Many people have a tendency to become stressed out when they’re facing a difficult decision. Why? It’s because we mull over the possibilities in our minds with very open-ended outcomes.

The choices and the outcomes–both positive and negative–are swirling around in our heads, with no clear resolution. Our imaginations take over and what seems like a harmless choice leads us straight to the most horrible outcome we can imagine, am I right?

Put an end to that with these tricks that are proven to help anyone make decisions with a clear mind.

1. Write It Down. Make a chart. Use a spreadsheet. Whatever system you like, use it here. The act of putting things in writing takes them out of the swirly zone in our minds and makes them black and white — or pink or green, whatever color you like to write in! Make columns of options with pros and cons of each. You will quickly see which are the most positive and negative aspects of each choice and it will be easier to sort it out.

2. Act like you’re advising a friend. If a friend of yours made the aforementioned chart and the outcomes were as clear as they are on paper, how would you advise your friend? You take the emotional closeness out of the decision when you’re giving advice, so give yourself that same gift of objective decision making.

3. Limit the number of choices. Let’s say you’re thinking about buying a new car. Rather than list out all the safety features you want and all the different brands you are considering, make it a simpler choice by listing the pros and cons of buying a new car or not. Then, buying a car in a certain price range or not. You’ve limited the amount of uncertainty your brain experiences and inched your way to making a choice that is the one you actually need to make. Do the same thing when you’re making a business choice to hire a new employee or not, or whatever decision it is that you’re facing. Break it down.

4. Remember that your decision is reversible. In almost every case, you can reverse your decision if it doesn’t work out. You can return or sell the car. You can let an employee go. If you’re thinking about moving across the country, yes, that is a big decision. But it too is reversible. That awareness alone alleviates so much stress.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel from Unsplash

What would you say if someone said that it must be nice to not work for anyone? To be your own boss?

When you own your own business, the quick answer to the question of who you work for is that you work for yourself. But when you really think about it, that’s not true. You work for your customers. Because if they’re not happy with your performance, they won’t come back.

I own my own freelance writing business. Many people have commented over the years that “it must be nice to not have a boss.” At first I went along and agreed.

Then, I started realizing that when I agreed with people that I didn’t have a boss, particularly when I was still working from my home, that seemed to devalue their opinion of my work. They thought I just worked from home when I felt like it, that I could take as many days off as I wanted to, or choose not to do the work if I didn’t like it.

When I started responding, “actually, I have several bosses,” they seemed to more fully understand that I wasn’t just sitting on the couch eating bonbons. The work needed to get done whether I felt like it or not. It was easier to explain that if I took days off I didn’t get paid. And I explained that I had to check in with the editors of all the websites, newspapers and magazines that I was working for to make sure I had more work coming down the pipe after the work I was doing currently was done. I was always looking for more work from the bosses I already had, and was always trying to find a new boss.

And if I didn’t give my “bosses” what they wanted, they wouldn’t hire me again. So . . . who do you work for?

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, when we all start to think more about gratitude and giving thanks. If you’re grateful for your many bosses (your customers), show them. Not just on Thanksgiving, but all the time. What would that look like for you?

When you started a business, you likely had a “purpose” in mind. That’s what motivated you to do what you do. It’s the thought behind your entire business plan. When you first started your business, you likely felt a rush of excitement each day, as you woke to begin preparations for your business.

Now that you’ve been in business a while, do you still feel that rush? Do you still wake up each morning with your “purpose” in mind? Not just your tasks for the day or your motivation (bills must be paid!) in mind. But your purpose.

Probably not. It’s easy to forget.

Your purpose is the bigger picture you’re working towards. If you started a non-profit, that may be to strengthen families or neighborhoods. If you’re a fitness or health consultant, that may be to help others optimize their health as you’ve found a way to optimize yours. Even if you feel like you have a mundane retail business, there’s something in the work that you do that’s close to your heart.

When you align your daily efforts with your purpose, you wake up motivated. (OK, if you’re like me you don’t truly get motivated until that second cup of coffee, but you know what I mean!) You love what you’re doing and you know exactly why you’re doing it.

Tomorrow when you wake up, try these steps:

Think about who you are trying to help and why. If you’re not sure what your purpose is, you may not have a lot of detail on this. It’s ok. Clarity will come the more you do this.

Call up the tools you need to do your day’s work. Focus. Patience. Courage. Flexibility. Whatever it is. If you believe in a higher power, ask that higher power for the tools. Go ahead and ask.

Visualize your purpose. Spend a minute holding a picture in your mind’s eye of what it means to actually work toward your purpose.

Encourage yourself throughout the day. Once you’ve gone through these steps, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back. Most people will never see the great efforts you put into the world.

Repeat daily.

