Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clarity: 8 Ways to Get More of It

Were you ever in a challenging situation or had a goal you wanted to accomplish, and you knew exactly what to do?

That’s clarity.

Clarity is knowing where you need to go and exactly how to get there.

For most of us, moments of clarity are rare occurrences; usually we are conflicted and not sure what to do. For those who think they always have clarity, that is a sign they lack it. This is because no matter how much we know, we always lack full knowledge of a situation. In addition, our judgment is always clouded, because we all have biases.

With humility, we realize that we are prone to mistakes and that increasing our clarity is crucial to achieving meaningful goals and making decisions we will not regret.

8 Ways to Greater Clarity:

1. Pray. Only God has complete clarity and He wants to give you some, if you ask. Speak out the issue with God, preferably out loud and in your native language. Tell Him your concerns, possible options, the pros and cons of each one, and ask Him to guide you. (God often guides us through our intuition – that gut feeling of what we need to do.) This practice, known as Hitbodedut, was popularized by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

2. Learn Torah. To make the most of His gift of life, God gave us His Torah which is filled with clarifying wisdom. The more we study His Torah, with the goal of applying its teachings, the more clarity we will have.

The clarifying power of Torah study is apparent when we consult with those steeped in Torah knowledge; they are often able to cut to the core of an issue and see a situation with startling clarity.

3. Widen and lengthen your vision. When faced with an issue which needs to be addressed, our tendency is to focus only on the immediate future and choose the option which provides the greatest short term gain. While human nature, this often leads to poor decisions and long term loss.

Instead, to achieve greater clarity, we must widen our vision by considering the possible ripple effects of our actions – how others might be affected and unintended consequences. We also have to lengthen our vision, to plan ahead and take into account the likely long term effects of our actions or inactions. Long term consequences include not only months and years from now, but also in the next world – where we will reap what we sowed in this world. By widening and lengthening our vision, we take into account costs and benefits of our actions which would otherwise have eluded us.

Think about something you are considering doing, e.g., moving or changing careers, and ask, “What will this involve? What are the costs and benefits? How do they compare to the costs and benefits of alternative options? What does someone wise suggest I do? What feels like the right thing to do? Do I have enough information to decide if it’s worth doing, or do I need to look into it more?”

When making a decision, it is a matter of balance: not being impulsive, but not overthinking; not making big decisions without consulting others, but not being overly dependent on them; not ignoring our intuition, but not doing something that does not make logical sense.

4. Write a mission statement. A mission statement will help you clarify what is most important to you. Write a mission statement based on your values – what you want your life to be about. Write how you want to live now, so that when you look back at your life, you will view it as a success – that you lived your values.

Here is one possible mission statement:

I want my life to be about:

1. Enhancing my relationship with others, starting with my family and branching out to include as many other people as possible; helping them physically, emotionally and spiritually, and certainly not causing anyone harm. When I do cause distress, to immediately apologize and make amends.

2. Enhancing my relationship with God, fostering a personal relationship with Him and following His guidelines as best I can. When I lapse, to repent and begin again with a fresh start.

3. Using my challenges and gifts to come closer to God and help others. (In your personal mission statement, list specific activities that fit into this category which you find fulfilling; do at least one of them weekly.)

Having a mission statement can motivate us to break out of our comfort zones. Our default setting is to remain stuck in our comfort zones and avoid the unknown. With clarity, we realize that pursuing meaningful life goals often involve taking judicious risks. This is part of what makes life exciting, an adventure into the unknown.

5. Live your values. People often make the mistake of unwittingly compromising their values in an attempt to get ahead or achieve a goal. To avoid this, when faced with a dilemma, ask yourself, “Which option is more in keeping with my values and mission statement?”

To illustrate: Let’s say your mission statement includes enhancing your relationship with others and not mistreating them. Then, one day, your spouse makes a mistake which infuriates you and you want to scream at your spouse. Or you come across an opportunity to make a windfall, but it involves taking advantage of others.

Both of these examples involve a possible short term gain – letting off steam or making more money – but are not in keeping with your values. Engaging in them might feel good in the moment, but later on you will be filled with regret and the loathsome feeling of having not acted like the person you want to be.

