“Don’t make a permanent decision for your temporary emotion.” ~Unknown
It was a beautiful day today. The sun shone brightly, kissing my face and warming my bones, the sky was as blue as a lover's eyes, and there were those little fluffy clouds that seem like aimless but happy sheep floating gently in the sky.
And my heart sang.
I felt joy deep down in my soul.
I smiled at bus drivers and baristas alike.
Nothing could dent my good mood.
Currently mulling over medium-term plans (I started living as a digital nomad two years ago), I started to consider seriously the idea of a short-term let in the English countryside, or a house-sit in some glorious old farmhouse surrounded by living green or golden fields, a cat on my lap, a dog by my feet, and chickens out back.
I snapped back to reality with a click, the sunlight suddenly seeming harsh instead of kind, the blue of the sky austere instead of abundant, and the sheep in the sky suddenly moving with threatening purpose.
I've been living in Thailand for nearly two years now, drawn there initially to experience something other than the total-work-immersion and the health issues that had previously dominated my life.
Gradually, as I had begun to understand more the activities that brought me delight and awoke my passions, I eased into building a life there.
I was happy to come back to the UK for periods of four to six weeks, a couple of times a year, but I wasn’t currently planning on living there. Not right now, anyway.
It was then I was reminded how much our environment—in this case, the weather—affects our emotions and moods.
It was easy to see how much the weather that day was influencing me. And I could remember lots of times when cold days and drizzle had made everything seem a little bit harder, a little bit more difficult to bear, a little more wearing on body and soul.
And I wondered what other decisions I might have made in those circumstances, unconscious of the fact that the weather might have been influencing how I chose to move forward.
Had I rejected social opportunities because my body had withdrawn into the comfort of sofa and duvet on days with biting winter winds?
Had I declined to return a phone call from a recruiter that might have brought new possibilities because I didn’t want to take my gloves off on a cold day?
Had I turned down a second date with a potential lover because the idea of trekking into the city to meet him in the rain felt like too much trouble?
Alternatively, when the sun was shining, haloing those around me with a golden light, had I given people the benefit of the doubt?
Had the energy to be kind to strangers?
Gone out of my way to visit friends and family to share the warmth that the sun had brought me with them?
This all led me to consider what other unseen or unheard things influence the decisions I make—decisions I think I am making independently, through my own free will.
Environment, weather, the people I’ve just seen, the people I’m about to see, a song on the radio, the colors in the café where I’m writing out my pros and cons list.
Buying a house is a classic example. Estate agents try to take photos of houses with a blue sky, with spring the best time to sell a house in the western hemisphere, and the sullen month of January the worst.
There’s no question we can be influenced more than we realize by external factors. Marketing relies on this. But we can grow our awareness, and free ourselves from at least some of the stuff that isn’t really “us.”
Here are my suggestions for how to ensure any decision you make is as much “yours” as it can be.
1. Listen to your gut, then wait.
This is one of the reasons I think it’s always a good idea to make a decision and then sit on it for a day or so.
It’s taken me a long time to really hear my gut, and listen to my inner self. It’s important to listen to our instincts as part of any decision-making process, and combine that with experience, logic, and time to make the best possible decision.
2. Consider your choice in different environments and difficult circumstances.
Does it seem as good an idea in the dark night as it does in the bright day? In the cold as in the warm?
In the dead of night, alone in bed I sometimes experience huge anxiety about things that in the day wouldn’t trouble me at all. I know now not to make a decision based on that anxiety alone.
3. Get to know yourself better.
Do you know what moods different external factors put you in? Do you love summer rain, or being cosy by the fire in autumn? Or do colorful spring flowers and snow at Christmas put you in a good mood?
When you know what’s likely to increase your optimism or pessimism, when you’re thinking about a decision, take this into account.
4. Track your moods.
Moodscope.com is great for this. This engaging online tool presents you with twenty different emotions and asks you, via flipping cards, to rate yourself on each feeling every day. This can give you a very clear understanding of how you feel each day, and can help you to make your decisions accordingly.
5. Make more of an effort.
When you know you’re being affected negatively by outside circumstances, go out of your way to be kind not only to others, but to yourself.
Hold off on big decisions where you can, and don’t sweat small decisions; it really doesn’t matter if you have the pasta or the risotto for your dinner. Have the other one another time.
Reminding ourselves that our emotions affect our decision-making, and that our emotions in turn are affected by many external factors, can help us to step back and understand how we are actually making a decision.
As with many human processes, it’s not quite as simple as it looks, but it doesn’t take much to think about what else is going on, and allow for it.
Man at a crossroad image via Shutterstock