Many of us find decision making very difficult and procrastinate, hoping that someone else will make the decision for us. For example, staying in an unsatisfying job until one day, we get a promotion or get made redundant, which forces a change.
The reason we find decisions so hard to make is usually attributed to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of overwhelm, fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of making a mistake, fear of losing something or someone, fear of upsetting others… And there’s nothing wrong with any of these emotions! They are perfectly normal human feelings and nearly everyone experiences them.
Are you aware that not making a decision is a decision in itself and will have its own consequences. The consequence is usually the fact that someone or something else will change and will affect your destiny rather than you being in control of your own life to some extent.
In her book “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, the late Susan Jeffers suggests that no decision is a “wrong” decision as you will experience learning outcomes from any action (or inaction) that you take. With this is mind, how can we assertively make a decision, stand by it and move on?
Here are 5 steps for confident and informed decision making:
1) Is there a time limit? If yes, use the time to do some homework around the pluses and minuses of the decision, who will be affected and the likely consequences. If there is no time limit then either, relax, the answer may come in its own time, or if the issue is important enough to you, set yourself a time limit and continue with the next 4 steps!
2) A list of the Pro’s and Con’s can be a very powerful visual tool for decision making. Quite simply fold a sheet of paper in half long ways and list the Pro’s on the left and the Con’s on the right. Seeing it on paper can bring real clarity. If the Con’s can be dealt with quite easily then maybe you need to ask yourself what is really holding you back?
3) Seek professional advice where necessary. First, beware that even professionals have their own agendas and often, they also want to profit out of giving advice (think financial advisors). However, taking advice from someone who has successfully achieved what you are seeking to achieve with your decision can have the benefit of avoiding some mistakes along the way. e.g. If you wish to launch into property investment, and have a property in mind, asking the opinion of a successful property investor before taking the plunge, may be useful for avoiding pitfalls you hadn’t thought of. You can ask the opinion of friends and relatives but BEWARE! What is best for other people is not necessarily what is best for you.
For example, say you were deciding whether or not to buy a dog for Christmas. If you were to ask your dog-loving aunty who lives in the country and owns three poodles, she is bound to say yes, absolutely, it’s the best thing you will ever do! If you ask your jet-setting, bachelor, younger brother who lives in a tiny apartment and takes 5 holidays a year, the advice will be very different! The point here is that if you seek the advice of others, make sure you ask the right questions of the right people, and be aware that they are answering with their own values, experiences, fears and limitations in mind. Relatives in particular may be worried about you making a “mistake” and want to protect you from getting hurt. Listen to genuine concern by all means as sometimes others can see what we can't see, but at the same time, continue to take the advice as part of the whole picture of what is right for you.
4) What is the worst case scenario? Often, when we put things in perspective, our fears are minimised. For example, if I spend my bonus on a new car instead of paying off some of my mortgage, the worst case scenario might be that I add 6 months onto my mortgage. Be careful around fears and how they continue to impact decisions! My worst fears are that if I were to lose my job or there was a major economic crisis, my mortgage repayments may become impossible. However, at this time I'm pretty certain I will increase my income in the next ten years and the capital gain on my house will more than outweigh the short term cost of the car. If I lose my job, it shouldn't take me long to get a new one. A major down turn in the current economy can't be easily predicted so I will deal with it if or when it should occur. Buying a new car won't stop the effects of losing my job or a recession anyway. Decision: I really want a new car and the feeling of having a reliable and nice looking vehicle in the short term outweighs the feeling of reducing a chunk of my mortgage. I buy the car!
5) Listen to your intuition. Inner guidance is often overlooked but if a situation is making you feel unhappy or uncomfortable or you are constantly drawn to thinking about something new, then take time to feel and listen to your instinct. Simple exercises which can help are: Create a vision board with pictures of how you would like your life to be and what / who / where you would like to be in your life. Do a brainstorm on paper of what you would do in your lifetime if there were no barriers or limitations (money, time, responsibilities, fears). Work out your top 5 life values (come to my workshop or find an exercise online) and think about where you are living in alignment and out of alignment with those values. Write a joy list - all the little and big things which make you happy or give you pleasure. Using these exercises may help you to uncover what you want deep down and help you listen to your "gut" feeling.
So finally: Make the decision and stick with it! Great leaders are often seen as being great because they are decisive, confident and take regular forward moving action. When you look back at great leaders decisions, however, they have, like all of us, make some decisions which turned out to have negative consequences.
How to make a decision: Set a time limit, gather relevant information by: listing the pro’s and con’s, seeking professional advice if relevant, working out the worst case scenario. Then be confident and decisive. Know that you can handle the consequences of the decision and that life will go on (unless you decided to jump out of a plane without a parachute in which case you forgot to do steps 1-4!). Be prepared that there may be negatives, some people may not like your decision, your new puppy might chew up your favourite shoes, you may miss your old colleagues for a while etc. but there will always be benefits, as all decision-making is an opportunity to learn. You never know, it may be the best decision of your life!