3 Timeless Rules for Making Tough Decisions
DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS…
What should I wear today?
Beautiful or comfortable shoes?
What should I eat for lunch?
Should I go with a salad or a delicious burrito?
What do I do with my savings?
Should I invest or leave my savings rest for now?
What will my next move be?
Should I move to another country or stay put?
I don’t really like my current job but I may not be able to find another one for a while… Should I quit and change it or stay at the current one for now?
Decisions, decisions, decisions…These are just some examples of decisions we are required to make on a daily, monthly or yearly basis.
Various internet resources suggest that an average person (adult) makes approximately thirty-three thousand decisions per one single day!
I found this data to be mind-blowing (and slightly disturbing).
These decisions we constantly make, they all affect our lives in a less or more significant way. And it is all decisions you have made in your entire life that brought you to this place, where you are right now, reading these words.
This bespeaks that we are the ones responsible for our lives, that we always have a choice and that it is our choices that direct our future in one way or another.
We are not victims of our destiny but the ultimate creators of our lives.
And it is our decisions and our decisions alone that determine where we ultimately end up…And depending on your personality type, you may find this idea to be either intimidating or empowering.
We are all aware that our decisions may be glorious and wise. They may bring us success for which we will be applauded and glorified.
However, they may also pave the road to what we see as failure and leave us feeling miserable and afraid of making new decisions.
The truth is that, even though almost everyone will say they like having a choice and being a master of their own fate, continuous decision-making can and is very often, exhausting.
Can you even imagine consciously making thirty-three thousand decisions per day?
I cannot even start to imagine this.
And it is not only the number or the time which would take us for such an act.
The greatest burden consists of knowing that mistakes are inevitable and that we are frequently displeased with results of our decisions.
Why is it so often so difficult to decide?
In some cases, two choices are equally attractive and that is what makes it difficult to decide.
In other cases, one option is by far more attractive than the other (salad vs. burrito) but the weighing of choices includes many factors (e.g. health, bikini body ambitions or budget).
Some decisions can and need to be reached within a manner of minutes while others may take a few weeks, months or even, years.
Naturally, the choice between salad and burrito has less impact on your future than the choice between investment and saving but not having an appropriate decision-making mechanism may make even minor decisions a major burden.
And although, you can never know whether decision you made was “the best”, you can make sure you made the best decision you could at a given time with resources at your disposal.
Bearing this in mind, many scientist, psychologists and life coaches engaged in trying to find some “timeless” decision-making rules.
What they came up with are different strategies and methods which can help when trying to reach both, small, irrelevant as well as major, life-changing decisions.
Take a look at three general rules (alongside a few practical tipps) which may help you deal with decisions of all kinds in a more efficient manner.
THREE TIMELESS GENERAL RULES FOR MAKING TOUGH DECISIONS
Let us start with…
Rule number one: Development of habits as a way of routinizing everyday decision making!
The first method is to use habits as a way of reducing routine decision-making in everyday situations.
Those decisions like salad vs. burrito…the idea is to deal with them in advance by developing a routine and knowing exactly what you will do.
In the concrete example, this routine may look something like this: You know that you are eating salad for lunch every day of the week and by considering this to be absolute, there is no decision to be made.
And you may even go further and decide you’ll eat salmon every Tuesday or that you’ll eat burrito every second Saturday.
By creating a routine, you are automatically excluding choices and further on, a possibility of decision making. It may sound boring and it may not be everyone’s preferred method but this rule can actually save you a lot of time and unnecessary thinking.
And in fact, people tend to do this in their everyday lives without even noticing.
You probably have a preferred way to go to work or get home, hence, rarely think about alternative ways to get there, even though, alternatives most probably exist.
Or you have a fitness routine and you know that you go to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
This way you do not even have to think about whether you’ll exercise on these days, you know you will, thus, no deciding necessary.
And even if you cannot relate to these particular examples, you will probably agree that they do sound familiar.
Little rules and routines make our lives easier and this kind of strategic decision making should in no way be considered boring or rigid. You should rather perceive it as extremely time efficient!
Nevertheless, this method mostly applies to predictable situations and/or reoccurring dilemmas.
What about those decisions we really cannot or do not see coming?
Well, this is where we introduce…
Rule number two: Development of rules as a way of routinizing unpredictable decision making!
When it comes to unpredictable events and decisions, we can again try to apply the first method and develop “crisis scenarios” or “crisis rules” but such strictly determined rules will not really do the trick.
What we can do is develop abstract rules which are in line with are character, beliefs, ethics or our persona in general, hence, develop a kind of a behavioral pattern applicable to a wide range of scenarios.
Let me explain this on a couple of examples.
We may come up with a very general rule applicable to any unpredictable decision-making, such as: In a situation where I really need to decide, I will tend to go with an alternative which leaves me with more options.
