Documenting my life

Category: fear (Page 2 of 2)

Two questions to make hard choices easier

When you have a decision to make, it is not always easy to weigh the pros and cons and know what “the best thing” is.

You sometimes wonder what you are supposed to do and can’t easily figure out which option you should go for.

When I am making a decision and I notice myself being really indecisive, I always go back to these two questions and frameworks, which I learned about years ago. Since they have been useful for me, I simply wanted to share them.

Why do these two questions help?

The questions are open-ended and put a specific spin on the decision-making process, which makes it easier to decide. Very importantly, you will be confident of that choice.

1. What is the the Bigger Life?

The idea is that a bigger life is a happier and more interesting life.

Even just by defining what this means to you, you will have a good perspective on what you should do.

I heard about this on this podcast episode with Gretchen Rubin almost ten years ago and I still use this today.


Let’s say you are considering moving country.

For some, the bigger life is moving, exploring a different place and getting to know it well. Being immersed in a new culture, meeting new friends, learning different ways to do things. Experiencing independence and proving that you can make it even abroad, with no support system close by (until you find yourself a new one). If you move, it will mean a challenge and a breath of fresh air.

On the other side, others might see the bigger life as the one in which they don’t move. They don’t want to miss out on what they have, and leaving their current life would not bring them joy. They would much rather be able to participate in the important moments in friends and family’s lives. Someone wants to be able to just pop by at their sibling’s home for a drink or a cuppa and cake without notice (or a plane to catch). They want to be able to continue volunteering for a cause they are passionate about. Their job is really interesting and fun and they don’t want to look for a new one

There is no right or wrong answer. Your opinion and views might change over time, but this framework has been incredibly helpful. I find I usually have some kind of gut feeling or immediate response as to which option is “the bigger life” and why. I was recently deciding whether to move house. As soon as I used this framework and wrote down my bigger life it was absolutely clear what I should do.

2. Who do you want to be?

This question comes from the TED talk How to make hard choices by Ruth Chang.

Chan points out that hard choices are tough because there is no better option overall and reminds us that small choices can be hard, too.

No option is better than the other:

  • Alternatives are not equally good options or you could flip a coin, but it doesn’t seem right
  • If you improve one of the conditions slightly, that improved option should be better. However, it might not be enough, so it means one is not better than the other

The peculiar thing about making hard decisions is that values can’t be quantified, it’s not as scientific as maths. Chan mentions the concept of “on par”. This is usually the case in hard choices, when there is no objectively better option.

The key driver now becomes our agency.

When options are on par we get to decide where we stand as a person. We define who we are with our choices.

“Here’s where I stand!” This response is not dictated to us, rather it’s supported by reasons created by us

Ruth Chang

Through hard choices we have the power to become the people who we are and want to be – we find reasons within ourselves to prefer one option versus the other.

Personally, I think about this when making big decisions, but I will try and remember to apply it more often to smaller choices too.

Other interesting ideas

  • The fact that small choices can be hard made me think of Chris Hadfield’s book and his realisation that (most of) our everyday choices that shape who we are. I share more details here
  • As James Clear says, every action is a vote to our identity and that is why building habits, even tiny ones, matters.

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How to deal with the fear of saying the wrong thing

Months ago I came across a phrase that has really stuck with me. I have been thinking about it a lot and in very different scenarios.

So as simple as it is (as some of the best things are) I had to share it here.

“You can’t say the wrong thing to the right person”

The idea behind the phrase “You can’t say the wrong thing to the right person” is really powerful for two main reasons.

  • It takes the pressure away. If you say something and the other person reacts negatively, THEY were not the right person, since they didn’t fully understand where you are coming from or are in a different place. That is completely fine, of course, but it has nothing to do with what you said.
  • It acts as a red flag detector. If someone rejects you because of something you said, it probably means you don’t share the same values, and it’s best to find this out sooner rather than later.

Real-life examples

Job interview You are applying for a job and you ask about work-life balance in the interview. They might give a generic response, and start to doubt your work ethic. They might not extend you an offer. But, if you think about it, you would not want to be hired by a company that will demand you to put in extra hours and will lead you to be burnt out.

Asking the question might seem like you’re shooting yourself in the foot, but if you’re worried they will get the wrong impression and you will be perceived as “lazy”, the truth is the worry should be “on them”, they should be excited to show you how they are currently implementing good work-life harmony strategies to ensure employers aren’t overwhelmed.

