I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have often avoided making decisions throughout my life. That’s not to say that I haven’t made things happen but I have often avoided putting my foot down and choosing a path one way or the other, preferring instead to allow circumstances to make the decision myself. That’s not to say that I haven’t subconsciously pushed circumstances one way or another, but it’s not the same and does not give you the same benefits as being decisive and telling the world what you want.
The thing is that an argument could be made that the whole point of life is to make decisions (if we take any spiritual questions out of the equation). The biological definition of life is that ‘life is irritable’ meaning that the environment does something and life does something back. This is true for all life – a plant decides on some level to move towards the light and if it were to stop doing it, it would die. The same is true for us on a much more complex level. If we were to stop making decisions, we would not get up, eat or drink and we would soon die.
This can be demonstrated in people with depression. They sink down into it and can’t manage to decide to do anything. in severe cases, they can’t even manage to get up. Conversely, if they can be motivated to take some action (any action) it will actually lessen the depression and cause them to feel better to some degree.
I don’t think many of us need to worry too much about not deciding to feed ourselves (it’s certainly not a problem that I face) but the reverse is true in that the more decisions that you make, the more alive you will feel and the more progress you are likely to make towards your goals.
When you refuse to make a decision, your life or some part of your life gets stuck until the choice is resolved. You can’t grow, improve or move on to bigger choices until that one is made in some fashion and put behind you.
So, making decisions is important. You probably already knew that if you are reading this article. The next question is how to make a decision for the best.
If you are struggling with a decision you must know what the criteria for making it are?
To know that you must have a plan…
What do you want out of life?
It’s a big question but when you have to make a decision you have to make it based on how it is going to affect your life and without an answer you can’t judge whether one course is better than the other.
A decision is a choice between two paths for your life. To choose between two paths you need to know the person you would like to be at the end of your life and the experiences that you want to have on the way.
So, one technique is to imagine that you are on your deathbed. Imagine what you want your situation to be like. Who would you want around you? Where do you live? What has your health been like? What experiences have you had? What have you achieved? What are you proud of? What things might you regret?
You might find this article useful as it talks about the things that people regret on their deathbeds.
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This isn’t the sort of thing that you will get nailed in a couple of minutes. In your first try, you will just start to get a feel for it but even that glimpse can be life changing. This is something that you should come back to regularly to reassess as you grow, change and gain more experiences.
Once you have an idea about where you actually want to go, you can come back to your choice and start to examine it based on how it will help or hinder the path that you most want.
This technique is far more useful than just for making hard decisions. Once you know where you want to go, you can start to shape all of your choices and actions according to where they will get you.
To take this concept to the next level, you should start putting some time into defining your values and priorities as well as the lifestyle that you want. For example, would you prefer more money or more time with your family? Choices are rarely that simple but if you have an offer of a higher paid job that will keep you away from your family then you should be making the decision based on what is important to you rather than what society thinks you should want. They might be the same things but they might not!
The question of how you want your health to be may seem redundant because so much is out of your control and it is correct that you could be in an accident or have some major illness. However if you would like to be fit, healthy and active in your old age, while you can’t guarantee getting there, you can pretty much guarantee not achieving it if you are doing no exercise, eating badly and spending all day sitting around. So, once you know where you are going, you can actually tailor every choice and action to move you closer.
This is one of the most important investments that you can make so spend some time on it (if you spent the length of one soap on TV every week you would see huge benefits). Write it down and reread and rework it, daydream about it then start to actively judge all of your choices and actions based on it. To supercharge your results, spend 5 minutes each day listing the things that you have done that day and whether each will move you closer or further from your ideal life.
Of course, you don’t have to do this. You can go on living the way that you have been but you should be aware of what that means. If you live without a clear plan or set of values then you still exist, you still get up each day and do things, the question is who decides what you will do. The fact is that you are bombarded from all sides my messages and instructions about what to do based on what other people want. Buy this, go here, think this, spend money to fill the void. Couple this with the fact that the main objective of the media is to make you feel bad enough about yourself that you will be a good consumer and ‘fix’ the bad feelings by buying stuff. Its not an attractive option and the only alternative that I see is to formulate a clear idea of exactly what you want.
Of course, this will be a fluid idea. What you want will change and evolve as you change and evolve as a person, but the key is that you decide and set your own course.
Did you know that it has been shown that people who write goals down become more successful than those of a similar status who don’t? Even if they write those goals down once and never look at them again.
I strongly believe that you should follow the above advice. Knowing what you really want and the path that you most want to travel will make most decisions easier, however some decisions will still be hard to make. Perhaps they both seem to equally benefit you or perhaps they are between two totally different options and you can’t differentiate between the two.
Some Techniques to help in Making a Decision.
One option is simple to flip a coin. If they are that close, it probably won’t make a real difference in the long term and making any decision is better than refusing to make it because it frees you up mentally and allows you to move on to the next growth opportunity.
I have heard that flipping the coin can also be a great clarifier because if when it lands you are tempted to go 2 out of 3 then you have your answer there as well!
Distance yourself from the problem by pretending that you are advising a friend. Even better, get a friend to role-play being you with you.
Simplify the decision as much as possible. Reduce the decision down to clear criteria and discard whatever information that you don’t need.
Understand that you are very poor at judging how circumstances will make you feel and how you will cope, so try to take that out of the equation. Also, Our psychological immune system is great at justifying bad decisions so that we can still feel happy about them. Really then you should realise that any decision is good because it allows you to move forward.
Are you making the decision based on the now or on the future? If you are going to make it based on the future, where it will lead, how you will feel etc., understand that you can’t predict these things in any meaningful way. Humans are awful at predicting how circumstances will affect them. Also, your assumptions may be wrong and you may not be accurately predicting how one course will lead to other things.
I am not saying that you should base your decisions on what is better in the short term, but if you do base it on predictions for the longer term, be sure that you have reasonable confidence in your assumptions.
Put the choice in perspective by throwing in some totally different options; especially things that you would never normally do. If the decision is hard maybe a third option will be better, maybe you can tweak the choices or maybe you just need to understand that both the options are so similar that it will make no long term, difference.
If you can, set a deadline. Even better make as many decisions as you can within 3 breaths of receiving the choice and stick to it. It is an incredibly empowering technique but only when you refuse to allow yourself to second guess the decision because if you do then you haven’t really made it.
Think about something else. With really hard decisions, you should think about it deeply, acknowledge to yourself that you want an answer then just forget about it. Refuse to think or talk about it for a day or so. A decision will come to you.
For a different take on this, I like this article by Steve Pavlina. It flips the idea round so you aren’t deciding which option is best but rather which one is more you. Its worth a read.
To sum up, the most important thing is to understand the criteria that you will make the decision by. Do this by understanding what you want out of your life. Next, give yourself a deadline and stick to it. Gather the information that you need and no more (discard irrelevant information). Discard predictions about the future that you can’t know. If the worst comes to worst, flip a coin and move on!
Lastly, listen to your gut. Its advice that I sometimes hate because it seems woolly but if you imagine making a choice and feel a sense of loss, maybe the other option was really the one you wanted even if it seemed more difficult.