“Do nothing and nothing happens. Life is about decisions. You either make them or they’re made for you, but you can’t avoid them.” Mhairi McFarlane
According to Andrew Cohen, contributing to Entrepreneur.com, Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit every day so that he never had to think about what to wear. (I’m hoping it was a similar outfit, not the same one. Phew!). Tim Ferriss eats the same (healthy) meal for breakfast every day so he doesn’t have to think about what food to prepare. And President Barack Obama limits his low-priority email responses to “Agree,” “Disagree” or “Discuss” to simplify the mental burden of his small decisions.
No doubt limiting the number of decisions we make can contribute to making our lives easier, less congested with busyness.
A logical question follows. How do we make the best decision, when there’s no escaping making one? I know of people who struggle with decision making. As someone once said, “When faced with two choices, we usually make the third, to not choose.” I suggest the dilemma often faced is articulated by Shauna Niequist in Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way. “It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”
We all know that some of our worst decisions have made for some of our best stories, at least after the fact. Well, I’m all for making consistently good decisions and letting my story telling be about those experiences.
Here are my five warning signs that you’re about to make a bad (wrong) decision:
- Focusing on what you’ll have to give up
- Focusing on what you will miss out on
- Focusing on what might go wrong
- Focusing on your immediate resources (money, time, experience)
- Making the decision from anger, resentment, unhappiness, and the like
Let’s take a look at the first three. They all originate from fear. Fear that we’ll lose out in one way or another. All while presuming that we may make the wrong decision. The problem is that this kind of thinking almost always leads us into “safe” decision making. Forget about what you want from the decision, forget about the kind of job, relationship, home, travel, or community you want to experience. Instead, take the safe route. Wouldn’t want to miss out on anything. Except, by staying safe, we actually miss out on potentially exciting and enlivened lives.
Forget that! By focusing and placing your attention on what you might give up, miss out, or what might go wrong, you’ll likely miss out on a whole lot, and, no doubt, something will go wrong somewhere down the line. Why? Because what you focus on and give attention to expands in your life.
Taking a look at #4, focusing on immediate resources is a great way, the perfect answer, to keep you in your comfort zone, avoiding risk and thus, a new and different life style. Stagnation! #4 essentially says, let’s keep everything the same. It falsely relies on the idea that “someday” when I have the money, time, experience, then I’ll make a different decision. Good luck with that one. Years down the road, entrenched in your “comfort zone” thinking, you’ll be using the same logic. “Someday” never comes.
Lastly, good old #5. Making decisions from these thoughts and emotions; anger, resentment, unhappiness, all but guarantees that, in time, you’ll end up angry, resentful and unhappy, once again. Why? Because you’re attention to these emotions and what caused them (what you think caused them, actually it’s your response to what happened that caused them), guarantees that those things will expand in your life. So when I quit my job because they treated me unfairly, guess how my experience of being treated in my next job will be? Unfairly.
Here are my suggestions for making really good decisions:
1. Take time to reflect. “Why am I making a decision?”
2. Take time to ask yourself, “What do I want to experience as the result of this decision?”
3. What steps can I take in the direction of what I want to experience?
Looking at #1. Let’s say you’re unhappy, dissatisfied, feel the need for change, angry, or resentful. It’s important to recognize and honor those thoughts and feelings. “Yep, that’s how I feel alright. I’m pissed.”
We should never deny whatever thoughts and emotions we are experiencing, we just don’t want them to lead into destructive decision making. Avoid saying, “I’m not angry!” when in fact you are. Once we are honest with ourselves about what’s really going on, we set those thoughts and emotions aside. Kind of like writing them down on a sticky note and pasting it on the corner of our desk. We don’t deny they exist. We remove our attention from them, because we don’t want them driving the bus.
Now, when we ask ourselves, “Why am I making a decision?” We are candid and forthright. “I’m angry, yet not driven by anger.”
Then, we go to my second suggestion. (Notice I did not say, we go to #2, as that has connotations I’m not wanting to introduce here). “What do I want to experience as the result of this decision?” Notice I did not say “What do I not want to experience?” Stay away from the “nots” and go with what you want. Reflecting back to the job in which we were feeling we were being treated unfairly, that I alluded to earlier – what I might want is a job that is challenging, interesting and one where I am treated respectfully. That’s what I should be looking for in my new job hunt. That’s the vision I want to hold as I seek new employment. Challenging. Interesting. Respectful. I allow those words to become my mantra.
Focusing on what is desired, is the key to good decision making.
Then I incorporate #3. Now that I definitely know what I want, I take a step in the direction of my desired employment. I ask around, I search the internet, I update my resume’, I do whatever it takes to welcome my new work. I take a step in the direction of my vision. That step will lead to the next step, and before long, I am likely to hold that new job that is consistent with my vision. Or something better!
And so it is!