Moving in You are considering moving in with someone and they act surprised when you tell them you want to discuss how you will manage the household and how you will split the chores. That is a sign that something is off, probably their views on how often and who should clean/tidy are very different to yours and you would not be compatible housemates if you can’t agree and work together on this point. The key thing to remember is that the issue rarely is in “saying the wrong thing”, but in the reaction and the response we get. As much as a negative reaction might lead to you not moving in together, it is better to figure this out before signing the lease.

Learning something new You have started a course and you will have to spend your Sundays working through that. Your friends are always pressuring you to go out, saying the course is useless anyway, and they refuse to make plans at a time that would be more convenient to you. This is a sign they have no flexibility and they don’t value learning and growing your knowledge as much as you do. In this case, the “right person” would support you in this new endeavor and encourage you, and would be happy to say yes to plans that fit all schedules.

Closing thoughts

The obvious caveat for this post is that communication is key, you must always be kind and respectful when talking to others. It’s always important to let the other person have a chance to explain themselves and give them the chance to work on something they want to improve if this is compatible with your needs.

This sentence can be helpful to deal with the fear of rejection since it reframes it as a sign that the match is not ideal, which is something you would want to find out as soon as possible.

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield – Book review

I read Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth recently, after being fascinated by his Masterclass course I saw a few years ago.

Here are my main takeaways and thoughts on the book. The subtitle is “What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything”, so you know it’s going to be fascinating!

Decisions matter

There are so many moments where you make a decision and you don’t even realize it.

Or sometimes you recognize it’s not the best decision, but you justify it to yourself. If it’s an exception or you have thought of it intentionally, by all means.

However, I have personally noticed that sometimes I will do something out of habit or laziness, more than as a treat or because I really think that’s the best thing to do. The risk is that the subpar behavior becomes the default one and you don’t even think of the other options you have.

Would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book? I recognized even as a 9-year-old that I had a lot of choices and my decisions mattered. What I did each day would determine the kind of person I’d become.

Chris hadfield

Sweat the small stuff

This is what Chris Hadfield says about his training in problem-solving.

I learned how to anticipate problems in order to prevent them, and how to respond effectively in critical situations. Astronauts are taught that the best way to reduce stress is to sweat the small stuff.

In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. We felt competent to deal with whatever happened—a sense of confidence that comes directly from solid preparation.

Nothing boosts confidence quite like simulating a disaster, engaging with it fully, both physically and intellectually, and realizing you have the ability to work the problem. Each time you manage to do that your comfort zone expands a little, so if you ever face that particular problem in real life, you’re able to think clearly.

I really like the emphasis on the importance of preparation and the knowledge that you can solve a problem, since you have already gone through the motions. It’s interesting to realize this shift in perspective:

Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive.

Practice and learn

When training, they would have multiple simulations on each aspect they had to prepare for. The goal was to learn and get everything done correctly, but this will only happen after a few sessions and mistakes, usually. What is really key is the fact that they were encouraged to share about their mistakes, so that others could learn about potential issues and could come up with solutions. To summarize, you need to practice in different scenarios and always highlight what you did wrong. Make it a point to learn as much as possible.

This concept is also used in Medicine, where doctors and surgeons will routinely share “near miss situations“: occasions in which thankfully nothing serious happened to the patient, but they realized there could have easily been an accident and that they need to improve the mechanisms in place in that particular area.

When I was preparing for exams at Uni, I would think to myself that asking a question to the professor during office hours and letting him know that I had not understood something was way better than this coming up in the exam itself.

Not only I could still be perceived as “ignorant”, now I was also “lazy”/unprepared and I had to face the consequences of a bad mark. I would often ask myself difficult questions and try and understand the nitty-gritty details, to be sure I was prepared and, when studying with my classmates, we would test each other on the trickier parts, where someone had made an unexpected mistake.

Create checklists

Chris Hadfield really stresses the importance of a checklist and to not trust your spontaneous judgment, especially under stress, if you had previously thought about the task at hand. Maybe you are in a hurry, maybe you have done the same thing many times, maybe someone asks you something else… You can be tempted to be as fast as possible and skip the checks past-you had decided were useful. Most times it will go well, but just one mistake will make you regret not having followed your own advice. Especially because it is not a new lesson or something you hadn’t prepared for.

In real-time, the temptation to take a chance is always higher.

