Something I come across all of the time in my work (and for myself personally sometimes) is the trouble or hesitancy we have around making decisions. And like so many other effective thinking habits we are rarely taught this stuff by our parents or at school. Yet how we approach our decision-making impacts massively on our quality of life.
I believe that our difficulty in making decisions stems from a couple of things. Firstly, we’re worried that if we commit to a decision it might be the “wrong” one – presumably because it will cause us to make some kind of mistake or might mean that we miss out on something that we want. The underlying fear around making a wrong decision is that we wont be able to handle the outcome.
Failing to make a decision and take decisive action to implement the decision keeps us stuck in a kind of limbo. My wise sister rightly (in my mind) says that it’s the time leading up to the decision that’s the hardest. I agree with her. We’ll likely be mulling over the same unhelpful thoughts and fears over and over, stuck in a seemingly endless loop and maybe becoming increasingly overwhelmed or confused.
Delaying or avoiding making decisions can also mean that other factors can “decide” things for us – circumstances, events, time or other people will eventually act. I’m not sure about you but I would prefer (inasmuch as I can) to take control of my own destiny, especially around things that are most important to me rather than have these things decided for me. We need to act or as sure as night follows day we will be acted upon. It’s also worth bearing in mind that not making a clear decision is a decision in its own right – a decision not to act – and it too will have its consequences.
Remember, a real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.
Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.
Here are some of the things you can do to help you to make better, more effective decisions.
Decide your priority/ies
It’s usually a lot easier to make decisions when we get really clear about which, among a variety, of things is most important to us. On the face of it all of the options might appear to be as important or as desirable (or undesirable) as each other, but by comparing the options against each other, it may turn out to be quite simple to decide the order of priority and act accordingly.
Consider the consequences
Since all decisions (including avoiding making any decision) will have their consequences it’s a good idea to think through the consequences of the various options available. It sounds so simple and obvious, yet often we neglect this important step (possibly because we don’t want to “go there”) and because of this we can end up experiencing consequences we don’t like! In tandem with this we might also need to build up our confidence to take new and different actions so that we can avail ourselves of new and different choices. Making the decision is one thing, doing what it takes to bring what you’ve decided to reality is quite another.
Relinquish control of the outcome
I know, sounds far-fetched and hard to swallow, but the thing is, even if you think you can control every aspect required to create a given outcome, it’s highly unlikely that you can. There will almost always be other elements at play or other people involved. Realising that you can only do your part and learning how to let the things beyond your control go is not only liberating, it’s effective, helping you to focus your efforts and attention only on what you can control without wasting headspace (and worry) on what you can’t.
Cut your losses
Sometimes people stay in a situation that they know is not working for them because making the decision to take another course of action seems too hard or they’re worried that they’ll “lose face” for not sticking to their current course of action. To outfox the fearful mind, re-focus on your desired outcome – even if this means you might have to adjust your course of action – by clarifying what you want, why you want it and some of the steps you could take to move towards it.
Positive outcome or lesson?
Something that I have found incredibly powerful for speeding up my own decision-making is to know that once I’ve made my decision and acted upon it, from there on in the consequence will either be something I want (great!) or something to learn from – which may be somewhat painful, but hey, I get to learn from it so that I can get a better outcome next time around. Usually I will have considered the consequences and assessed that I can handle them.
Realise that you can handle the outcome
Making decisions and dealing with the consequences is one of the cornerstones of building resilience. Committing to your decision and acting on it will set in motion a chain of events and consequences which you then get to respond to. If things are not exactly as you wanted them to be, then you will be developing your ability to roll with the punches and adapt as necessary.
Let it go
As tempting as it can be to keep glancing backward and thinking “if only Id’ …” there really is absolutely no point in doing so. Harness your disappointment or frustration so you can focus on how to best respond rather than wasting energy languishing in what might have been.
The knowledge that you can handle anything that comes your way is the key to allowing yourself to take healthy, life-affirming risks.