Last week I wrote about life's challenges and riding roller coasters. A major part of life's challenges is making tough decisions. I label them "tough" because the real thing is not always the obvious answer and because sometimes what is right for someone is indeed wrong for someone else. There are so many twists and turns in the decision process that a person can get all turned inside out and twisted like a pretzel without actually finding any clear sense of direction or answer.
Still, decisions need to be made, whether it is about a toxic relationship, an elderly parent, or a disappointing work environment. Without decisions, we drift, we think less of ourselves, and we continue to devote unnecessary mental and emotional energy to something that needs to be taken care of.
I do not intend this article to be an explanation about how to make decisions. You can find many such articles readily on the Internet, and many of them have very sound suggestions for learning how to make decisions and to trust the decision-making process. No, my purpose in today's article is to urge you to take that first step toward searching the Internet and making the decision, not how to do it.
Actually, decisions are rather easy to make. We merely need to pick one option over others. I believe what keeps us mired in the indecisive fog is the possibility that our decision might be wrong or that it is not the best decision we could make considering the circumstances.
There is a psychic energy cost when we are faced with making decisions. Each thought we have costs us something in terms of time and mental energy, and in many cases, physical energy as well. When we vacillate in making a decision, we use up time and energy thinking of ways to avoid making the decision. Yes, we call this process "rational thought," but in a way this process is really a sum of tactics we use to avoid coming to a decision. Should I dump this guy or hang onto him for fear there isn't anyone else? Should we switch teachers? Should I do something about my elderly aunt? Should I quit my job? Unless we sit down and go through a decision analysis on paper, we probably are wasting a lot of our time and energy dithering about clouds and the weather in space and fooling ourselves into thinking that we are actually weighing factors that will weight and influence our ultimate decision. Uh huh.
I am fairly certain that we all have a few decisions that need to be made that we have not been making. So let us resolve this week to take care of that unfinished business. Find a quiet time, perhaps while you drink your coffee in the morning and contemplate your day, or while you drink your herbal tea in the evening and contemplate your day. Have a pen or pencil and paper handy, or for those of you who like to mind map, have that computer program or Smart Phone app handy. Here are my suggestions:
- Make a list of those open loops, those subjects that you need to make a decision about. Merely list them. Do not attempt to solve these issues at this moment. We are removing emotion for the time being and merely making a list of items that need our attention in some fashion.
- After you have made your list, turn your emotional side back on and look through the list for the one thing that makes your stomach turn, your fingers grow cold, or your heart anxious. This is probably the one thing that most needs your attention right now. Let us take that one item off the list and put it on a separate piece of paper.
- Now you can begin to analyze your options. If you mind map or practice clustering, go ahead and do that. (You can search the Internet for more information about mind mapping or clustering as idea-generating tools). If you prefer, you may also write columns of pros and cons. I sometimes use an outline program, because I find that I can backtrack my own thoughts, spark new ideas, and organize my thinking as I go along. Sometimes a decision has many steps or parts to it, and making a list will reveal any of the possibilities that something else is standing in the way of making a decision. For example, if I want to sell my horse, I may vacillate in my decision about selling the horse because I have no idea how I would go about the horse-selling process. Making my various lists will reveal these initial steps that I need to take in order to position myself for a potential sale.
- Finally, take a step on your decision. Do something. Anything. Any small step that acts upon your decision. Why?
- First, we sat down and wrote about it, even if all we did was make a list. The act of sitting down and writing is a step that will help to break whatever inertia we created when we gave ourselves permission to wallow in the mental fog we pretend is the act of decision-making.
- Second, when we take a step in any direction, special things start to happen. It is as if the energy we created just by moving or looking in a particular direction starts drawing other things like a magnet to us. If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. -- Henry David Thoreau. Countless times I have thought about a particular person or considered a particular subject, and the person will call me or I will receive unexpected information about the subject. I am familiar with reticular activation -- that phenomenon that makes us see yellow cars every place after we have bought our own yellow car -- but this energetic coincidence seems bigger. Without this magical step in a particular direction, all the wonderful synergistic coincidences will not spark.
- Third, dithering about decisions makes the decision-making process exhausting and difficult. Making a decision is actually ridiculously easy to do. What makes the process difficult is that we are generally afraid that we will make the wrong decision. Having made several wrong decisions myself, let me assure you that it is alright to change your mind. I am told that pilots make hundreds if not thousands of course corrections in the course of a flight plan. Why could we not do that too? When we make a decision, if it is not the right one, we will probably figure that out in moments. Changing our minds is perfectly acceptable. Our paths are lined with different doorways that lead to many new hallways that ultimately end up in many new places. Our decision today is merely one of the many possible decisions that we could make. Lawyers understand this, which is why civil contracts provide for various remedies in the event that circumstances change and different economic decisions need to be made. Need to break a lease? Go right ahead, because your current lease contract provides for solutions.
- A good friend asked me for some advice once about a career change: giving up his music career in favor of working full time in the website design business, which he currently does on a part time basis. He told me that his parents supported the decision to change careers and that his wife supported his not making the change because she feared that he would miss the music too much. My advice? Who did you argue with? I asked. My friend actually laughed, because that gave him the answer he needed. Apparently his wife knew him best of all. I learned this decision-making technique years ago when I was puzzled about which high school class ring I should buy. I asked everyone for their opinion, and then I realized that I argued with everyone who picked something other than the color that I ultimately selected. In that I had my answer.