Decision making. It can be tough, don’t you think? Thankfully, motivational speaker Roz Savage is on hand to serve up a tasty helping of digestable advice that’ll encourage even the most indecisive characters to call the shots…
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing” – Theodore Roosevelt
The quality of our lives depends on the quality of the decisions that we make, even if that decision is not to make a decision. Every decision carries consequences, many of them trivial, a few of them deeply significant, some of them trivial in the moment but significant when we keep on making that same decision time after time. ‘Just one more cookie won’t hurt…’
So decision-making is not to be taken lightly. At the same time, it is not to be taken too seriously, or we end up in paralysis by analysis, unable to make a move in any direction for fear that it may prove to be the wrong one.
It is an unfortunate truth that we rarely have all the information that we need at the time when we have to make a decision. Acknowledging this truth allows us to be more forgiving towards ourselves if a decision turns out to be a poor one. We did the best we could.
Having said that, I’d like to share a few tips to help you make the best possible decision in any given circumstances.
Decide which decision-making centre to use: head, heart, gut or higher self
Pause for a moment and think about where in your body you feel your decision-making centre to be. Most likely, you will feel a number of different centres that come into play depending on the nature of the decision. You may choose to gather facts and use your head to reason your way to a decision, or follow your heart, or trust your gut instinct, or tap into your higher self by meditating or praying for an answer.
The key here is to be aware of where your decision is coming from, and if need be, to switch to a more appropriate centre. A decision about where to invest your money will hopefully come from a different place than deciding who to marry. Choose your decision-making centre before you choose your decision.
Base your decision on your values
It can make it a lot easier to be decisive when you have a clear sense of what your values are, and in what order. I recommend to my clients that they create a Values Compass, representing their four most important values. Brainstorm a list of values that matter to you, then refine the list until you have identified the four of highest priority. Write these onto a compass at the four cardinal points: North, South, East and West. When you have a decision to make, consult your compass and assess your options to see which best meets your values.
Have the courage to risk making a wrong decision
There is, actually, no such thing as a wrong decision, just unintended results. If you end up with a result that you didn’t want, revise, adjust, and try again. Few decisions are irrevocable, and all are opportunities for learning.
Maximisers and Satisficers
Psychologists have identified two types of decision-makers: maximisers and satisficers. Maximisers want to maximize their satisfaction so, if they are choosing from a menu, for example, they will read the entire list and carefully weigh up which options will deliver them the best possible eating experience. Satisficers, on the other hand, will scan down the menu until they see something that they like well enough, and will choose that.
Maximisers tend to agonize over their decisions, and revisit them and wonder if they made the right choice – especially when everybody else’s dinner arrives and they wish they’d chosen something different. Satisficers, on the other hand, don’t give it another thought, but tuck into their chosen option with gusto.
I think you can guess which group psychologists found to be happier and more content. I’m a natural maximiser but have managed to train myself to act more like a satisficer. It’s not easy but it is possible.
Set a review point to reevaluate your decision. Meanwhile, commit
Once you’ve made a decision, particularly if it is a strategic kind of decision, you need to give it a chance to live, breathe and prove itself. If you dither, compromise and vacillate between two alternatives, you undermine the potential success of either course.
If you feel you don’t have enough information to make a final decision, set yourself a waypoint at a specified time in the future to evaluate whether your chosen route is working, and to continue, modify or abort as appropriate. Until you reach that waypoint, commit to your decision and do your best to make it work.
Write up the pros and cons
You can make this an exercise in using both head and heart – your head gets to write up the list of pros and cons, but your heart gets to decide how much importance you give to each point. When weighing up options, I often use an Excel spreadsheet and list the options down the side, and relevant criteria across the top. This approach is very ‘head’, but for something like choosing a new washing machine or a holiday it’s a useful exercise for comparing the features that matter to me.
Use the principle of Ultimate Flexibility
On the basis that we rarely have perfect information when we make a decision, you may choose to defer a decision until a later point in time. This is the principle of Ultimate Flexibility, or keeping as many options open for as long as possible while you wait for more information to emerge, rather than backing yourself into a corner where you are left with no choice at all. Do note, though, that it may not go over well with your friends if they feel you are waiting to see if you get a better offer before you accept their social invitations!
Document your decision for future reference
If I have to make a big decision, I like to make a note in my journal of what data I had, what my priorities were, and any other information that was relevant to the decision I made. This is so, if at some point in the future I am wondering, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’, I have a record of exactly that. This allows me to be more gentle in my self-judgment, and less regretful.
Act in faith, not fear
If we’re nervous about making a decision, we often default to a position that allows us to stay in our comfort zone. This may not always be the best choice. So as you think about your decision, note whether you feel anxiety, fear or stress sneaking up in your mind and body. If you do, shine a spotlight on it and figure out what it is that you’re afraid of. Only once you’ve dealt with that fear – deciding whether it is justified or irrational – should you go ahead and make your decision.
Before I say yes…
I used to find it really hard to say ‘no’. I would be flattered to be asked, and had a fear of missing out on a valuable opportunity if I didn’t say ‘yes’. So I ended up flustered and stressed and way over-committed.
So now when I have a yes/no decision to make, I use this list of questions.
Is it necessary?
Will it bring greater good to my life or the planet?
Will it fail to happen without my participation?
Do I really want to do it?
Do I have the time?
My answers have to be ‘yes’ to at least three, including the last one, before I will say yes. If I’m still struggling to say ‘no’, I remind myself that every ‘yes’ I say to one thing means, by implication, I am saying ‘no’ to something else, because I only have a limited number of hours in the day. Reminding myself of that opportunity cost helps me keep my priorities straight.
About the author
Roz Savage is well qualified to offer tips on motivation – as an ocean rower she has traveled over 15,000 miles, rowing 12 hours a day… and she doesn’t even like exercise. She now brings the life skills learned on the ocean wave to her coaching clients, helping them find life purpose, success, fulfilment, self esteem, happiness, and inner peace. Her second book, Stop Drifting Start Rowing, is published by Hay House.