Or, when facing a concrete challenging situation and you cannot really decide how to react, you may use the “if…then” scenario.
Let’s say you are having a situation at a work place where you are not sure whether and how to react to some (potentially unpleasant) comments made by another colleague.
In this situation, you could avoid the complicated decision-making process by simply deciding you will react if this person makes a comment for the third time or start commenting on a specific point.
Another example: Imagine you are shopping and are currently torn between buying one single, expensive thing and getting multiple, less expensive things for the price of this one.
Well, we’ve all been here… I for one, have a very specific rule which prevents me from spending half of my salary on random things I’ll probably regret buying ten minutes later.
I prefer buying expensive but high-quality shoes and jackets but tend to buy cheaper alternatives when it comes to t-shirts and pants.
Again, this will probably sound familiar because, one way or another, we all have such or similar rules which help us deal with hundreds of common decisions daily.
By developing such behavioral patterns you deal with common decisions automatically without even noticing you made a decision.
And this saves you a lot of time and unnecessary distraction.
Still, as good as this may sound, we are all aware that not every decision can be decided in a way of these two simple rules.
There are obviously more complicated decisions which consume us for days, weeks or months and these cannot be decided by simply saying if…then.
“Tough” decisions frequently require diligent thinking and weighing of pros and cons and the problem is that even that sometimes isn’t enough.
We’ve all been there and you’ve probably experienced the following scenario already: You did the thinking, you tested your arguments and you know all pros and cons.
But still cannot make up your mind… And this is where we turn to the rule number three…
Rule number three: Set a clear time frame by important/tough decisions!
And this means, set up a timer and meet the decision within this time frame regardless of how difficult this may be.
It will still be very tough but being strict here will help you in the long run.
Naturally, the time frame should not be ten minutes. Or it may as well be… The important thing is to decide to decide and follow up with this.
Otherwise you may dwell in the limbo of your possibilities forever and this will consume a lot of your energy without providing for any actual results. If the decision remains impossible to make after a diligent analysis, consideration of all relevant data and comparison of all pros and cons, there is only one thing left for you to do.
Set a timer and make the decision by the time deadline elapses.
This literally means, set a particular date or even time and if you haven’t decided by this time already, force yourself to make a decision.
And be strict with yourself! Remember, though decisions are the easiest to postpone but this postponing is usually doing you a lot more harm than good. Especially in the business context where procrastination may be actually be fatal and as a matter of fact, this decision-making method has been widely accepted and used by leaderships of big and successful companies.
So you definitely shouldn’t consider it reckless!
And the good thing is that it can be used for pretty much every tough decision you may be facing.
But why is it then that companies sometimes take months or even years to come up with any decision at all, let alone those which may make or break the company’s profile?
The answer is simple. Decisions, and especially business decisions, may need some time and it is important to take that into account when setting a decision time frame.
The analysis of a situation, key data but also your feelings is necessary when dealing with tough decisions. It usually takes some time and a tactical approach.
And this is where I’ll introduce a few practical advices and tipps which may help you reach a good decision within a given time frame.
USEFUL STRATEGIES FOR DECISION MAKING WITHIN A GIVEN TIME FRAME
And these strategies are considered quite helpful as a way to avoid anxiety or dishonesty in situations where one is faced with a difficult decision which must be reached within a concrete time frame.
The first question is… How would you advise somebody else in that situation?
We are humans and this obviously makes us imperfect and, hence, subjective creatures.
We tend to be very strict towards others, giving them a clear-cut solution while on the other hand, we tend to come up with excuses for ourselves and our actions.
Ellen’s advice in these cases is to introduce a single judgment scale and let go of your double standards.
So basically, ask yourself how you would advise somebody else (preferably a friend) in that situation and then, stick to your own (hypothetical) advice.
Concrete example: Let’s say you are currently struggling with a decision whether to break up or stick through and put more effort into your relationship. Ask yourself, if this had been your friend and not you in this situation, what advice you would give to him/her? And when you reply to this question (honestly), try to apply the same advice to your own situation.
The second question is… How do you feel about a decision?
The power of intuition or gut instinct. How do you feel about something? What is your immediate reaction when thinking about something?
And even though we shouldn’t always trust our very first instincts (just remember your last impulsive reaction, those are rarely success stories!), it has been scientifically proven that best decisions are made by combining rational thinking with intuition.
Scholars from the University of Leeds presented an interesting theory which states that intuitive decision-making is just a rapid calculation done unconsciously.
This calculation bases on past experiences and subtle perceptions in our environment.
This concept may, to some extent, explain why we sometimes have these completely unexplainable reactions as if our subconscious is trying to communicate with us… Regardless of the definition of intuition, Hendriks believes that we should always listen to what our gut instinct is telling us and try to align our decision with that inner voice.
Let us simplify this slightly abstract theory with the help of an example: You are currently torn between two choices, e.g. moving abroad or staying home. If the possibility of moving abroad arouses excitement and positive emotions, there may be a good chance that this actually is the right decision for you.
