We’ve all made our share of bad decisions. Decisions where the result surprised us, and not for the good.We thought it would work out differently but then we end up looking at a mess, or at an unintended conclusion.
In classical mythology an oracle was a person who provided wise counsel. There is a story of King Croesus, who consults the oracle of Delphi to know what his future holds. As he considers an imminent battle the oracle tells the king, “If you cross the river, a great empire will fall.” Thinking this means he will win the battle, he embarks confidently across the river, only to find out that the great nation to fall was his.
How do we make decisions?
Should we trust others in the process?
What do we need to consider?
Can we really make solid decisions that we can be confident with?
I believe we can.
No list of tips is foolproof, but the ones that follow are constructive and secure. If we trust ourselves in the process they just might lead us to a decision we can feel good about, one we have considered, and most importantly, chosen for ourselves.
1. Be clear.
Name the decision in question, not the emotions or consequences. It’s easy to mix these up. Emotions can quickly put us in flight or fight mode and limit our ability to stay in the centred zone. Then all of a sudden we lose sight of what decision we are making and it all becomes overwhelming.
“Should I talk to so and so about such and such?” should not be clouded with “What if he gets mad?” or “What if he starts badmouthing me?” These may be important considerations, but for step 1 you need to clarify the decision at hand.
2. Get the facts.
Try to gain an objective picture of why you are facing the decision. List all the pertinent information. What facts have led you to this decision? What events happened that made this decision a possibility? What information do you have? What information don’t you have? Is it important? And if so, where and when can you get it? Don’t overload yourself with information and don’t dwell on information that is not pertinent.
3. Be free.
Let yourself explore. This is the think outside the box step and it can be hard to do. We want to name all our options: the crazy, the unthinkable, the reasonable, the safe and the risky. It’s best to write them down. The writing process externalizes our thinking and the act itself is freeing. A written copy gives you a reference for the steps that follow.
A hint: Thinking outside the box is hard to do. It might be a good idea to do something creative before you embark on this step: draw, dance, rearrange the pictures on the shelf, anything to get your creative juices flowing.
4. Think hard.
Now analyze in detail the options you came up with. What are the pros of each? The cons? The sacrifices? The gains? What do I need to do if I embark on this option? What will be required to make the option a reality? Some options will disappear quickly, others might leave you wondering, and a few will seem like a “maybe”. You may want to create a table to list pros and cons, or risks and advantages.
5. Feel it out.
Now take time to reflect on your emotional response to each of the options. Does one fill you with dread? Why? Does another option make you feel like a weight is lifted? Why? Does another make you feel down? Does another feel hopeful? How do you imagine feeling in 5 weeks, 5 months or 5 years? You might also want to consider how this decision impacts a wider circle of people.
6. Talk about it.
Find a trusted friend, family member, or co-worker. Share the decision you are trying to make. We may be pretty smart, but we are not all-wise or all-discerning. Nobody is. Together we are better and usually make smarter decisions. Sometimes others see things we don’t. They can offer us feedback about ourselves, help us gain perspective and see more clearly.
7. Let it go.
Sometimes the best option needs a bit of time to incubate. Do the hard work and then let it sit. Let yourself take a step back and trust your subconscious to do some work without your focused effort. See what bubbles to the surface. Sometimes the most suitable decisions take full form when we least expect them to: on a long drive, in the shower, as we are falling asleep or when we’ve let our defenses down to do some relaxing.
8. Be bold.
By definition a decision is: the conclusion after consideration. Now you need the actions that will make your decision a reality. Once you decide, just say: it’s final. The decision is made. Begin with whatever might be a first step, then another step and keep moving forward. We should be confident that we have considered our options and made an informed choice.
No one makes the best decision every time, even with a set of great steps to guide the process. If we realize that despite our best efforts to make a good decision, we didn’t, we can reconsider and change course. Everyone falls off the rails – we just don’t want stay there. It’s getting back on track that is going to take us places and propel us to greater heights.
If these tips are helpful, let us know. If you have anything to add to this list, please comment. If you know someone who is making a decision, share these tips. Let’s share our wisdom and create a community of learners.