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How to Be Sure External Factors Aren’t Affecting Your Decision

Standing at a Crossroad

“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.

Whooooah Nelly.

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Had I rejected social opportunities because my body had withdrawn into the comfort of sofa and duvet on days with biting winter winds?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

About Ellen Bard

Ellen Bard’s mission is to help you shine more brightly at work and in life. She has a fancy degree, works with those who are too tough on themselves, and loves all things that sparkle. For the free cheat sheet: 5 Unusual Ways to Take Care of Yourself, click over to EllenBard.com.

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  • Mahesh Sahu

    Nice article, Ellen, Thanks.
    It is absolutely important to take decision with full clarity. For that we should take decision in our best of mood. We should take sufficient time to feel the consequences and here the voice of subconscious mind.

    I want to add one more point that our health is also very much dependent on the weather and season. So It is better to locate at a place which suits you.

    -Mahesh

  • Hi Ellen
    Great post. I too am a digital nomad for the last 3.5 years. I spent a lot of time in Thailand during this time, one of my favorite spots. I too am affected a lot by weather and prefer warmer climates. We are currently housesitting in Fiji–have been here for three months and have one more to go. Anyhoo….
    Great tips here. The one about getting to know yourself better is one of the most powerful. It is something that seems obvious, but many of us actually don’t know ourselves all that well. Over the years, we have adopted the belief systems of people around us; we get swept up in a life we never may have wanted, and we are just plodding along, not even aware of what we are really thinking and feeling–we may have a general sense of being unhappy but can’t quite pinpoint it.

    My effort to get to know myself allowed me to make some pretty bold choices that while uncomfortable, I knew were right for me. That inner knowing is a great tool for evaluating what is driving our decisions, and can help keep us on the right path.

    Great stuff!

  • Hi Kelli,

    Thanks very much for the comment. I haven’t been to Fiji but it sounds lovely, and house-sitting is on my list to experiment with one day!

    I so agree that we can find it difficult to get to know ourselves – I’m lucky that as a psychologist i’ve been exposed to lots of the tools and thinking systems to do this better, and my personal interest (passion!) in the topic has also meant I’ve experimented in all kinds of ways. But even with all that I know I have a lot further to go to understand myself better!

    But you are so right, the more we know ourselves, the more confident we can be that our decisions align with who we are, and who we want to be, rather than other people’s expectations of us.

    Even when the choices aren’t easy ones!

    Take care, Ellen x

  • Thanks Mahesh. I think you’re right, health – and mood can certainly be part of our health of course, more so for some of us than others – can be impacted by the weather, and our health definitely affects our decision-making.

    When we’re just a little run down – so, only a little ill – we might not even realise it, and that external factor might not be something we consider when we’re making our decision.

    Thanks for sharing, Ellen x

  • Nice Post Ellen! I truly believe in the fact that smart decision at the right time makes a great difference. I loved all the points you mentioned. My most favorite of all your points is listening to our gut feeling. Sometime we may not have the logical reason for taking any decision but we should go with our gut feeling. It helps!

  • Thanks Benja! I think it’s good to listen to what you’re feeling as well as thinking most definitely. I don’t think it’s easy to ‘hear’ – but it’s a powerful part of any good decision making process.

  • Brenda Spandrio

    There is much wisdom here! We just recently moved from the Pacific Northwest (Washington state) to southern California. The change in my husband’s well-being was dramatic and I’m sure I am doing better, too.

    That said, I realize how much I keep my blinds closed (out of habit from not wanting to see the drizzly sky) even down here. I’m going to start keeping them open and see if there are any positive changes.

    Thanks, Ellen!

  • Jordi Cuesta

    I think article title is a bit confusing: a decission can’t be made without keep in mind the circumstances, indeed, is a contradiction of terms. Circumstances are the ones that drive us to need to make a decission about! Without external circumstances, no need of any decission.

  • Thanks for your comment Jordi. I would agree that external circumstances are definitely part of our decisions. But sometimes, we don’t realise quite the pull or impact of those factors – or we don’t notice them at all. So I wanted to share my own experience of coming to the realisation that external factors were impacting me a lot more than I realised, and how I took those into account to limit their impact in the future.

    We often think we’re making decisions all through our own intentions and desire, whereas in fact, there’s a lot more going on 🙂

    Ellen x

  • Thanks so much Brenda. That’s interesting how an old habit’s come with you, and it’s no longer needed. That’s why I studied psychology – I love how complex we are as human beings, and how so much is happening inside our brains at any one moment that we don’t have any idea about!

    Good luck with the blinds up – sure the sunshine will bring more positive effects!

    Ellen x

  • Zarayna Pradyer

    Thank you, Ellen, for this good advice expressed kindly. It is so natural for those who are suddenly confronted with unwelcome change to imagine that by physically moving they can escape the pain. Of course, the shock and pain travels with us so usually it is wisest to stay where you are familiar and learn to adapt rather than make unfortunate decisions and rush into new circumstances with new additional problems. I am thinking here of those who move house quickly after a bereavement. Of course it is different for those suffering abuse – they ‘should’ make the decision to move but unfortunately and ironically, they are the ones who can’t make decisions, which I think makes your point. Having rambled on, I thank you again for raising the issue and for providing understanding and advice. Kindest.

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Thank for sharing; this was quite insightful…:)

  • Thanks Jeevan!

  • Thank you Zarayna. You make a very good point here – we take our personality with us wherever we go, the ‘good’ parts and the more challenging parts. This is definitely another factor to take into account when we’re making one of life’s ‘big’ decisions.

    Ellen x

  • Ash

    Hey Ellen

    I really liked your post. Very well written. I particularly liked your first point about making an decision and sitting on it for a day. I think pausing is a fantastic mindfulness practice – whether it is for a day before a big decision or a second before speaking.

    I also like your point about getting to know yourself better. It’s very important to be self aware.

  • Thanks Ash, I agree about pausing and mindfulness – it’s a very simple thing and yet rarely do we include them in our day to day life, as we’re always rushing on to the next thing.

    And getting to know ourselves is a long journey, but the rewards and manifest – making better decisions is just one.

    Thanks for your comment, Ellen x

  • Ash

    Yes the hardest part of mindfulness is remembering to be mindful. But it’s like the muscle the more you try and practice mindfulness (using external triggers — like the phone ringing for example) the more you remember to be mindful.

    I remember someone telling me that the journey from the head to the heart is the longest.

    So true.

    🙂