Decision-making can be a kind of hell. When faced with multiple choices, particularly ones that we believe are significant such as selecting a partner, choosing a career / job or where to live, we are burdened by the hope that we can predict and control our future. We try to direct what our life will look like in the times to come and who we will be when we get there.
Undergirding our decisioning process is a complication. Even when we make our choices with great consideration, we can feel dissatisfied later. We could be left wondering if we chose wisely. Or, if we are fortunate and our decision plays out as we’d hoped, we just might not feel as happy as we’d expected.
Many of our decisions of daily life take place in a nanosecond: flitting along choosing from options that are on autopilot, emotions and habits driving us because to do otherwise would leave us immobile. The irony is that while these thousands of daily small choices impact the present – the only space we are guaranteed – they also impact us down the road.
Here we will dive into how to turn decision-making turmoil into adventurous exploration of self. We’ll also highlight some basic decision-strategy tools. And most importantly we’ll consider how to reframe decisioning from a win-lose proposition to something fluid that will change as you change.
"The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision." Maimonides
The Decision that Matters
The decision to write this post turned out to be an exercise in decision-making. Nestled in with my choice to write or not to write (or to turn on Netflix and eat a bag of nuts) are the values I hold to, and the person I want to be.
I want to be a content creator, to connect to and support an audience of people seeking information and emotional wellness. To be impactful I must reflect and write good content and information that others find useful.
It’s not easy hanging out here on my own, working in the hopes of achieving my goals. I must kick myself in the pants and suppress my doubts. But I ask myself, “What would be the alternative? If I eat the nuts and watch the tube, I’ll certainly not succeed.
And I know that toil as I do, there is no assurance I will succeed. A lot of our decisioning is like that –a choice between doing what is immediate and easy, and something that requires investment and an aspiration for the future.
There are numerous posts, podcasts, and videos about the decision-making process. Here I’ll focus on how to prepare your thoughts to be the fertile ground to help make solid choices.
Go with the Gut first but allow for reassessment: You make instant decisions all day generally operating on gut instinct. It’s not your belly at work, but your experience that has amassed enough information for you to make quick decisions.
There is nothing wrong with starting there with decision-making. And if it helps you make a choice that you don’t angst over (remember decision-making hell) then your gut has served its purpose.
However, remain open that decisions can change. Note that you’ve chosen based on habits and allow for more information as you learn. Many of your decisions are not static but should change as you do. Ask others for their experiences too and assimilate what you learn to reevaluate your choice for now and going forward.
Note fear’s influence: Fear is an energy-sucking insidious little beast. It’s always lurking in the back of our minds. It’s there to help us fend off danger, but sometimes fear, including anger and negative thoughts, work in overdrive.
When faced with a decision, consider the context in which you are making a choice. We can overestimate the impact of decision outcomes, both good and bad.
The consequences of many events are brief and less intense than we imagine. Yet we fear failure and inconvenience, fearing that we don’t have the ability to survive the outcome.
As you ponder your options, see in your mind how you might respond to potential results. Ask what/if questions. If X happens, I will do X and feel X. As with any decisioning, if you like to journal, use one to jot down scenarios and how you might respond as with a check-in practice.
Remind yourself of times you’ve weathered failure in the past. If fear is overpowering your ability to choose, or tilting you toward limited options, ask yourself if fear is playing too large a role.
An “oldie but goodie” view of decision-making is to list your options to weigh the pros and cons. The thing to keep in mind however is that this assumes our choices in life are either better or worse. In Ruth Chen’s TED presentation How to Make Hard Choices, she explains it’s more accurate to think of options as being “on par” or of the same. The only difference is the values you place on the options based on the reasons that are important to you.
Chen says that hard choices are difficult because there seems to be no best option. Relieved of the pressure of determining precisely bad or good, you can look with empowerment at your options based on the reasoning that matters to you.
Emotions at play: Emotions are these transient vapors that underlie all our thoughts. We think therefore we emote. Emotions are fine, but it’s essential to recognize them and where they are come from. “I think X and I feel X because of X thought.”
Are you viewing your options through the prism of emotions or subjective reasons based on your values? Ask yourself the why behind what you feel. Do I feel pressure by some outside social force of what I’m supposed to want or do?
We cultivate reasons that are personal to each of us. For example, you may want to live small and be mobile and adventurous, or you may value a nice home and consistency. Either is fine, it’s just important to know what you value and why.
Again, Chen calls people who succumb to outside driven emotional pressures as allowing their story to be written by the world, rather than themselves. Focus on where you want to place your agency and how you want to live your life and let that help guide the options you choose.
Good enough: Too many options, or too much waffling over one choice versus another in search of best can cause stress. You may feel miserable without even realizing it’s because you want to make a “right” decision.
If you can tell you’re struggling underneath the weight of perfection, then remind yourself you’re terribly imperfect. That’s right. You just are not perfect.
By letting go of the impossible perfection measure, you can give yourself permission to choose. Tell yourself that good enough is fine. What do you gain? Time. Peace of mind that even in imperfection, you are human and the decision works for now.
Your Future is Unpredictable
On one hand, I’m in favor of options. To have options is to have some influence on the direction of your life. But if you feel stymied then choice has become a burden.
If that’s where you find yourself in decision-making, then you’ve been sucked into the vortex that you have more control over the future than you do. Our best choice for happiness is to be present for the life in front of us.
As with all things, balance is key. Choosing and planning can be pleasurable if done with the realization that no outcome is absolute, and that you will change, too. The decision that’s most impactful is the choice you make about how you feel, no matter what the future holds.
So, is this Storied Gifts Shop t-shirt about options the antithesis of what I’ve just explained? I don’t think so. Would you rather have options or none at all? The goal is to allow options to be a source of empowerment that you do have some influence.