Are you aware that when you don’t make a decision you are in fact making a decision?
It may sound counter intuitive, but by not making a decision we are choosing an often ignored option: Inaction.
In this article we are going to talk about decisions. They come in many shapes and sizes: Big, small, conscious, unconscious, optional, unavoidable. They are the forks in the road on our journey through life and while some are a minor course correction, others may steer us in a completely new direction.
Today the overdose of information and choice that we are subjected to has made the task of deciding increasingly complex. Barry Schwartz talks about this in his book: “The Paradox of Choice.” and gives an illuminating example: It used to be the case that when you went to buy jeans there were two options: ‘Light or dark’. Now you have all kinds of shapes and cuts, colours and styles. The paradox that Dr Schwartz refers to is that unfortunately this abundance of choice does not lead to happiness in a world where we can find the perfect fit, but more often to paralysis in the face of so many choices. When the matter at hand is jeans, the consequences are minor, but when it comes to one’s career? Or who to share life with? The stakes are higher.
Making a decision requires an expenditure of energy proportional to the importance we give to that decision. Many of our daily decisions are so small that we make them almost effortlessly. However, today we are going to talk about the decisions that take away our sleep: The decisive decisions.
My goal with this article is to provide you with 6 steps to making decisive decisions, Below is a quick summary:
D – Discover who you want to be.
E – Explore all possibilities.
C– Check how you feel.
I- Imagine the worst and the best.
D– Decrease the negative effects by preventing, repairing and preparing yourself.
E– Enjoy by falling in love with your decision.
1. DISCOVER WHO YOU WANT TO BE:
Every decision is linked to a result that you desire. A decision can often become harder to make by the fact that we can desire multiple results which may be incompatible with each other. Have you ever wanted to buy something that was both cheap and good quality?
It is important therefore, to really interrogate a result we desire. Often there are layers behind it, and peeling these back can give us clarity as to what we truly want! A good first question is: ‘In an ideal world, what would I like to achieve?’, followed by: ‘Why do I want to achieve that?’
You can repeat this second question to your hearts content, but you will often find that it leads to: ‘Why do I want to be that?’ This final question can connect you to your desired identity and values, which are great things to ground yourself to when making decisive decisions.
Focusing on the type of person we want to be will also bring us closer to a decision that is more aligned with long term desires, and not just the immediate. With decisive decisions it is essential to explore the long-term as well as the short-term consequences.
Here is an example from my life:
In 2016 I was at a fork in the road: Whether to start putting my savings towards a nicer rented home, or to do some big travelling. To me, the house represented stability, while travelling meant adventure. I didn’t know how to decide because I wanted both!
When I asked myself: ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’: Secure or adventurous? I still felt torn, but when I dug deeper, I realised ‘secure’ to me meant having a permanent base so I could build a social life, what I truly wanted was to be more social. As for adventure? I was drawn to adventure because I wanted independence.
This made my decision so much easier because I realised that I could actually pursue both these things with either option: A home gives you a place to invite friends over and your own space where you can make your own rules. Travelling encourages you to meet new people and it doesn’t get much more independent that getting on a plane to the other side of the world!
Sometimes this process leads to a clear decision, in my case it made me realise that I could have what I desired regardless of the choice I made.
2. EXPLORE ALL POSSIBILITIES AND WRITE THEM DOWN.
This is an invitation to think outside the box (go beyond what you know, what you have assumed, and what you have been taught). What other possibilities could there be outside of the obvious way of doing things and the status quo? Brainstorm, if you have multiple desires, could they be combined in weird and wonderful ways? If your desire has a traditional timeframe, what happens if you abandon that? Same with location, can it be done somewhere else? Interrogate the parameters that confine your desires.
In this step it is essential that you write down the options. If you are really pushing the boundaries of how you can achieve something there are going to be a lot of options floating around. If you try and hold them all in your head you can get stuck in thought loops where you keep returning to the same ideas instead of focusing on new ones. Get them out of your head to free up space for the yet-to-be-considered!
3. CHECK AS YOU FEEL
This is one of my favourite steps, once you have a list of options, dedicate time to trying each one. Create a symbolic experience of what it might be like to make this decision.
Sometimes merely putting some serious thought into an option is enough, but don’t be afraid to dedicate some resources to a decision if it is big enough. Typically when you buy a car, you go for a test drive. Test drive your options, consider spending some money to do the experience justice. In the market for a house? Rent an Airbnb in the area for a couple of days. Thinking of a career change? Can you give some of your time and shadow someone you know who works in that arena?
The idea of this exercise is to connect with our choices in an experiential way, to get an idea of what the benefits and consequences both expected and unexpected could be, you might be surprised by what you find out!
4. IMAGINE THE BEST AND THE WORST
This step is essential as it helps you measure risk. Explore both the positive and negative consequences of each option, and do not forget the important third column: The cost of inaction. Do not aim for absolute certainty, as the consequences of decisions are in the future where nothing is truly certain. Refusing to make a decision until you are absolutely certain of the result can paralyse, leaving fear to decide for you.
I leave you some questions to accompany you in this step:
- What is the worst that could happen for each result?
- What is the best that could happen for each result?
- Do any of the results take me away from the person I want to be?
- On a scale of 0-10 how likely is it that a result, good or bad, will happen?
- On a scale of 0-10 how much would each result affect me?
- What would be the potential emotional / physical / professional / personal benefits or costs in each option?
- Could I recover from the worst result and take responsibility if all goes wrong?
5.DIMINISH THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS BY PREVENTING, PREPARING AND REPAIRING YOURSELF.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. There are three levels to diminishing negative consequences: Some can be prevented outright. Some can be prepared for, and if some happen, steps can be taken to make repairing the damage that much easier.
As always remember to consider the negative effects of a decision not taken. Inaction comes at a cost.
6. ENJOY BY FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOUR DECISION
Steps 1-5 enable you to commit to a decision from a place of integrity, love and knowledge. This means that you can commit to it fully, with the knowledge that even if you are wrong you will probably gain a valuable life lesson.
When you commit, energy that was being used up by doubt, and spinning all those mental plates laden with possibilities is free to be used in more productive ways. With smaller decisions the redirection of energy is clear: If I commit to eating fruit breakfast every morning, I will buy quality fruit instead of buying cheap fruit and a package of cookies just in case. In this way I will not lose energy each morning having to decide whether to have fruit or cookies for breakfast, it’s already decided. If I commit to writing articles on Mondays and Fridays I will not waste energy during the week deciding when to sit down to write, it is already scheduled.
These six steps have helped me through the hardest decisions of my life, and I hope they help you too. I leave you with a question that you can ask yourself at any time:
What is driving me to my decisions: Fear, or Love?