The average person will spend approximately 7 hours per week just contemplating decisions.
It is not surprising since we have far more choices, opportunities and freedom than we ever had before. We’ve been blessed with the freedom to choose our jobs, partners and place to live in ways that previous generations were never able to.
Yet this has brought with it another array
Having the ability to choose is an incredible gift, but it can bring stress and anxiety of epic proportions. We spend an inordinate amount of hours weighing up the countless options, and this slows down our decision-making process.
I often wonder how our grandparents coped with decision making when being born into a limited set of options.
They survived wars, food coupons, scarcity and relocating to countries they never dreamed they would visit, to escape the war raging ahead. They did not have the luxury of navigating on the internet to deliberate on what they should do next. The most they had was a small transistor radio that would communicate the news of the day (and if they were lucky) a home telephone.
They had to make a decision to the best of their ability and then let go of the outcome.
Those times brought an urgency and a mindset that was inbuilt around a survival mode, and it’s at times like these, that decision making takes a different form. When we’re pushed up against a wall, when redundancy, bankruptcy, an illness or a dangerous situation arises, we tend to spring up into action effortlessly.
Deciding is a piece of cake during this time.
You get super clear about what you want during these moments, all other internal dialogue is pushed to the side. You surrender to the only thing that is really important, and clarity ensues.
Pushing off decisions until we can no longer hold off any longer is the norm nowadays because life is so busy and filled with countless distractions, social media, e-mails and phone messages which constantly interrupt the flow of thought.
Not to mention having the ability to spend hours on Google to deliberate over it, ask for an opinion on the countless Facebook groups as well as on Quora. Since we’re on the subject, Amazon has now brought an additional prospect — the Echo, you can ask it there too.
Barry Schwartz in his Ted talk ‘The paradox of choice’ gives a great insight on decision making:
Each time we wake up every morning we get to decide who we want to be. We have to make a decision and again about how we want to work and life is a matter of choice.
All the choices we make have effects, it produces paralysis rather than liberation, there are so many choices that people find it very hard to choose. Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we tend to become less satisfied with the choice. Mainly because we know with all the choices out there, we start feeling regret that subtracts from the decision we made.
I used to be a deliberator, constantly weighing up the pros and cons and would take forever to decide, not only the life-changing decisions but even going shopping to buy clothes was a challenge. I would go back and forth between clothes on the racks, then end up buying none.
Yet a few months ago I noticed an interesting distinction.
During a heatwave in London, I had been giving a talk in the city and was wearing an outfit that should not be aired during a hot day. A jacket, smart trousers and closed shoes were my ill-advised outfit of choice, at one point I was so deeply uncomfortable and hot that I wanted to tear the clothes right off me whilst travelling in the stuffy tube.
The moment I exited the train station, I decided to buy something more comfortable to wear. I stepped into a large clothing store which I had entered countless times before, always deliberating the different options and then never buying a single item. This time was different.
I raced around the shop focusing on just finding a sleeveless summer dress I could wear to relieve the heat. Within a few moments, I found the perfect dress, picked it up, run to the changing room, tried it on and decided to leave the shop wearing it (of course paying for it first). I placed my other clothes in a bag and left the shop happily feeling refreshed and extremely comfortable. The experience took about ten minutes tops.
The sales assistant was baffled at possibly one of the quickest sales she has ever witnessed.
No deliberating or going back and forth.
It taught me that when you arrive at a place with purpose, you can immediately choose. I had a problem and a time limit in which to solve it. Hey presto, it was done.
I didn’t care if the dress would have felt at home at a Paris Catwalk, my aim was comfort.
When reflecting on why you deliberate, it’s important to know what holds you back.
Is it based around people pleasing, fear of getting it wrong, lack of clarity, not enough information or you’re just not ready?
This is a great way to understand why you’re stalling.
So what’s getting in the way of decision making?
If you need more time to weigh up the options, then give yourself a time limit, so that you can get as much information as you can before the time you’ve allocated. If people pleasing leads every decision you make, perhaps you need to build up a more robust sense of self, asking yourself ‘What do I want?’ people often never bother to ask that question. Instead, they focus on what others want them to do.
If you get it wrong, what’s the worse that can happen? At times we can spend ages deliberating on a decision that we can quickly change at a moments notice because it doesn’t have serious repercussions.
It’s also important to remember one huge point.
You can change your mind after you’ve made a decision.
It really is okay to decide, go forth with the decision, realise it wasn’t the best one, backtrack and choose again. Unless it’s a matter of life or death (which it generally never is) most decisions are reversible. Once you truly understand this, you won’t take the deliberating quite so seriously.
It does not have to be the ‘right’ decision, but we tend to fear we will not be able to cope with the repercussions of a ‘wrong’ turn, so we stall and avoid choosing.
Deliberating versus decision making needs a clear distinction. If you’re choosing to sit it out and wait until a more opportune moment to decide, that’s great. But if you’re deliberating passively so you can keep sitting on the fence without committing to any course of action due to fear, then this needs to shift. Get clarity on what motivation is driving you.
I had a client who refused to make a decision, she was too scared of the aftermath, the responsibility and the anxiety that would surface should she get it wrong. The burden of a simple decision was of a magnitude that was overwhelming to her.
She would rather leave the decision to others, this would take her off the hook and let others carry that burden instead.
People are scared of getting it wrong; But isn’t that where we all learn?
We are often so afraid of failure, and we take it personally. Each choice that does not go the way we wanted, chips away at our self-esteem and adds more fuel to self-doubt.
In my experience, the worst decisions I’ve made in my life have eventually led to incredible roads, not only of learning but of opportunities galore. I’m not sure I’m able to label them as ‘the worst decisions’ any more.
Imagine being able to label the aftermath of decision making as ‘neutral’ rather than ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’
As human beings without the gift of being psychic or holding a crystal ball, we do the best we can. The important thing is to always learn from each experience, we pick up the pieces and ask ‘What can I learn from this?’
Each second of every day we are deciding. We choose which side of the bed to get up from, what to eat, which outfit to wear, how to communicate with others, whether to take the bus or walk to work, which TV channel to watch and even which salad dressing to choose (there are around 127 varieties).
We often don’t even think twice about these, they are an automatic response of habitual behaviours.
It’s the bigger decisions which feel paralysing, such as which house to buy, which person to marry, whether to have children now or later, whether to quit the job and start a business or not. Yet the truth is that when choosing an option, no one can give you an assurance of security or certainty — ever.
You gamble each moment with every decision just as you would when playing at the roulette in a Casino. At times you will reap the rewards and scoop the winnings and at other times you will walk out head down, having lost everything you put in. Either way, it doesn’t say anything about your worthiness as a human being, it just means you chose the wrong numbers.
As a human being with an incredibly sophisticated mind, you have the ability and freedom to keep choosing, getting it wrong, learning from it, and proceeding to do it differently. When you truly understand this, you will understand that there is no such thing as a good or bad choice, because where you are now is exactly where you need to be.
If you liked this article, you can read more chapters like these in my latest book ‘Look Inside: Stop Seeking Start Living’ available now on Amazon.
Originally published at www.linkedin.com