Yesterday, I got to witness the totality of a solar eclipse. Being able to take off my protective glasses and see the diamond white light of the solar corona surrounding a black center of what should have been the bright sun of mid-morning was an experience I’ll never forget.

I don’t live in the path of totality so I was willing to drive a few hours away from home where I could see totality. My friends who chose to stay at home got to see 99.3% of totality. Does that .7% really make such a difference? Yes! That last sliver of a percent is where the magic happens.

Same is true of business, isn’t it? You can do “almost all” of your work. Put in “almost all” of your effort. Come up with an “almost great” idea. It’s that “rest of the way” work that leads to the magic.

Are you willing to do it?

The busier you are, the more you need to slow down. What? You don’t have time to slow down. I know. I understand how it is. But the busier you are, the more you need to get beyond the noise.

Here’s why. Producing quality work requires a sense of calm. Generating good ideas requires space to allow creativity to develop. Taking breaks helps restore the nervous system. Don’t just take my word for it, science shows it. Earlier this year, researchers from Duke Medical School found that that silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory.

In my humble opinion, you don’t even need silence to get the benefits. Straighten your back and take a few deep breaths. Put your phone down first!

I know some people who are so busy, so frazzled, that they only half read texts and emails before firing off a response. Inevitably, they get something wrong because they didn’t answer the question the person actually posed. Or they give an ambiguous answer that the person has to follow up on. If this is an employer doing it (like, perhaps, you), you’re making more work for yourself. you could even be doubling the work you do. If you take a minute to slow down and throroughly read an email before responding to it, you only have to read that email once.

If you rush through it and miss key pieces of information because you’re in such a hurry you’re just focused on getting to the next email, you’re going to give a reply that doesn’t help. Then you’re going to get a follow up email, and you’re going to have to read that one too. Will you give it your attention the second time it crosses your desk?

At Aetna, an insurance company, the leaders have taken the forefront of giving their employees mindfulness training. After teaching employees to take short breaks to center themselves, and offering meditation and yoga, stress levels dropped by 28%, 20% of employees reported that their sleep quality improved, and their pain dropped by 19%.

Close the office door. Turn off the phone. Take a walk. Take a deep breath.

When you’re constantly fixed on the next action, making room for new ideas is truly difficult.

We’re always stepping into the unknown. Don’t we wake up each day and not know what the day holds? We can look at our agenda in our day planner, but we don’t truly know what will happen to us the next minute, the next hour, or the next day. We could get an email, phone call, or opportunity that will change our life. No one knows what the day holds, and yet we wake up and face the day anyway.

We’re vulnerable when we say to someone, “Here. I made this. Would you like to buy it?” It’s risky to tell the world what we’ve done. We doubt ourselves. We question whether we’ve done the right thing.

There’s no way to get rid of those feelings, no matter how successful you become. So what do you do?

Jump in and have fun with it.

We all know the Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” And…we all know the t-shirts that say things like “Money can’t buy me happiness but it can buy me a boat/fancy clothes/expensive shoes (fill in the blank) and isn’t that the same thing?”

Well…those are funny, but the truth behind it is that money really can’t buy you the things that are important in business. The things you need are self-taught, learned, innate skills. These are things that you can cultivate with practice if they don’t come easily to you. These are things that if you don’t have them, you may possibly be successful in business if you’re also lucky. But if you do have them, you can most assuredly be successful in business.

Without even talking about love, let’s look at 10 things money can’t buy and see what I mean.

1.  Manners – Civility and decency go beyond just knowing what fork to use at the place setting. Manners is high-level kindness and caring in the form of how you treat your employees and neighbors. It’s also as simple as turning off your phone ringer when you’re in a face-to-face meeting with someone so they feel appreciated and heard.

2. Respect – When you’re young, you’re taught to respect your elders or your siblings, sometimes no matter what they do. As you got older, you likely figured out that respect should be earned. Now you know that people respect other people who keep their word. Those who are tolerant and accepting of various views and try to understand them. Those who present their authentic selves to the world. Those who have a value system and live by it. None of those things have anything to do with how munch money is in your wallet.

3. Knowledge – Your money can buy books, podcasts and e-courses, but it can’t buy experience. It can’t buy wisdom.

4. Compassion and Empathy – Caring about how others feel and the impact of the world on them is something no amount of money can buy.

5. Integrity – Whether you all if morals, or character, integrity is all about doing what you say you will do, delivering what your company promises. That boils down to honesty. If you look at the origin of the word, it means being one. In other words, being true to yourself and true to how you treat others, even when no one is watching.

6. Trust – Trust is an important part of being human, It’s a means of survival for those who must depend on others for help. In business, you only gain trust by showing someone over and over that they can depend on you. Again, this has nothing to do with how you’re bank account looks.

