Do you consider yourself indecisive? Do you always get super-stressed about choosing? This essay breaks down the fear associated with decision-making and provides simple yet profound insights on how to make good decisions and achieve good results.
In a hurry? Read the digest version.
Decisions can be pretty stressful. Some can induce a lot of fear and down right paralyze you. Especially in this internet-era, where we can do researches forever and be aware of countless choices and permutations. Information everywhere, telling you how to make the smart, the efficient, the right decision.
Let me tell you a little something that’ll take the pressure off.
The point of all decision-making is not to make the right choice.
It’s to make a choice you are at peace with.
What’s the difference? If you make the right choice, then you’d feel peace with your choice, right? Well — true, but that’s a very limited and restricting way to think. That’s the attitude that’ll make you stressed about having to make a decision.
What is stressful about decisions is what’s at stake. Of the need to make the right choice. Or the best choice.
But a lot of times, the difference between best and not best is paper-thin. And you can’t always predict your choice will produce the right result — for none of us can really predict the future. Is it possible to make the right and best choices all the time? Of course not. But yet, the more important the decision is, you feel the pressure to get it right. You carefully weigh your options, do researches, explore your inner self for guidance, intuition and feeling, trying to identify the correct answer.
Think about it. If you didn’t have to worry about making the right decision — if you knew that you had many good options, were reasonably certain that you can make any of them to be good enough — then the decision will not be as big of a deal. It doesn’t matter what you choose, really. You just need to pick.
Why aren’t all decisions like that?
Well, they can be. And you can make them so, a few simple paradigm shifts.
Source of Decision-Making Stress
Let’s examine the source of that pressure, the voice that tells you to make the right decision. There are two sources:
- you, and
- someone/something other than you.
When the source is external, someone other than yourself, what you’re really worried about is the impact of your decision to your relationship with him/her/them/it.
Let’s say it’s your boss. He’s putting you in charge of selecting a vendor to provide your company a much-needed service. Your company is going to invest a lot of time and money working with this vendor, so you have to pick the right one. You rightfully stress over the decision, as the vendors are competitive and well-matched. He’s telling you “don’t let me down, make me look bad in front of my superiors. Make this deal a success!”
Why would you stress over this decision? Because you’re obviously afraid of the consequence of letting him down. You are not worried about whether the decision is right or wrong, ultimately — what you’re concerned about is preserving that relationship. You are afraid of the consequence of a mistake. You are afraid.
Notice what’s going on here — we just got rid of one of the two potential sources of the decision-making stress. You are the only person creating the fear and the pressure. Nothing in the external world is creating it for you. They’re just giving you excuses, so that you can fear.
It’s all about you, you alone. You and your fear.
Think about it. Maybe your boss is pressuring you because he thinks that’s the motivator you need — the deal isn’t as big of a deal as he makes it sound. Or perhaps he is exaggerating your need to make the right choice because of his insecurities. The people who will deal with the vendor are perfectly capable and they can work with just about any competent vendors — giving you multiple good choices, instead of having to pick one perfect one. Or maybe the project itself is on the shaky ground, and your picking a vendor that’ll make the deal fall apart will be seen as a blessing in disguise. You may not win any new favors, but your relationships will go undamaged. You see — you don’t know how things will play out in the future.
Perhaps your boss truly feels threatened and dependent on your decision. People project their own problems. Even when you do make a mistake and make your boss upset or angry, that’s ultimately his/her problem. If your sense of well-being is not dependent on his/her approval, then this will not upset you. You are afraid of his reaction because you are basing your self-worth on his opinion. This is a bad practice in itself.
Regardless of what anyone or anything says, you have no obligation to internalize the fear of mistake or failure because of them. If you’re afraid, that’s because you yourself have reasons to. Don’t continue the folly of believing that someone other than you is responsible for causing your stress.
So, we’ve isolated the source of stress to just one entity — you. Now it’s possible to reduce or eradicate the stress, as you are within your control.
Digging Down to Your Fear of Decisions
The reason you’re afraid is because somewhere in your past, you made decisions that produced painful results. If you get burned by a fire, it’s understandable if you become hesitant around it the next time you see it. You’ve made choices that hurt you, and now you’re afraid.
