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Say no by first saying yes

You have probably heard it said that every time you say yes to a request or a supposed opportunity, you are saying no to something else. In other words, since you only have 24 hours a day and no more, spending any amount of time on another task makes that time unavailable for something else. This means you might have to say no to something you might have otherwise have preferred to do – like spend time with your family or relax by the pool.

You are already doing this whenever you eat in a restaurant or shop at a department store. When you select your meal, you are saying no to everything else on the menu. And when you choose a jacket, you are saying no to all the other jackets on the rack.

This is true; you are saying no by default. But it makes more sense to turn this around by say yes to the things you want to do first – before you receive those requests. You do this by having personal and organizational goals, and blocking out the time in your planner to work on those goal-related activities. Whatever time is left over is the time available for others requests or unexpected opportunities.

The problem is that most people still work on a reactive, first-come, first-served basis, with no specific plan for getting their own priorities done.

You cannot work effectively from a “To do” list since there is no time estimate attached to each item. And we all underestimate how long we think it list of activities will take.

The solution is to schedule directly into your planner those things that you want to say yes to, blocking off enough time to do them. If you block off enough time to include the inevitable interruptions, you will be able to tell by the remaining blank spaces in your planner how much discretionary time you still have available for other things.

This works best with a paper planner; but you can still do it with your electronic handheld device. Regardless, these appointments with yourself to get things done are not carved in stone. If even higher priorities come up, you can still say yes to them by displacing those already in your planner. But it’s a lot easier to say no if you already have your commitments in place.

This allows you to plan well in advance, accommodating the more urgent items in the immediate future. You already know what you want. So make the commitment to get them done. Say yes to yourself so you are able to say no to others.

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Is there no such thing as an objective decision?

The amygdala area of the brain is known to generate feelings. It is the emotional part of the brain, generating such responses as fear and desire.

The prefrontal cortex, sometimes referred to as a manager, houses the executive functions and is considered the thinking part of the brain. You might expect it to be the decision-maker.

And it is. But it works in conjunction with the more intuitive amygdala, which draws on past experiences and feelings to influence the decision. After receiving input from the amygdala and other brain areas, the resulting decision may not appear so logical if you consider only the facts relevant to the situation in question.

According to John Lehrer, in his book, How we decide, the prefrontal cortex is linked to just about every brain area, and considers all feedback before making a decision. But no decision can be completely objective – at least not as far as other people are concerned – since we all have our own realities, values, beliefs and past experiences.

Probably more areas of the brain are involved in the decision-making process than even the neuroscientists are aware of. And perhaps without mirror neurons, which reside in many parts of the brain and help us to emphasize with one another, we would never agree on anything.

As Jonah Lehrer, author of How we decide, says, “Intuition isn’t a miraculous cure all. Sometimes the feelings can lead us astray and causes us to make all sorts of predictable mistakes.” He goes on to say that the “reptilian brain” is fighting the frontal lobes.

When it comes to decisions, sometimes the emotional part of the brain can take charge. It has been shown, for instance, that we can react to the presence of an unseen snake fractions of a second before we are even conscious of its presence. The brain’s priority seems to be to minimize danger and to maximize reward.

Since few, if any of us, have had similar past experiences, it is unlikely that we would all agree on a decision made by a group. As Charles Jacobs says in his book, Management rewired, “if we use logic to influence people unconsciously driven by emotion, we probably aren’t going to be very successful in getting them to embrace our point of view.”

According to a Canadian press article appearing in the March 23, 2017 issue of, emotion colors the meaning we give to things. This supports the opinion of Princeton political scientist Larry Bartel, who was quoted in Jonah Lehrer’s book as saying that voters invent facts or ignore facts so they can rationalize decisions they’ve already made.

If I am reading the brain research correctly it would appear as though we should try to avoid snap decisions on important issues, allowing the executive center of our brain to moderate emotional impulses. It would also appear that we should involve other people with different experiences in our decision-making process to compensate for our own biases. And we should go so far as to seek out different points of view. But when instant decisions are critical, such in the case of a wall about to collapse, trust your instincts. After all, that part of the brain is programmed for survival, and you have to survive if you want to make more decisions in the future.

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Mindfulness and life balance go hand in hand


You cannot achieve life balance without mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being in the moment mentally as well as physically. For example you could be at home or on a golf course and yet mentally be back at the office thinking about the project you are working on or worrying about the work piling up in your inbox. Likewise, you could be working on a project at the office and yet be concerned about something at home. In either case your body is be in one place and your mind in another.

Mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. To enjoy your experience of being with your family or on a golf course or lounging on a beach, your mind must be centered on what you are doing at the time – not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Our minds are frequently working in the future or the past: they seems to be its default settings. You can be mindful at any time, and dwell on the present as it happens. But it takes practice.

Mindfulness is critical to the attainment of a balanced life. Mindfulness precludes multitasking, which is a bane to balance. It forces you to focus on whatever you are doing at the time. For example, if you are physically present with your spouse, you should not be mentally at work.

Mindfulness improves your attention span and concentration – factors that are critical to resisting the lure of technologies and other interruptions in this digital age of speed. You could refer to the “gorilla test” described in the book, The invisible gorilla, where many of the students so intently watching players passing a ball back and forth, never even noticed a fake gorilla walking onto the court.

Mindfulness has been proven to decrease stress and relieve the pressures of a busy day – factors also at odds with a balanced life. Stress has been associated with health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Because of this you might want to start with some mindfulness practices such as meditation or yoga. Or get organized first. You should find it easier to stay organized once you have purposefully set your direction in life and have learned to live with stress.

There are many ways to develop mindfulness, including more formal meditation, yoga, and controlled breathing and relaxation exercises.  But you can also practice on a daily basis simply by being “in the now” as you go about your activities both at and away from work.

Using an example of driving or walking to work, you might try observing the street names, location of the various stores and service stations, and generally being aware of your surroundings. Be in the moment. Living in the moment, defined as mindfulness, is a state of active, open, intentional attention to the present. And it will move you from peak performances to peak experiences.