7. Loyalty – You can spend a million dollars on advertising, but it won’t matter if the customers don’t stick with you. What makes them stick with you? Everything else on this list.

8. Satisfaction – You’ll only feel personally satisfied if you get some sense of fulfillment out of what you’re doing everyday. Money is often a great motivating tool, but only personal satisfaction feeds your spirit.

9. Confidence – People want to do business with people who feel sure of themselves. don’t mumble, fumble or stumble when you’re talking to people. You can increase your confidence through practice and “faking it till you make it,” but you can’t buy confidence. Whatever temporary courage you feel because you have a stack of bills in your wallet is just that, temporary. And it’s not really confidence until you have it no matter what.

10. Forgiveness – You can’t buy or bribe someone to forgive you when you make a mistake. And you will make mistakes. But if you have enough of these other qualities on this list, your customers will forgive you if you make a mistake and they will give you another chance. If you don’t have the other qualities on this list, you’ll rarely get a chance to make it right with anyone, whether they’re a customer or a personal relationship.

The standard advice on living a happy and fulfilled life is to “follow your passion.”

That’s great. The problem is, what if “your passion” is all you can do?

Following your passion means that you’re focusing–obsessing, more likely–on the ONE thing that you have decided is your primary interest. I argue that this boxes you in. Passion alone is never enough. And, most people aren’t lucky enough to a) have a pre-existing passion, and b) have a job that matches that passion. By focusing only on your passion, you’re less likely to pay attention to the other ingredients needed for success: fair pay for your work, human relationships, changes in technology that affect your demographic, changes in the marketplace.

And, you’re denying yourself the ability to change. As humans who encounter new things everyday, our natural state is change. We grow mentally and spiritually as time goes on. Our interests, and yes, our passions, change.

Follow your curiosity, not your passion.

This path still allows plenty of room for your passion. Curiosities can lead to your passion. Curiosities can help you develop skills to be more resilient in times of adversity. Curiosities keep us moving forward. Keep us learning. Keep us trying.

To me, feeling curious is a slight ache. It’s knowing that I’ll never be able to read all the books that I want to, travel everywhere I want to go, or cook all the recipes I want to learn how to make. But it’s also a buoyant feeling. It’s knowing how much more is out there to discover. Curiosity is what keeps my passions alive.

Sears is dying. The store where my mom took me to buy a dress for my first middle school dance. The store where I used to get left in the record album aisle while my mom tried on clothes. (Yes, department stores once had an entire aisle of actual record albums!) What was once one of our country’s brick and mortar retail pillars probably won’t survive to the turn of the next decade, if it lasts that long. The company has $4.2 billion in debt and has been losing ground over the years to Target and Walmart. The mistakes that the once-great company made go back a long way.

First, in the early 1980s, Sears’s parent company, Sears, Roebuck & Co., expanded aggressively into financial and real estate services market. They purchased Dean Witter Reynolds securities firm and Coldwell Banker. These didn’t have anything to do with Sears’s “core” operations. And, when their back was turned, so to speak, by being involved with these divergent markets, Target and Walmart started invading their space.

After that, they broke up their business into separate units. This was in the mid-2000s. By the time they did this, their company was already financially hurting. The separate units managed Sears’s well-known brands such as Diehard and Craftsman. One of the problems with this was that the managers they picked were said to have little retail experience. And this archived news story from the time supports the view in hindsight that it was a mistake. ABC News quotes an analyst who says, “I think it’s risky.” The article says, “Analysts say the changes contemplated by [chairman Edward] Lampert — who acquired Kmart in 2003 and Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 2005 — run against prevailing trends where retailers try to craft a single, cohesive business image. “He’s looking to turn it around by using a different approach,” said retail consultant Walter Loeb. “I think it’s risky.”

Also in 2005, Kmart bought Sears. But both were failing. The merger left them with twice as many under-performing stores. Once the company had lost so much money that it was consistently losing ground, it began selling off its assets to manage its cash flow. Over the last 10 years its sold off its brands like Lands End. It’s closed stores that were’t performing well. Over the last few more recent years, it’s continued to lose so much money that Sears is selling off its profitable stores. Sears now plans to sell its profitable stores and then lease them back.

All along as these things were going on, Sears customers have complained that the products they’re selling don’t seem high-quality. There’s no sense of Sears as a “department store” anymore, with brands that the customers knows and trusts.

All along the way, Sears’s actions seem to point to a company that was too busy protecting itself or denying that the marketplace had changed. It reacted, rather than adapted. There are lessons here for businesses of any size.

Lessons For Businesses From Sears Inevitable Downfall

For one, know your competitors. Walmart grew aggressively and their selling proposition was based on price cuts followed by the ability to buy your grocery’s for the night’s dinner at the same store where you’re buying your tank tops and your barbecue grill. As cool as Sears was to have all kinds of different departments, you couldn’t buy a tomato at Sears. Once customers got a taste of that convenience, they didn’t want to go back.

