How do you decide what to do next?

Question from Jon B: 

I'm a compulsive over thinker so trying to decide on something is a daily struggle, from ordering in a restaurant to choosing between the red pill and the blue pill (a Matrix reference if you have ever seen the film). Every action and social interaction will have 1000 different possibilities and I will think of most of them before I decide how to move forward.

So the big question, how do you decide what to do next?

Answer:

We have more information at our disposal today than any of our ancestors had to deal with in a lifetime, and the option of multiple angles, results and effects means it’s rare that we face a simple yes or no.

Personally, when faced with a hard decision I feel a knot in my stomach throughout the process, one which tightens with time. I’ve lived a weird adult life, often on the move and without consistency, and as a result I’ve had to make many varied, sometimes surprising decisions.

Ultimately, the more we do something the better we get at it, especially as we develop and understand our values and beliefs, upon which all decisions should be founded.

I trust my gut instinct implicitly, and favour excitement as an indicator that I’m headed in the right direction. I’ve always wanted to be excited about life, so I try to make every decision based on whether or not the potential journey and outcome makes me smile. I know that sounds a bit flappy, but it is what it is. I recommend giving it a go.

I’ve also created a few parameters for different parts of my life which instantly help me narrow down decisions. In adventure I usually travel at least 1000 miles without a motor, and then the variable factors usually come down to physical state and the time I have for a trip. Narrowing the field of your decisions is another step towards simplicity.

When it comes to money, I only spend when it feels like an investment. I don’t buy crap for me (or anyone else) that is useless. I really enjoy living cheaply and feeling like the money I spend develops me as a human.

We make decisions every day, consciously and unconsciously. We’re really good at it most of the time, when we don’t think about it. There are a hundred reasons why a decision might be difficult, and understanding these cons might help you along on your own path, so I’ve listed a few of those briefly below and then offered a couple of different tasks and processes which should help make your decision-making clearer and easier.


The bad news

Every decision requires a compromise and choosing one thing will mean you miss out on another, infinite amount of experiences. Thinking about life this way is suffocating, and luckily, most of the alternatives we’ll never have cared or thought about. So let’s focus on the important stuff that is pulling you left and right, and that’ll simplify the decision.


The good news

Almost always, you know the right answer already, even before the weighing up begins. It’s just hard to realise because of the noise, head vs heart, opinions and expectations and potential for regret.

Remember: Gut instinct bypasses temptation, greed, finances and expectation - learning to listen to your gut sometimes takes some bravery.


Do yourself a favour

Remember that whichever way you choose, it’s not the end of the world. If it doesn’t work out, something else will come along. If you choose not to take the job because it doesn’t feel right, another option will come along because you rightly made the space for it.

Simplify the process by understanding all the options and what they mean.
Make a list of your options, then alongside each one list the pros and cons. Then narrow your favourites down until you have only two possibilities. Then, discuss it with others to come to a final decision.

Who are you making this decision for?
If you make the decision for anyone else, you risk disappointing yourself and then not being the right version of you for the person you were trying to please.

Overthinking
Think too much and you’ll miss the important bits, you’ll stress yourself out and become ill. No decision should make you ill, ever. The only reason to take an eternity deciding on something is that you already know the exact outcomes of each choice. Ironically, if you already knew the outcomes, the decision would be easy.

However obvious it might be, you can’t predict the future. You only know how you feel now and trying to outthink your gut might mean you miss the obvious choice.

Treat the decision as a game
This isn’t life or death. If you were controlling a video game character who had the same choice to make, what would you go for?

Choose your counsel wisely
Don’t ask everyone their opinion, most people won’t be able to help and the more input you get the harder your decision will be. Avoid people who make it seem as though they want what's best for you, but assume they know what that is when even you don't. Their suggestions might be right, but if they ignore your thoughts and don’t account for your feelings and concerns, they’re likely to miss the mark.

