People can find the experience of making decisions difficult [me included sometimes] and given that leaders are making decisions every day, it’s an important area to learn more about.
The greatest barriers to making clear decisions [according to 700+ staff and leaders via my research into ‘The role of Thought in Work Related Performance’], is overwhelm, lack of clarity and insecurity. In essence, we bring a truck load of extra thinking to the table that’s not relevant to the decision at hand. So if we could distinguish between thinking that’s relevant and valid versus irrelevant, invalid thinking, we could make decisions more easily, from a place of clarity. It doesn’t mean the decision or choice will always be the right one. And it’s fair to say that in some cases, there is no absolute ‘right’ decision, but given that it’s a key part of effective leadership, it’s certainly helpful to have a way of recognising when we might be lacking perspective.
Here are some keys to easier decision making that I hope you’ll find helpful ;
1.Feelings of overwhelm or insecurity are indications of ‘outside-in’ thinking. When you’re experiencing these types of emotions, it means that at some level, you think the decision itself has some inherent power over how you feel – whether that’s the decision making process, or the potential outcomes of that decision. This cause-effect confusion creates additional insecure or fearful thinking and clouds our perspective. But the good news is that any decision or potential outcome of a decision has no power over how you feel now or in the future. Only your thinking in the moment has the power to make you feel good, bad or indifferent. Our personal realities [feelings/perceptions] are always being created from the inside-out via Thought. Perspective and clarity emerges naturally from the realisation of this profound truth.
2. Good feelings don’t equal wise decisions. I’ve often heard clients say “if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.” or “if it feels bad, it’s not a good idea”. But if we use how we’re feeling as an indicator of reliable thinking or as a way to validate our ideas or choices as being ‘right’, we might come unstuck. Clear thinking is what we need in those moments and this type of clarity doesn’t necessarily come with a ‘positive feeling’. You could be feeling uncomfortable or sad and still be making the right decision.
It’s not about how you’re feeling. It’s about where you believe your feelings/perceptions are coming from. Knowing where to look and where not to look, is what moves us from confusion to clarity.
For example, let’s say you have to make a decision about changing someone’s job role and you feel guilty because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or upset them in some way. This concerned thinking then preoccupies your mind and distracts you from taking action. I had this situation early in my management career. Even though it was the right thing to do, I avoided taking action because I was so consumed with my own worries and feelings of guilt. This clouded my judgement and had implications on the rest of the team.
If we knew that our own thinking is the only factor that has the power to make a person feel ‘good’, ‘bad’ or otherwise, you wouldn’t feel that burden of responsibility over how other people feel, because it would no longer make sense to try and manage something which is ultimately out of your control. I’m not saying you wouldn’t care about others, or factor them into your decisions, but your understanding of the inside-out truth, would take unnecessary worried or guilty thinking off your mind, thereby freeing you up to make decisions or take action from a place of true perspective and clarity.
3. Our decision making is always inherently biased. We’re often going to bring our ideas, beliefs and past experience [via memories] to our current decisions without realising it, because much of our moment to moment thinking is not visible to us. For example, a social worker reads the case notes before visiting the family who are subject to child protection services. Whilst the historical information might be relevant in some way, the social worker could starting thinking about that family in ways that generate feelings of anxiety or judgement, which may then obscure their neutrality and affect how they listen to them and the decisions that ensue. If we factor in the potential for innocent bias or outside-in thinking, we’re able to be more honest with ourselves and as a result bring more objectivity and perspective to the situation, resulting in a deeper connection with others, and wiser decisions.
4. There is no decision that is bigger or more important than another. I appreciate this may seem like an odd thing to say. Surely buying a house is a bigger or more important decision than buying a new outfit. It’s fair to say that there are more implications and complexities resulting from some decisions versus others. But if you take a closer look, you realise that how easy or difficult a decision seems, is always a matter of perception.
I have observed this countless times in my own life where I’ve made a relatively small or trivial decision [eg. what to cook for dinner] seem huge and complex and I’ve made seemingly life-changing decisions [eg. starting a business] with speed and ease. I’m sure you can find some examples of this in your life!
What this shows us is that our experience of decision making and whether a decision seems difficult or easy, is never a function of the decision itself. It always and only stems from how we are thinking about it now – in particular, where we believe our feelings/perceptions are coming from in relation to that decision. The answer is always thought.
5. You’re fundamentally OK whatever decision you make. There are two innocent mis-takes we make in our thinking that are important to realise.
One is that we often believe our security and wellbeing is somehow linked to the decision itself. Example: If I make X decision, I’ll be OK. If I make Y decision, I won’t be OK. The truth is that our sense of security and resilience is never at the mercy of circumstances, other people, the past or the future. It comes from within, without exception. We see examples of the strength of the human spirit every day. Countless research studies demonstrate that there’s no direct causal relationship between traumatic events and our psychological experience/response.
The other outside-in confusion, is that we think we know how we’ll feel in the future and then base our decisions on some future feeling or outcome. “If I make X decision, I’ll feel [x] or [y] will happen” is a common thought trap that many of us fall into but it has no inherent truth in it.
In reality, we have no idea what will happen or how we will think and feel in the future – whether that’s 5 minutes from now or 2 years from now. Any projection of the future is just that – a projection. Our ideas of the future are based on our thoughts and feelings in the moment. So all we have, is what makes sense in this moment, and the knowledge that whatever life throws at us, we have the resilience and strength to handle it – because those qualities come from within and are always available to us in each moment.
To get further insight into the true nature of decision making, check out my book Instant Motivation which reveals the intelligent human operating system which governs all decisions and our entire experience of life.