In contrast, when you make sacrifices to live in sync with your values, while challenging in the moment, you will be left feeling proud that even under difficult circumstances you stayed true to your values.

Every day, be mindful of your values and act in keeping with them. Do this even when it means passing up on what appears to be opportunities for gain. The more you live in keeping with your values, the higher will be your self-esteem. (To enhance your self-esteem, make sure to praise yourself for the difficult choices and sacrifices you make to stay true to your values.)

6. Ask others for input. The more important the issue, the more important it is to ask others for advice. They can give us an unbiased perspective and offer suggestions we may not have considered.

For issues which involve Jewish law, speak to a rabbi well versed in that area. For other issues, you can speak to a rabbi, a rebbetzin, or someone else you respect who shares your values and has life experience.

If possible, speak to people who have already achieved the goal you are working toward. Sometimes we work toward a goal only to discover that it was not a good fit. For example, we go to school for a particular career, only to be disappointed upon graduating. Perhaps we did not realize the amount of training necessary, or the work environment, or the salary and job opportunities. Remember the second habit of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Cover, “Begin with the end in mind.” Researching our options and speaking to others who have already achieved that which we seek, will help us do that.

When consulting with others, often, one conversation will not be enough; they will make suggestions for you to consider and you may want to check in with them again.

Before asking for advice, make sure you are willing to give serious consideration to what is suggested, even if it may not be what you wanted to hear. After receiving their input, even if you do not agree with everything they said, look for nuggets of wisdom you can utilize. At the end of the day, you will have to deal with the consequences of your decision and need to make the choice you think is right for you.

Ask, “In which area of my life could I use more clarity? Who can I speak with, to discuss the situation?”

If you cannot find someone to ask advice or you need intensive guidance, consider temporarily seeing a recommended therapist or life coach, to guide you through a rough patch.

7. Make a written game plan.
It is shocking how many people, while admitting they have a difficulty to overcome or a goal to achieve, do not have a clear plan on how they will do so. Writing helps us crystallize our thoughts, so sit down and write out a plan of attack. Start by writing what you goal is and when you plan to achieve it. Then write out the steps you will need to take to achieve it. Then decide on the first step you will take and when you will take it.

Schedule into your calendar when you will reassess your plan, preferably with the input of others, to see if you need to make adjustments. As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Be honest with yourself and ask, “Is this working? Is the situation improving? Am I moving closer to my goal?”

If not or not enough, restrategize and brainstorm alternatives. In addition, if possible, seek further guidance. Depending on the situation, you may be advised to persevere with your efforts, try a different approach, or modify your goal.

8. Keep your eye on the goal. To achieve your goal, stay focused on it and work toward it on a daily or weekly basis. Schedule into your calendar what you will do and when, to move you closer to your goal. As long as you are moving forward, eventually, with God’s help you will achieve your goal.

Keeping our eye on the goal will also help us set priorities. We often gravitate toward that which most draws our attention, even though they are usually least important. For example, we may spend hours on the internet with little to show for it or buy things we rarely use. Instead, throughout the day, stay focused on what is truly important, spending your time and resources in productive ways and using a portion of them for Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness.

We can learn a lot about clarity from expert chess players: 1. They have a strategy and do not just react to their opponent’s moves. 2. They think ahead more than just one move at a time. 3. They consider the ramifications of each move, the costs and benefits. 4. While not impulsive, they do not overthink each move. 5. Even when no great options exist, they still make a move and try to advance their position. 6. Their plans are fluid and they are able to shift gears, as circumstances change. 7. They focus on winning the game and do not get distracted. 8. They learn from expert players, either by watching them or reading chess books. 9. They do not give up hope no matter how dire the situation, as opportunities for winning can appear out of nowhere, if they are on the lookout. 10. Even when they lose a game, right away, they will challenge their opponent to a rematch, trying a new strategy and avoiding previous mistakes.

Clarity is often elusive. But remember that no matter how confused you feel or how hopeless the situation looks, God can instantly give you clarity. You can go from having no idea what to do to knowing exactly what to do. In the meantime, do your best to achieve clarity, work toward your goals, and ask God for help. May He soon open your eyes to the right path for you and lead you to where you need to go.
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