Have you ever sat, staring at a blank email, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it? Have you rehearsed a conversation over and over in your head, trying to figure out what to say and you just can't come up with something? Then you ask a friend and the friend just spouts out the perfect response?
There's a reason why advice columnists are so popular. I grew up reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers every day (my parents subscribed to two different newspapers). I grew up to be an advice columnist myself, and often get people asking me questions that are simple for me to get right, and they say, "I would never have thought of that wording!" But what they don't know, is that when I'm stuck on a work problem, I turn to fellow Inc. Columnist Alison Green (probably the best advice columnist on the web). When I'm stuck on a personal problem, I turn to my friends. Everyone needs advice and it seems everyone else is better at figuring out answers to our problems than were are our ourselves. Why is that?
1. They Aren't Emotionally Invested
When you're trying to figure out how to approach your boss about a raise, you've got a huge emotional investment going on. Her response will affect your whole life (or so you think), so it becomes paralyzingly difficult to come up with the right thing to say. But, when you ask me, I can see it without all the emotional baggage. Others can see my problems without my emotional baggage. It's helpful.
2. They Have an Outside Viewpoint
Recently, a reader emailed me and asked a question about FMLA. She was on intermittent FMLA and sometimes needed to come in late. This was all approved by the company, her doctor, and HR, so why was her boss so cranky?
What she couldn't see is that even though everything was approved, her last minute call outs were still wrecking havoc on her boss's department. While her main focus needs to be on recovery from her illness, looking at it from her boss's viewpoint can help her come up with a workable solution.
All my reader could see was that she was entitled to the leave and her boss was interfering (and FMLA interference is illegal), but being right doesn't always result in a good solution.
3. They Don't Decision Fatigue from Your Decisions.
We have so many choices that it can sometimes exhaust us before we even start. However, a recent study found that we don't experience the same level of decision fatigue when we're deciding for other people. Helping other people with their decisions can benefit them and then they can benefit you by helping you with your decisions.
Don't underestimate how fast we can succumb to decision fatigue.There's no longer just cream and sugar for your coffee. When you buy shoes, your options aren't limited to the shoes in your size at the local shoe store. Everything is available to you through the magic of internet shopping.You can make hundreds of decisions before you even get to the office. Letting others make some of these decisions for you can save you from a bad case of decision fatigue.
Sometimes that "other" person is actually you, but three years ago. You have a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, every morning and salad from the deli across the street from work every day for lunch. You have a business wardrobe that consists of three dark skirts, one pair of tan pants, and 5 different blouses. That's it.No standing in front of the closet taking forever to decide. By deciding once you remove the decision fatigue for a very long time.
4. Outsourcing Makes Life Easier
No, you can't outsource your own job, but you can outsource parts of it. If you're the CEO, stop being the CEO that interviews every job applicant and needs every decision to cross her desk. Hire people you can trust and then let them make decisions. Only make the decision when you're the only person who can make it. If it's something complex, let your staff do the studying to narrow down the choices.
If you're the person responsible for making dinner in your family, sign up with one of those meal kit services that send you the ingredients and recipes. Get a hairdresser you trust and when you go in and she says "what do you want?" say, "Whatever you think is best." It may seem silly, but removing little decisions can help reserve your decision-making power for the important thing. It really doesn't matter what you eat for breakfast, and it's just hair. It will grow out.
5.Some People Are Better at Your Life than You Are.
You should be the expert on your own life, but it turns out that others can make better decisions. Maybe that whole arranged marriage thing wasn't such a bad idea.
Recently, Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein proposed doing away with job interviews altogether in favor of testing. This testing can often do a better job than you can at finding the best person for the job. A financial advisor can handle your investments better than you can. A doctor can diagnose you quicker than endless Google searches can. A therapist may save you years of trying to figure out how to have happy marriage.
We all have to make decisions, but letting others take over some of them can make your life much better. Try giving up a decision and seeing how you feel.