We each make hundreds of decisions every day. Most of them are small and insignificant – What will I wear today? Where will I go for lunch? Others are pretty weighty – Will I accept that new job offer in Toledo? Will I ask her to marry me?
We love to believe that, as humans, we’re smart, self-directed and rational. In order to make the best decision we gather facts, weigh the pros and cons and, with the pure logic of a spreadsheet, reach the optimum conclusion.
Ah, if it were only that simple!
The truth is that, while there’s some logic involved in the decision-making process, no one makes any decision on a purely rational basis. Every choice we make has a whole lot of touchy-feely going on. Far too often, the emotions that drive our decisions are fear, anxiety and self-doubt.
The conclusion that most people will reach on any given question will vary by the day, the economy, what they had to eat for breakfast and probably the phase of the moon. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of this unreliability, which is why we get so nervous when faced with a big decision. How do you know you’ll make the right one?
There are four keys to making fearless decisions that will leave you feeling confident:
Key #1 Recognize that you’re being influenced
Logic aside, there are three psychological influencers in every decision you make.
The first is fear. Fear of harm or loss and fear of the judgment of others.
“If I take this job and it doesn’t work out, I’ll be stranded in Toledo.” “If I invest in this new business idea I might lose all my retirement savings.” “If I go away with him for the weekend, what will my Mother say?”
Get quiet for a few moments. Ask how you’re scaring yourself. Ask the wise, inner you what it is that you’re imagining might happen as a result of this decision. Recognize the fear for what it is and know that it’s worth overcoming.
The second is the self-limiting beliefs we all hold.
“I’m not smart enough to get a Master’s degree!” “He’s way out of my league and wouldn’t ever go out with me.” “I’ve never had good money instincts, so running my own business is a terrible idea.”
The third is the pre-programmed beliefs with which we’ve all been indoctrinated. “No one from our family moves overseas.” “My high school music teacher said I couldn’t carry a tune so there’s no point in me auditioning for that play.” “Dad always wanted me to be a doctor like him, so this idea about opening a restaurant is just a silly fantasy.”
Key #2 Know that there are two sides to every decision
Every decision has two sides. One is to go after what you DO want. The other is to avoid what you DON’T want. The first is made from a place of faith, courage and growth. The other is made from a place of fear.
“I’d love to hire that energetic young intern but my boss wants me to hire someone from his alma mater and I don’t want to get on his bad side.” “I really want to go back and finish my degree but I’m afraid of what my children might think.” “This new product line could really take off, but I don’t want to take the blame if something goes wrong.”
Key #3 Trust your gut
When all the weighing and comparing is done and the analysis and logic is complete, all final decisions are made in the heart, not the head.
Don’t be afraid of trusting your instinct. If you learn to be still and filter out all the psychological influencers we’ve discussed, you’ll discover a quiet, inner voice that knows what’s best for you.
In Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, he writes, “Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know.”
You’ll know when your heart has spoken. Trust it.
Key #4 Once you’ve made a decision, own it
Second-guessing is a huge enemy of growth and progress. Sure, you can go over and over the decision, reviewing the pros and cons again and again. But a year from now you’ll still be trying to make up your mind and the opportunity will have passed.
Years ago I developed a method of decision making that I call “deciding to decide.” It recognizes that I always have many options and choices. But in THIS moment, I’ve made and will live with THIS decision. When I remove the option of changing my mind I become committed to finding every possible way to make the decision work.
And, more often than not, it does.