to see outcomes. Self-control is all about that. It’s all about managing your own self and avoiding the temptations to do something more “fun”. And the good news is that self-discipline gains momentum as you exercise it. Think of it as a muscle: the more you exercise self-control, the better you become at it. Mastery takes practice.
By coincidence I recently attended a convention for women in business, and one of the speakers had a similar phrase, “if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” I rather liked that. In other words, unless you are totally enthusiastic about an opportunity, your answer is “no”. Not only can this help in your decision-making, but by saying “no” to an opportunity you allow the space to take on another opportunity. And an important note to remember is that every time you make a decision – this can include not making a decision, which is in fact making a decision (the decision to stay with the status quo) – you choose how you spend your time and what you take on. I think it’s easy to forget that by saying “yes” to an opportunity, you are choosing to invest something into that opportunity (be it time, money or effort), and therefore choosing to not invest in another opportunity. That is, every time you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to another. So, take those decisions seriously and think about what you are giving up for that decision. More on that in a future post…
So, try the phrase “if in doubt, don’t” as a first step. If you can practice saying no to those opportunities that you really aren’t that keen on, just think about the space that opens up for those opportunities that really get you excited!