Secondly, be true to yourself. If you’re retail, do retail. And do it good. With options, customizations, good customer service, good business hours. Put in a kiosk where people can comparison shop. Then when they do, let them see enough to know that they really do want to buy it from you after all. Hire managers who know what they’re doing. Don’t keep employees around who waste time and don’t treat your customers with respect.

Thirdly, watch your cash flow. Once you get into trouble it can be hard to turn it around.

And finally, never stop evolving. Your customer behavior changes. Yours should too.

This feeling sneaks up on everyone, doesn’t it? No matter how good we are at self-care, none of us are THAT good that we never feel this. I was inspired when I found this self-care printable to really try and get to the root of what was making me feel unhappy or stuck instead of just living with it. A list like this makes it easy to go through self-care steps when you might not have the energy to even think of one thing you could do to help yourself. If you’re feeling stuck in making a business decision or aren’t seeing how the future might play out, run through these steps.

In the one page of this list is a whole galaxy of advice that fits the vibe that we try to put out there through this site to help you with your business: Your mindset matters. Re-imagining things is a powerful skill that you can develop. And a sense of wonder will go a long way to getting you through.

This self-care printable is licensed under Creative Commons, and its creator encourages people to customize the document for their own needs, abilities and resources, and to share it widely. I’m including it here in its entirety, but it is available at that link and at the end of the post is a link to download the PDF. Today, Memorial Day, is a day that can be hard for people with family members in the armed forces and people who have lost family members. So if you’re feeling rough, this post’s message of self-care will hopefully help. If not, tuck it away until you need it, or share it with someone you know who does.

Everything Is Awful and I’m Not OK!

Questions to ask yourself before giving up. 

  • Are you hydrated?  If not, have a glass of water.
  • Have you eaten in the past three hours?  If not, get some food — something with protein, not just simple carbs.  Perhaps some nuts or hummus?
  • Have you showered in the past day?  If not, take a shower right now.
  • If daytime: are you dressed?  If not, put on clean clothes that aren’t pajamas.  Give yourself permission to wear something special, whether it’s a funny t-shirt or a pretty dress.
  • If nighttime: are you sleepy and fatigued but resisting going to sleep?  Put on pajamas, make yourself cozy in bed with a teddy bear and the sound of falling rain, and close your eyes for fifteen minutes — no electronic screens allowed.  If you’re still awake after that, you can get up again; no pressure.
  • Have you stretched your legs in the past day?  If not, do so right now.  If you don’t have the spoons for a run or trip to the gym, just walk around the block, then keep walking as long as you please.  If the weather’s crap, drive to a big box store (e.g. Target) and go on a brisk walk through the aisles you normally skip.
  • Have you said something nice to someone in the past day?  Do so, whether online or in person.  Make it genuine; wait until you see something really wonderful about someone, and tell them about it.
  • Have you moved your body to music in the past day?  If not, do so — jog for the length of an EDM song at your favorite BPM, or just dance around the room for the length of an upbeat song.
  • Have you cuddled a living being in the past two days?  If not, do so.  Don’t be afraid to ask for hugs from friends or friends’ pets.  Most of them will enjoy the cuddles too; you’re not imposing on them.
  • Do you feel ineffective?  Pause right now and get something small completed, whether it’s responding to an e-mail, loading up the dishwasher, or packing your gym bag for your next trip.  Good job!
  • Do you feel unattractive?  Take a goddamn selfie.  Your friends will remind you how great you look, and you’ll fight society’s restrictions on what beauty can look like.
  • Do you feel paralyzed by indecision?  Give yourself ten minutes to sit back and figure out a game plan for the day.  If a particular decision or problem is still being a roadblock, simply set it aside for now, and pick something else that seems doable.  Right now, the important part is to break through that stasis, even if it means doing something trivial.
  • Have you seen a therapist in the past few days?  If not, hang on until your next therapy visit and talk through things then.
  • Have you been over-exerting yourself lately — physically, emotionally, socially, or intellectually?  That can take a toll that lingers for days. Give yourself a break in that area, whether it’s physical rest, taking time alone, or relaxing with some silly entertainment.
  • Have you changed any of your medications in the past couple of weeks, including skipped doses or a change in generic prescription brand?  That may be screwing with your head.  Give things a few days, then talk to your doctor if it doesn’t settle down.
  • Have you waited a week?  Sometimes our perception of life is skewed, and we can’t even tell that we’re not thinking clearly, and there’s no obvious external cause.  It happens.  Keep yourself going for a full week, whatever it takes, and see if you still feel the same way then.
  • You’ve made it this far, and you will make it through.  You are stronger than you think.