How many times have you needed to decide what to do next and you just couldn’t do it? Perhaps you needed to look for a new job, update your skills, or find a new career path. And you just couldn’t decide on the next step. The decision making process was just too hard because there were so many choices.
Or is it to hard? Does this ring any bells? When I need to make a decision, I read about it. If I need to up my marketing game (what marketing game, you might ask) I sign up for marketing newsletters that will educate me. I talk to marketing specialists, I listen to their advice. I look for articles about marketing. Then I look some more, and I talk to some more people. And, maybe, I sketch out a marketing plan. Then I start over.
Sounds like an endless loop. It sounds like a loop because it is one. So, what is it that I’m really doing? Let’s break it down.
Polling for Approval
First, I’m guaranteeing I’ll never make a decision or take action. Instead, I’m polling for approval. I read articles so I can figure out the best thing to do. I talk to people who are doing what I want to do. Since no one ever offers the same advice, I don’t know how to decide what to do, so I don’t do anything.
Second, I’m succumbing to fear, particularly the fear that I’m going to make a wrong decision. You’d think that after 4 years of making “wrong” decisions, I’d realize there’s no such thing as a wrong decision. The only wrong decision is no decision. How do I know this? Because as many times as I’ve screwed up marketing campaigns – I always put them off to the last minute because I can’t decide what to do – I’m still here coaching. I still have clients. People find me. People want to work with me.
It’s so comfortable!
Third, I’m making sure I’m overwhelmed and stuck. All that polling for approval, constant reading, taking classes, signing up for newsletters, stewing over what’s the right thing to do creates information overload. There are too many choices so I don’t make any choices. I feed that sensation that I don’t know what to do because it keeps me where I’m comfortable.
All of that knowledge, all of those choices take up all the space in my brain so there’s no room for breakthroughs or insights. There’s not even any room for things to simmer. It’s too crowded.
Decision Making Strategies
What’s the answer? I’ve found several useful strategies to pull me out of the quicksand that is decision making. First, there’s a strategy I created based on what I’ve read about organizing my house. I know you’ve heard of this one. Every time you buy a new item of clothing, you have to throw out an old item. Repurposing the strategy occurred to me while Diana and I were recording our podcast episode, “You Know What to Do.”
So, as I’m trolling for information and asking for advice, I have to let go of a piece of information that I’ve already gathered. Or, I can let go of what I just learned. In other words, I have to analyze each piece of information as I gather it. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear both Diana and me screech as we have a mutual ah-ha moment. We realized simultaneously that this means when we sign up for a new newsletter, we have to unsubscribe from one. It’s a miracle cure for information junkies!
Take what you like…
Of course, another way of looking at this strategy is the adage to “take what you like, and leave the rest.” It’s another way to evaluate information and pare it down so there’s room in our brains to re-arrange what we know in novel ways.
Then there’s the strategy of going ahead and making a decision – any decision. This doesn’t mean that I trust my decision; it only means that I’m making one – I’m risking it. There’s a quote from General George Patton that goes like this: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Just do it
In other words, just do it and see what happens. And, like I said, I’m still here. Still writing this blog and coaching clients – so, no unrecoverable disasters (knock wood). Sometimes making a decision is all it takes to get unstuck.
And, finally, there are these things called habits. One of my favorite podcasts, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, is about habits and how they contribute to a happier life. Gretchen always reminds us that habits cut down on the number of decisions we have to make. For example, do I punch the snooze button on my alarm 4 times every morning or do I get out of the bed when the alarm goes off? When I create the habit of sitting up when the alarm goes off, I am much more likely to get out of the bed. And, when I get out of the bed on time, my whole day goes better. And, bonus points, I didn’t make four extra decisions before I even got out of the bed!!!!!
I know what to do
To me, habits are the ultimate expression that I know what to do. I always brush my teeth in the morning and at night; I don’t even think about it. It’s the right thing to do. When I take the time to create habits around work (like unsubscribing to a newsletter each time I subscribe to a new one), my life gets easier. I no longer have to decide what to read among twenty newsletters. It becomes manageable. And, choosing which newsletter to unsubscribe from forces me to evaluate the direction I want to take at this moment in time.
Two Dastardly Pests
Back when I attended Al-Anon meetings regularly, I acquired a bookmark some of the program precepts titled “Just for Today.” The one piece of information from the bookmark (that I still have 20 years later) that has always stuck with me goes something like this: Just for today I will have a plan. I will follow the plan and it will save me from two pests: hurry and indecision. I love that: pests. Hurry and indecision are indeed pesky things that hinder our progress.
Ultimately, these strategies help me (force me?) to trust myself to make my own decisions without polling every person and article I can get my hands on. When I invest the time to reflect on decisions I have made, I realize that I do know what to do. I also confirm to myself that the only person responsible for aligning me with my purpose is me. I can’t delegate decision making to a coach, a newsletter, a book, or a friend. I have to do it. And, the more decisions I make, the more comfortable I get making them.
Click here to listen to Diana and me talk about decision making on YouTube.