A while ago, I decided after a long, painful eternity of analysis paralysis, that going forward, I would take my decisions within 30 seconds. If I cannot take a decision within that timeframe, then it would go on the backburner.
Yes, I can agree with all the above – to a certain extent. But there is a point when a decision has to be made, and sometimes, the immediate response is the one that needs to be followed.
How do you take your decisions? Is there a right or wrong way?.
The process of making decisions has always fascinated me.
I have always been intrigued by how animals take theirs. Is it instinct? Intuition? A calculated risk? Or just a leap of faith?
The same process can be an easy or a laborious one, depending on the context and the state of mind of the moment.
Decision Making: A Science or an Art?
Science says that when we are confronted with a difficult situation, our bodies enter into stress mode, release cortisol; and in a split second, we choose between “should I stay and fight?” or “should I go now?” “Do I freeze, play dead and wait for it to pass?” or “do I negotiate my way in or out?”
Heck!, some other research showed that decisions were unconsciously taken by the brain a good 10 seconds before we are even conscious of it. So much for us thinking we are the masters of our minds!.
This looks very much like what we call instinct.
Perhaps the art part is when we decide to pause for a second and then take our first step. This is when we allow our brains and bodies to calm down and go back to Rational-City.
And what makes each one of us different is the process involved from the dilemma to decision to action.
Let’s start with some basics, what does it really take to make an informed decision?.
The 3-Second Rule
Let’s make it a 5-second rule, feeling generous today: this is the pre-requisite.
A break that you can take in order to give your brain some space and step out outside the initial surprise (your not-so-friendly flight/fight/freeze/negotiate).
By now, you have regained your senses. Time to strategize.
The 7-Step Rule
The titles of said steps come from UMass. You will find a link to a handy graphic at the end of this post.
There is not much of a way around this one. It’s the most logical and foolproof way to identify the what, why, how, and the likes.
And when it comes to important decisions, whether financial or life-changing, it’s definitely worth taking each of the steps with the utmost care.
Is that a spontaneous intuition killer?
Nope! Just your way to document and reinforce what you already knew in your guts.
Let’s put it that way: you are rationalizing and making logical something that wasn’t so much of it in the first place (your gut feeling, that is).
The only personal caveat here: keep a close eye on your confirmation bias, that one that makes you see or hear only what you want; that sort of tunnel vision that makes you ignore all sorts of red flags.
Now that we got this out of the way, let’s take that ladder.
Step 1: Identify the decision
Be clear about what you are getting here and, most importantly, why.
List everything that the object of the decision will bring you, will it solve a problem? Will it make your life better?.
Step 2: Gather relevant information
Now that you know why you need to take that decision, your second logical point is to do some due diligence. This is a non-negotiable step so you are not getting fooled by your wishful thinking, i.e., your confirmation bias.
Force yourself to read the stuff that makes your skin crawl. The bad reviews, the furious customer, the remorsed buyer. All of it.
Know what you are getting yourself into.
Step 3: Identify the alternatives
Because during your research, you might have found some other routes that might be worth exploring. Better safe than sorry.
When it comes to certain decisions, don’t settle for something that is just good enough. If you have the luxury of time, aim higher!.
Step 4: Weigh the evidence
Pros and Cons! Dig out your SWOT analysis! This is the time to put in practice all these decisions matrices that you learned in College. Be thorough in your analysis, from the big items to the soft qualities.
Step 5: Choose among alternatives
Yeah, I know….you have to take a decision here. Consider this the outcome step, a tad like finally pronouncing your vows. I take thee, as my choice now. So what next?
Step 6: Take action
That’s it. What do you need to do now to make it happen?. Easy, or not. But necessary.
Step 7: Review your decision & its consequences
This is your “you live, you learn” step. The more decisions you take, the more you will learn from them, when you take the time to analyze what happened.
Why did they work out for you? – We often forget that figuring out what worked is as important as what didn’t.
And let’s not forget the how, the when and where and the exact circumstances.
Past history doesn’t predict future results, true, but it can be a hell of a valuable learning resource.
Now that we have satisfied our brains with all the theories and the how-to’s in an ideal world, let’s see how it can work in practice for you.
Develop your personal strategies
Each of us has our own process. And of course, we adapt depending on the situation, the circumstances, the audience, and whatnots. Which of the below do you identify with?
Starting with the most prevalent in our western intellectual societies: the overthinker; who loves to over-analyze and over-intellectualize…everything…
The gift that keeps on giving? You know due diligence. You know research. You know how to identify possibilities and risks. This is one of your greatest skills to keep on developing.
When “it’s so typical”: At a restaurant: what should I take today from the menu? The fish? Well, there might be mercury and I might get hungry in a short while. The meat? I promised myself to cut back on those…and so on…
The Solution? Follow your intuition. Whichever item on the menu catches your attention first (in a good way) is it. Stick to it. Don’t look back. And enjoy it. You hate it? you’ll know next time to look in the other section of the menu directly.