Life is a lesson
Even if you’re a braniac you didn’t get everything right at school. And guess what, look at you now! Each choice we make teaches us a little more about how to act in the future. You’re not supposed to get everything right, so stop trying so hard. There’s ice cream to eat and friends to hug.

Do you have all the information you need?
You can’t decide anything on a hypothetical. Make sure you know what factors are at play before starting to decide. (This is especially key in a decision that involves other people - make sure you know what they think about it, rather than assuming or fearing the worst).

Is the decision worth your time?
Paralysis by analysis. A big, life-changing choice is worth good consideration, but spending a week deciding on the next movie you’re going to watch is silly (tip: if the decision making process is taking longer than the probable result, you’re over thinking this).

Remember that at some point, indecision becomes a decision to do nothing, which might be the worst decision of all.

Walk on it
Get outside, never make a big decision in a room. Give some space to your thoughts. Ask what’s the worst thing that can happen?

Can you choose both?
Perhaps there’s room to leave the door slightly ajar in case your first decision doesn’t work out.

Are you torn?
If you’ve been in decision mode for a long time, there’s a good chance that both options were as good as each other. That’s why it’s difficult, right? Both will have compromises. Which one will help out more in the short, medium and long term?


TOOLS AND TASKS

A handful of ides that might aid your process:

1) Understand the source of your fear: write down and answer - “What am I afraid of happening if I make the wrong decision?

2) What’s the worst case scenario for each choice? Write this down, and then think about what actually needs to happen for worst case scenario to be reached. You’ll see that it’s really unlikely and understanding that you’re in the right position now to avoid catastrophe can go some way to removing the doubt and nerves

3) Is your decision permanent? If it’s reversible, take comfort in this, it means the pressure is off!

4) Ask advice: You don’t have to do all this by yourself. Choose one or two people who might be impacted by your decision, or whose opinion you trust. Let them say their bit, even if they voice things you don’t agree with. Remember, you chose to share the problem with them. Give them a chance to help. (Speaking out loud can also help put thoughts and decision into perspective, so find a neutral observer who is a good listener!)

5) Stay calm. Ensure you have all the information you need to make a qualified decision. Consider your values and beliefs (ALL of your choices should be in line with these) and understand your priorities (family vs work, time on the road vs extra sleep, exercise vs commute, etc).

Operation: Decide

List all of your options, be thorough.

a) Write down pros and cons for each.

b) Think out of the box (are you considering all of your options, or just the obvious ones?)

c) Get rid of impractical options.

d) Go for a walk or meditate - stop your mind being so busy and give space to your thoughts.

e) Play devil’s advocate with each potential option.

f) Consider whether you feel guilty. Are you finding yourself saying the words “must” or should”? This can be a natural feeling when caught in a decision, but choices should not be made out of guilt, they’ll come back to bite you in the long run.

g) How are you going to feel about this decision in two years?

h) Trust your instinct.

i) Where’s the excitement? (If there isn’t any, over any of your choices, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong direction?)

j) Know your back-up plan. You'll better react to potential outcomes when you’ve considered them and your likely course of action in any given situation.

k) Look to the positives - assess the cons in your list and find ways to make them better. ie. if you had to take a job that might involve a really long commute, what could you do with that time? More work? Read a book? Meditate (not recommended if you’re driving). Could you stay closer to work for one or two nights a week to reduce your drive time?

l) If you go for it and it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. Just go in prepared to act whatever the outcome. Maybe the job is great and the commute isn’t that bad, but it’s impacting your relationship or health.


Once you’ve made your choice…

Carry it out as best as you can. Don’t worry, don’t second guess yourself. Just go for it and spend your energy on more important things. If doubt persists after a decision and it just doesn’t feel right, this isn’t a one-chance life. Be flexible and realise it’s ok to choose wrong. Go back through the process and do what feels right. Take responsibility, and ensure where possible that have someone to support you when you make your choice. You’re not in this alone. Good luck!


If you haven’t heard of the YesTribe, it’s a group on Facebook where people are willing to help each other. If you’re struggling with something or want to share a win or something that excites you, post away. The supportive response