In this particular example (as in many other real-life situations), you will most probably feel other emotions as well.
You will surely experience slight anxiety, uncertainty and doubt and this is why you should ask yourself which emotion overrules them all.
Test yourself with different questions: If I move, how will I feel in a month or year? How would I feel if I decided not to move? Would this decision ultimately arouse positive or negative emotions? Would you be relieved and happy to stay at home or miserable that you missed out on an opportunity?
And after thorough consulting with yourself and your inner gut, make sure to decide in a way which ultimately makes you as happy as possible. Because that is the whole point, isn’t it?
The third question is… What if there was no choice?
In my opinion, this is a continuation of the second question… It is simply a helpful method for you to test yourself and your true emotions.
Another way for you to check how a possible decision would ultimately make you feel. When torn between two choices, think about how you would feel if you didn’t have an alternative but would have to stick with one or the other.
Let us say you are deciding whether to stay at your current job where you aren’t entirely satisfied or quit. What you should do is imagine both possible scenarios as if you had no other options.
Imagine that this is the only job you can get and that, at the moment, there are no alternatives for you on the market.
How does this make you feel?
Are you relieved, frustrated, sad?
And now imagine that your company is cutting off the service line you are working in, you are no longer needed and you need to find another job. The decision has been made for you. Be honest. How does this scenario make you feel?
By imagining alternative extreme scenarios where you are not actually required to make a choice but are simply faced with a result, you may, in fact, realize how deciding in one way or another will make you feel.
Furthermore, I personally find this method to be helpful for another, completely different reason.
This kind of radical thinking may help you realize that absolute scenarios are actually very rare.
Your decisions are rarely final and they usually only open doors for many other future choices and hence, decisions.
This can be a helpful guiding thought when trying to avoid the anxiety of the decision-making because we do tend to forget we usually always have a choice.
And I personally find this to be a very comforting though indeed.
Practical Tipp: Do your research, list pros and cons (preferably write them down)!
Now, this one may seem obvious. The key point is that doing research does not only apply to business-related decisions.
Naturally, the research you’ll have to conduct when deciding on the acquisition of another company will be more extensive than the research on hotel options you for your next trip.
Still, the main point in both cases is to try to have as many valuable information as possible and to try to take all relevant points into account.
Doing this can help you reach decisions faster, more efficient and will help you avoid potentially unpleasant consequences.
Ever thought how reading reviews beforehand saved you a lot of trouble and helped you make a good decision? And vice versa. Ever visited a website only after you stayed at a certain hotel and saw two or three comments dealing with the exact problem you had? My point exactly.
The second part of this advice would be to write pros and cons and I’m underlining write because having things written really does make a difference.
Try pleading for both sides, figure out all relevant pro and con arguments and write them down somewhere.
Which side prevails?
And if there are clear arguments pro one side what is it that leaves you undecisive?
The listing of pros and cons may help you with a thorough investigation of your feelings, wishes and hopes, hence again, help you to reach the “best” decision.
And if it so happens that this practical tipp does not help and you are left with two equally long lists of pros and cons, hence, two equally good or bad choices, you need to go back to basics: set a deadline and decide by the time deadline elapses.
You made the decision… Now what?
Go with it! Align with it and do not look back! And this is the most crucial point of this article.
Learn to live with every decision you make and cut the wining, crying, complaining or worrying.
And let’s make it clear: this does not mean, put your legs up in the air and let go, especially not in business.
You may and will frequently be required to follow up on your decisions, monitor the outcome and potentially adjust it.
Yes exactly, you may need to adjust your decisions and make new or different ones. You may even have to get back and decide on the same thing all over again and this still won’t mean you made the wrong decision in the first place.
It is important to note that the decision to decide already is a good decision.
Sometimes, the right choice may not be obvious and you may even make a mistake.
But isn’t a decision to cut the torture of the whole decision process a good move already? And speaking in business terms, it is not rare that you will be required to make a decision based on an incomplete data because not deciding would risk being to slow and facing even major losses.
You usually create more playground for yourself in the future by deciding on your own terms and that is why a decision you made consciously usually puts you in the position of power.
And even if the decision you made turns out to be imperfect, it is crucial to realize the importance of the alignment with the decision.
Even if it turns out you made a mistake, you must remember that this was the best you could do at that given moment and there is nothing you can do about it now.
And continuing to worry about the decision which has already been made… That is really no different to not deciding and worrying. It is an unnecessary waste of energy which provides for no actual results (unless you consider stress to be a result).
So go ahead… Decide on the movie for tonight, move somewhere else, buy those stocks, redecorate, propose… Whatever you may choose, make sure this is what you really want and then just go along with it… And don’t worry. Either way, you will have to make some thirty-three thousand new decisions tomorrow….