Caution is always warranted, but fear is a beacon from your wound telling you to come heal it. Your painful memory is leading you to think erroneously that the only way to avoid getting hurt is to avoid making mistakes and failure, to always make the best, right, and perfect choices.
You know what? That’s not only impossible, but also completely false. There are no situation in real life where there’s one right answer and everything else is wrong. That only belongs to tests in school, and schools got it wrong on real life on this one.
All decisions are filled with good choices, choices that have potential to be made right. Sure, some are easier to make it right than others. But even mistakes and failures don’t need to remain so — they offer rich learning opportunities. Mistakes and failures can become catalyst for learning and change. At the very least, they confirm which choice may have been the better ones, so you will be more certain the next time a similar decision need to be made. Mistakes and failures can and do produce positive results, if you make them so.
Even if it’s a life-and-death situation, you still can’t make judgment over what is the good outcome and what isn’t. All consequences can be made good. If you die because of a “wrong” choice, who’s to tell you that you’re not better off in heaven? Who’s to tell you that those who were affected by your passing will not grow strong in their healing and recovery process and go on to live a happy and fulfilling life?
Results are all neutral. You have the power to make them good, make them right. The only difference is that some consequences are easier to make it right than others. But it’s not all black and white — instead, they offer you a varying shade of gray.
Going back to the boss example, perhaps you’ll get fired as the result of making the “wrong” choice. But maybe that’ll make you determined to find a better boss, a better place to work, or work for yourself — and you’ll look back to that decision that got you fired with fondness and gratitude.
All choices contain potential to be good.
Stop looking at decisions as the producer of the right result. Instead, focus on what happens after you choose: making your choice the right one. Because you have the power to do so.
How to Make Good Decisions
So, knowing that truth, how do we go about making decisions?
Because we know that the outcomes of the decisions are malleable, then the only matter left at hand is how you feel about the process in which you went about making the decision.
Whether you tend to make too hasty and careless decisions, or you tend to get over-analytical and paralyzed in decision-making, postponing, procrastinating, and/or over-researching, you still feel fundamentally the same. You don’t feel good about how you’re deciding.
That is your challenge in decision-making. Figure out how to make a decision, so that you feel good about the process.
Once again, you can choose to interpret how good the process is, too. So it’s not a do-or-die equation.
But that doesn’t mean that you can get lazy. Do intend to engage in a good decision-making process — whatever that means to you. This is a worthy challenge, and a good insurance: if the choice you made turns out to be one of the harder ones to make right, you can at least feel at peace with how you made the decision.
If you need a primer on the basic understanding and methodology of decision-making, I refer you to the fabulous overview of decision-making mechanics by a fellow blogger Avani Mehta. It should get you started on figuring out what decision-making process works for you.
My one piece of advise is on the time/effort you put into researching your choices: do it until they start clouding your view. In any decision-making process, there is a distinct point where your view starts becoming blurrier, because you’ve been thinking too hard, researching too much. Stop. Take a break and clear up your mind. Then make a decision. Too much information and too many choices only add to the stress.
We analyzed several factors in a decision-making process.
- The source of fear: it’s all down to you.
- What makes a right choice: they can all be made right, though some easier than others, depending on what you do with your decision.
- How to make a good decision: focus on using a process that’s consistent with your values, so that you feel good about it.
To sum up, think of decision-making this way: make a reasonable choice using a process you feel good about, then make that choice right.
This line of thinking frees you up from having to look for the right, correct or perfect choice. Once again, life tells us that what matters is not the end result, but the process we engage in.
Big decisions are always stressful. But don’t think that all decision-making stress is bad. Right amount of pressure can motivate you to engage in a good, thorough decision-making process. It can invigorate you and push you to figure out and execute a great decision-making process.
Do some exploring and develop a decision-making process that suits you, that you feel good about. And have confidence and faith that good things will come out of all your decisions. These two paradigm shifts will release you from the fear of making decisions, and empower you to boldly make all your decisions, and make them right.