Now and then someone will say something that just stops you in your tracks. Many years ago, a mentor of mine said to me, “You don’t need to justify, prove or defend the decisions in your life.” She went on to say, your decisions are your decisions people don’t have to approve of them to make them better or worse. At the time, it was a revolutionary statement for me. I was practically paralyzed in my life because every decision I made had to be rational and logical. Even now from time to time I have to remind myself that I don’t need to justify, prove or defend why I choose to do something. Fortunately, I have people in my world, like my nearest and dearest, who can lovingly remind me when this old habit comes into play, and I try always to make the “right” decision–when in reality it doesn’t matter.
As I work with clients on working and living happier-inevitably, this topic comes up. We get in the habit of explaining our lives, explaining our emotions, justifying our decisions and making them ‘ok’ to the outside world. When we live our lives in justification mode, it is challenging to make decisions that go against the grain of what others might think is best for us.
A few years ago I had a client who wanted to leave her job–the same one she had been working at for the past 20 years–and her family (brothers and sisters) kept telling her she was crazy. Her spouse was supportive and gave her a lot of room to explore and even offered to support her if she needed to go back to school. But she was stuck; she kept going back to her family and trying to justify her decision. Finally one day, I wrote on a piece of paper, in big lettering, “IT IS YOUR LIFE YOU DO NOT NEED TO JUSTIFY, PROVE OR DEFEND YOUR DECISIONS.” She looked at me amazed, and a wave of relief washed over her. I suggested that each time she felt tempted to go into explanation mode to someone she could read this sign.
Her homework was to pay attention to how much time on a day to day basis she spent in justification mode. At her next appointment, she immediately started talking about how much time she spent explaining her decisions. She started by just reviewing at the end of the day, all the times she could remember that she justified decisions. Gradually as she became more aware of the habit, she started noticing it in the moment. She made a mark on a piece of paper every time she was explaining her thought process. She was amazed at how frequently she felt compelled to justify her life. Almost every decision from what time to put the kids to bed, to what to have for dinner required some a logical basis, a defense that wasn’t necessary.
She realized that by being in justification mode all the time, she was in essence ‘on guard’ for all of her thoughts. She was so exhausted from proving all the small choices in her life; it was next to impossible to mount a defense for the major life choices. In her case, it was because growing up her family put a lot of pressure on her to be ‘right’ to be justified. Regardless of the reason, when we get stuck in the habit of justifying, proving and defending our decisions, it becomes more and more difficult to make decisions because it takes so much effort to mount a defense. Many of the things that make us happiest in life aren’t logical or rational. If we all lived purely logical rational lives–we would be pretty boring. Some of the most exciting things in life are done because we simply followed our gut. The happiest people I know, live from that place of following their gut, going with the flow and not justifying, proving or defending every life decision.
This week, pay attention to how much time you spend in justification mode? Who are you defending your life too? What is this need to defend keeping you from doing? How is it preventing you from making decisions that might help you live or work happier?