One of the biggest challenges many of my coaching clients face is making a decision. It’s as if choosing one course forever closes out all other options. “What if I hate it?” they ask. “What if I make the wrong choice?” And they stay stuck in the limbo land of indecision.
Let’s get this on the table: there are indeed wrong choices, from a moral perspective. But some decisions have no moral component — in those cases there are only choices with differing consequences. We get wrapped around the axle when we think that our decisions are set in concrete, when, really, only a few of them are.
Choosing a college for your child — does it need to be The Perfect School? Not really. I’ve known plenty of successful people who transferred schools and ended up with pretty darn happy lives. Does it have to be The Perfect Job? Nope. I’ll bet you know someone who actually left a job and found a better one. The Perfect Marketing Campaign? With modern tracking technologies, strategies can shift instantaneously. The Perfect Couch? Who among us has only one couch for their entire life?
Very few decisions are forever. Knowing that can be liberating. And should make your decision-making a tad easier.
So, here’s my method for sorting through your many opportunities and fixing on the one with the best possible consequences — Consider It, Feel It, Do It.
Consider It: I suggest people get into a quiet place with no distractions. This immediately conjures up the lotus position for some people and their hands start to get all sweaty. It’s hard to concentrate when water is pooling in your palms, don’t you think? A quiet place for some people can be found in a brisk walk, driving, or repetitive physical activity — so find the way that works for you. When you get still, review your options. Pretend you have decided on one choice. What are the consequences of making that choice? What might happen? What do you get? What do you give up? As you weigh this choice, ask yourself, “If I do this, will I be in my integrity? Does this choice support my values?” If your value is to spend more time with your spouse and children, taking a job which requires 60 hours on the road every week is not going to get you more of what you want. It’s actually going to get you less. It’s at this point that you have to ask yourself, “Is it true that I want to spend more time with my spouse and kids?” Whatever the response, make sure it’s really speaking to your truth and integrity — not what other folks think your values and integrity should be. When we make choices in conflict with our real integrity and values, we create tension and friction in our lives.
Feel It: Still holding the idea that you have made a choice, how does it feel in your body? In your heart? In your head? Your feelings matter, so pay attention. If you feel tension in your neck and shoulders or a big honking knot in the pit of your stomach as you consider your course, that’s a big tip off that it may be the wrong direction for you to take at this time. Of course, you also have to be honest with yourself. You can talk yourself into that 60 hour a week road warrior job because the money and benefits are great, but your body will find a way to tell you that your choice is against something you value — you’ll get sick, you’ll get depressed, you’ll get all snippy — and you’ll know you have to make another choice.
Do It: Here’s the point where you decide. I call this “Opening The Chute” — as if you’re a rodeo rider on the back of a bucking bronco. You can only mess with the rope in your hand and adjust your hat so much. At some point, you have to open the chute and take the ride. But here’s the twist: you make your choice with a bit of detachment. That’s right, it’s just a test. While you’re doing whatever you’ve chosen, you are testing to see if it’s right. You refine your approach. You collect data about what you’re doing. You keep feeling it in your body. You persist through “decider’s remorse” and keep testing. If at some point your choice no longer feels right, stop. That’s right. Just stop. And consider the new options that present themselves. That may mean a new job, it may mean a new school, it may mean a new marketing campaign or a new couch. And that’s perfectly OK. It’s simply another chance to test your decision-making skills.
Are you one of those people who equate difficulty with working hard? That is, “anything worth doing is going to be a chore?” If so, it will be a challenge for you to make a valid assessment of your tests, because you may have internalized the idea that adversity as a good thing. You may never have known the ease that comes from thoughtful decision-making. I can assure you it’s out there, and once you experience it you’ll never want to go back to banging your head against the wall.
When you go through the process I’ve outlined with each opportunity available to you, you will be able to sort through them and find the one with the most peaceful, easy feeling. That peaceful, easy feeling comes when you’re in The Zone, when you’re operating like a hot knife through butter. It’s an effortlessness and ease of being that makes living your life a pleasure. It’s living with integrity, in support of your values.
Some of us, in the deepest recesses of our soul, think, “Who am I to make decisions for myself? I’m not smart enough, thin enough, strong enough, educated enough, loved enough, or just plain enough.” I ask, “Who are you not to?” You are entitled to have your own needs, preferences and feelings. Making decisions for yourself, and handling the consequences, is also your right. If you give that right away, you give away the right to create a life of your own making.
Deciding is integral to human living. Few of us are exempt. And making decisions is generally not a one-time thing. We decide about the job only to face a set of decisions about the house. We choose the school, then have to choose the major. It’s a couch, then a rug. So it’s important to get really, really good at it — because mastering decision-making prevents us from getting stuck in limbo land and allows us to craft a life of our own design.