How to apply to everyday life? Test your hunches, starting by the little things, such as food choices. What do you feel like eating now? Go for it (in moderation!). How do you feel after?. Now you can do your own research and understand what can be behind how you felt. Tweak and try this on a bigger scale. Continue experimenting.
The last-minute dotcomer
No affiliation nor disrespect to said travel booker! It’s quite an apt name for the procrastinator kind among us.
The gift that keeps on giving?. Instead of stressing out 10 days in advance and wasting time researching endless options, you just wait and two clicks later, done and dusted, no harm done. In a way, you pride yourself as being the opposite of the overthinker.
When “it’s so typical”: Booking holidays! My goodness, you wait the last week before deciding where you want to go. And guess what, all the good stuff are gone and you end up in one of those spring break resorts full of drunk college kids (am I exaggerating? I think not!)
The Solution? Being organized. It’s a chore, yes, it takes time. But a small scheduler would allow you to know exactly what is coming and when; and then decide how many days in advance is too many for your comfort.
How to apply to everyday life? Do you have a smartphone? a tablet? You can put in your scheduler all recurrent events that need your attention, for example: paying your credit card. And put aside an hour every Friday, when things start to slow down, to review what needs to be taken care of for the coming week. No last minute stress and unexpected surprises to deal with, in a panic.
The Que Sera, Sera
You have this laid-back attitude of wait and see what’s gonna come back. And then, surprise!!, well, that’s not what you were expecting…so now what?
The gift that keeps on giving? You are the Zen master among us. Wow, wow, wow. You know how to live in the famous “now”, you know what letting go and surrender mean. Enough said, you are it!, the enlightened among the over-stressed and over-worried.
When “it’s so typical”: You make a point at not deciding anything in advance. And then can get disappointed when someone else doesn’t deliver what you would have hoped for. Too bad if you hate it because you will have to do with it!.
The Solution?“Ignorance is not bliss” should be an ongoing mantra for you. Spending hours your eyes fixated on your beautiful vision board will not pay your bills, nor will it get anything done for that matter – nothing happens when you don’t work for it.
So observe where you’re at, at this moment. Then you can decide where to focus your attention, and take your decision, one step at a time. You can still live in the now with some planning ahead. Isn’t that what a vision board is about?
How to apply to everyday life? Having mastered the gift of being present in the moment is no small feat. Can you build up on your skills and become a visionary for the tasks at hand? Use your awareness of the present moment and project it into a not so distant but very real future.
There is a real difference between caution and planning; and being a doom and gloom and stressing out about every single detail of what might happen.
Yet a bit of planning for the things you can control will free up the necessary space for discovering what’s in store for you in the future. For anyone to appreciate the journey, you need some basic necessities. A traveler forewarned and prepared…
The Serial Decision Maker also Called the Multitasker
I get it! Between the job, home, social media, the family and the friends, and let’s not forget taking care of self, daily exercise, the right food…and of course, the meal planning; you are the human incarnation of the multitasking Goddess Tara. You take decisions like others sip on their matcha latte throughout the day, multiple times, several at once.
The gift that keeps on giving? You are wired to live the modern life of getting it done, all at once. And people seem to come to you for more and more of it. You make sure you don’t disappoint and you always over-deliver…at what price?
When “it’s so typical”: Super Woman at Work and Mom in Chief at home. You know better than anyone who is doing what at any given time. One hand on the iPhone, the other one preparing the kids’ lunchbox. Where did you put your iPhone again?
The Solution? Slow down and smell the roses, please! Nobody is required to do-it-all. Take inventory of all the decisions that you have taken today. How many were automated responses, how many were made consciously and in awareness?. Ask yourself: what is my responsibility and what could I delegate out?
How to apply in everyday life? The 2 Ps for you. Prioritizing and Planning.
Once you have taken inventory of what you would like to do, then make it clear to all that these are the x areas that constitute your domain.
Make a list of your to-dos and prioritize. By importance and deadline, or any other system that feels logical and easy for you.
Find the playful part of your decision-making process. Make it like finding a piece of a bigger puzzle, and leave the serious to where and when it is appropriate.
Between the two extremes of analysis paralysis and the coin flipper, there is a whole spectrum of ways to improve your decision-making skills.
There is no right or wrong here.
Some people need a deadline to get cracking; others a whole fire burning under their backseat. Some want a whole month of advance warning, others are more the “whatevs, I will deal with it when it happens”.
The important parts here is 1/be aware of your own process, 2/ find what works and what doesn’t and why in each case and 3/develop your own personal strategy, keeping it flexible enough to give you the most choices available.
So which one of those are you? Do you see yourself doing things differently depending on the circumstances, the people involved or the time and place?