Astronauts will create Flight Rules to protect themselves against the temptation to take risks. These rules were created when there was no urgency or pressure and they could analyse all angles, possible actions, and their consequences and make a solid judgment without stress.

I create checklists for tasks I have to routinely do, to make sure I don’t skip any steps, especially if it’s repetitive and requires little attention. I also create checklists of potential error causes and make sure to run through them before marking a task as complete.

Be in flow

The last point is related to the concept of flow, in my interpretation. I first found out about this idea in Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and I have discussed more about it in this blog post.

Chris Hadfield explains that especially since his dream job was, literally, one of the most common dream jobs, he could not and did not define himself as being or wanting to be an astronaut. It is important to have a goal in mind, but what is key is that it must not be the end all be all – you have to enjoy the ride.

He gives a simple example: “For me, the appeal was similar to that of a New York Times crossword puzzle: training is hard and fun and stretches my mind, so I feel good when I persevere and finish—and I also feel ready to do it all over again”

This can be summed up in the following quote:

You should try and find meaning and enjoyment in the day to day activities, embracing everything as a challenge, and making sure you have a goal in mind and you can track your progress, however small, and enjoy the results that come from the process.

chris hadfield

Final thoughts and recommendation advice

As you can tell by the number of quotes and takeaways from the book, I really enjoyed reading this autobiography, since it was very captivating and filled with nuggets of wisdom and funny anecdotes. I would recommend it to anyone who is fascinated by Space and is curious about the life of an Astronaut

On being a beginner – advice by Brené Brown

I recently started a new project, which uses a tool I have never used before. It was interesting to notice how I deal with new things, learning to do something for the first time, and how I respond to challenges and roadblocks.

I am usually a very determined person and I have a growth mindset, i.e. I believe things can be improved and I can learn and change my behaviour.

However, I found myself struggling when I felt like I didn’t have a clear path ahead of me.

This is what I did:

  • I reminded myself of other times when I was a beginner and how I was actually praised on multiple occasions for being a fast learner
  • I took a step back and defined the steps I needed to take. This includes searching for information and educating myself online
  • I identified two people I could reach out to and ask questions to

Having a plan is useful because it means you know what you need to do. Any task can be broken down into small and relatively easy steps, so you should not feel overwhelmed.

In the moment it can feel like something is really tough and difficult to manage, but it’s key to remind ourselves that starting something new means the initial learning curve will be steep and that this is normal.

This situation and the frustration I felt reminded me of a podcast episode by Brené Brown, in which she discusses the topic and calls this type of situation an FFT, i.e. a F****** First Time.

Brené Brown is a research and expert on vulnerability. She defines it as uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure. Being new at something is the epitomy of vulnerability. The only way to get to the other side is to push through.

New is hard and we don’t like the discomfort. […] Sometimes we get so afraid of the vulnerability that we actually stop trying or doing anything that we’re not already good at doing.

When we just give up being new and awkward, we stop growing. And we stop growing, we stop living.

The more we’re willing to embrace the suck, and try new things, the more new things we’re willing to try.

And it’s not because being new gets comfortable, it’s because we learn how to normalize discomfort.

Knowing we have the strenght to survive those [though] moments […] is how we get braver.

She advises to do the following:

Name it and understand it. Recognize you are in an FFT. Discuss the situation with someone you are close with and acknowledge your feelings of disappointment and fear. “When we name and own hard things it gives us power, to effect change and achieve purpose

Naming your FFT allows you to do these three things:

  • Normalize the situation. Knowing this is exaclty what it’s supposed to feel like, it’s something that we haven’t done before. We don’t have previous experience to draw on, so it will be difficult and scary.
  • Put it into perspective. It will feel like it’s ok to struggle, since you are doing something new and that’s just how it is. The important thing is to know it will get better with practice and that some time in the future we will look back and think of how much progress we have made.
  • Reality Check expectations. With yourself and others. I am generally quite optimistic and tend to underestimate the time and effort required to do something. And actually, when you are doing something new, there is no way of knowing how much time it will take you to complete a task, of course. And since we might be very good in similar aspects of our lives, we tend to underestimate the effort for something new. Know that it will take time, that you will do many mistakes. Ask questions if you can, take notes and try and not repeat the same errors. Remind yourself that it’s normal for this to take a lot of time and that you will feel stuck multiple times

It’s very encouraging to think about this and to know that although being a beginner is tough, it’s the best way to learn and improve and that I will make progress and the discomfort will end.

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