Tough Parenting Decision? Take a Page Out of the CEO’s Playbook.

Decision making is difficult under the best of circumstances. And we make them constantly over the course of the day. As a working parent, you’re constantly juggling decisions big and small, often on your own — especially if you’re a single parent. But you can make this process easier on yourself. By managing your emotions, stress, and overall well-being amid isolation and high pressure, you can feel more comfortable with the choices you make in the moment and long after.

Here are five self-management practices top executives use for making better decisions that parents can adopt themselves: First, emphasize self-care by taking tiny steps toward health and renewal. Next, manage your emotions in the moment by creating calming rituals in advance. Third, tie your decision making to times of day when you have the most energy. Fourth, create a sanctuary where you can escape to collect your thoughts. Finally, curate a board of directors for advice or for brainstorming options.

It’s lonely at the top.

This phrase often resonates with senior executives, but there’s another group it applies to: working parents, particularly those who are managing their kids solo. And it is especially true when faced with tough choices. Both executives and single parents grapple with decisions that can’t be discussed with others. For executives, that may be because everyone has a vested interest; for parents, because they are the only adults around.

Decision making is difficult under the best of circumstances. And we make them constantly over the course of the day. Responsibilities for customers, colleagues, culture, and company all rest on the shoulders of executives, much like a family rests on the shoulders of parents. Mix in isolation, exhaustion, and emotion — as well as a turbulent environment — and suddenly the job becomes exponentially harder. Whether the decision is a big one such as which day care to send your child to or how to approach a health issue, or relatively minor like which extracurricular activity to choose and what to pack for lunch, deliberating it can be daunting.

The nature of the choices faced by these two audiences differs, but the process for arriving at robust decisions is the same. It includes managing our emotions, stress, and overall well-being amid isolation and high pressure. When we are short on time and clarity, the biggest thing we can affect is ourselves. Being intentional about lowering our own thermostat allows our brains to pause, reflect, and arrive at the best answers to the questions before us.

Based on my work with executives, here are five self-management practices top executives use for making better decisions that parents can adopt themselves.

Take micro-care. Research demonstrates we make poor decisions when we’re depleted, so most of the executives I coach have developed daily self-care and health routines. But it’s magical thinking to believe you can go from couch slouch to gym rat overnight. Instead, start with a micro-practice and build incrementally from there. For instance, one of my clients’ micro-habit was a single push-up each day. Over the course of 10 months, she inched her way up through increasing repetitions to 30 push-ups daily. Another client delayed checking her email first thing each morning by just two minutes. After a year, she starts work an hour after waking up and devotes that time interval to family, exercise, and breakfast. Replenish your self-care cup one drop at a time with daily micro-habits.

Additionally, carve out opportunities for renewal. Find a few things that give you joy and ensure you have a stash of them handy each week. For example, have your favorite chocolate nearby so you can pop in a piece just when you’re feeling pressured to choose between two gnarly options or create a hug break with your kids in between meetings. Whatever delights you, ensure it is something that can be set up as a near-automatic so you can count on it when you need it.

Manage your emotions. We’ve all regretted decisions made when we’re reacting to emotions rather than being informed by them. To manage our emotions, we need to activate the thinking part of our brain, especially when we’re feeling triggered and self-righteous.

Following rituals can increase our capacity to absorb strong emotions without reacting. Create rituals you can practice while you’re calm so you’re ready to turn to them when the stressful moments hit. For example, while you are dropping your children off at school, you might share a breathing exercise where each person takes turns counting, so others can breathe deeply. Once you’ve practiced this routine enough, you can use it when you’re in a high-stress moment. Other rituals include chanting a saying, counting to ten in a foreign language, or taking note of one item through each of your five senses — something you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Establishing rituals ahead of the meltdown gives you concrete tactics to employ when your thinking brain has taken leave.

Map decisions to energy zones. We know through research that we have a decision quota each day, after which we exhaust our ability to make sound choices. The quality of our decisions also depends on our energy level. When forewarned of an upcoming decision, block out time on your calendar during the time of day when you are most likely to feel energized, well-fed, and not already fatigued. If possible, make smaller choices the day before, such as what you (and your kids) will be wearing or eating, so you have extra reserves in your discernment pouch.

Have a sanctuary. Overstimulation reduces our capacity to separate the signal from the noise. Executives often have a chair by a window or a favorite walking spot. Have a place at home where you can cordon yourself off for even a few moments of calm to collect your thoughts. Maybe you have a favorite chair in your bedroom, a sunny spot on your porch, or — especially if you have young children — even a few extra moments the bathroom.

Curate a personal board of directors. Just because you’re alone at the top doesn’t mean your decisions have to be. A personal board of directors usually comprises between six and twelve people who are invested in your success, and who you trust to give you both good news and bad. Executives often use retired colleagues, prior bosses, or coaches. As parents, seeking out other parents with similar circumstances is like having a customized search engine. They may have already researched the issue you’re struggling with, tried a service and recommend it, can give you feedback if you’re on the wrong path, or simply brainstorm with you.

When working while also raising kids, we don’t always have someone to turn to during fraught moments of decision making, especially solo parents. Sometimes you’re on your own. Executives establish self-management practices to help them stay sharp and in control when they have to make critical calls on their own, and you can do the same. Being prepared and curating ways to support yourself before difficult choices that must be made will keep you feeling less alone in your thinking, more in command of your emotions, and more comfortable with what you ultimately decide.

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