How can you be decisive if you don’t know what decision to make?
Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That sounds like good advice, but how do you decide which fork to take?
Which one will have the greatest payoff? Which will you be least likely to regret?
Indecision bogs us down and costs us time, momentum, and opportunity. To break the stalemate, here are nine ways to help you make that decision with confidence.
Should I Stay or Should I go?
What college should I attend? Should I quit this job? Should we launch a new product?
We all face thousands of decisions every day. Most are little ones we hardly give a thought to. What color shirt today? Does it matter?
Other choices have larger consequences. And that’s where we can sometimes get stuck. How do we know what the best answer is? Is there a better option?
As humans, we have a strong instinct to stay within our comfort zone. Eons of conditioning in the wild has set the default to “caution.”
That’s one of the reasons why it can be so hard to be decisive. But in failing to decide, we wallow in indecision.
As The Clash famously asked in their song, “Should I stay or should I go?”
Is it Time to Decide?
If you want to be decisive, it’s best to start by figuring out whether or not it’s time to decide. Do you have all the facts? Have you questioned the assumptions? Are there clear, distinct courses of action on the table?
If the answer is no, you might not be at a decision point yet. There’s homework to be done, and it starts with making sure you are answering the right question.
On the other hand if you have learned all you can, it might be time to make the call. Continuing indecision is a choice in itself, but it’s one that helps nobody.
9 Ways to Be Decisive
Use one or more of these techniques to help you make the right call.
1. Try it on. For 24 hours, imagine how things would be if you made a particular decision. Will it still feel like a good choice when the first payments are due? When you have to explain yourself to respected critics? Doing a mental practice run with your decision can help you get past the act of deciding and look into what things will be like afterwards.
2. Talk to an insider. Seek out a respected mentor inside your organization or business and run them through your options. Sometimes the act of voicing your thoughts helps make the decision clearer, and the mentor can provide experienced insight that helps.
3. Talk to an outsider. Run your thinking past someone who is not familiar with your situation. People looking in from the outside may be able to give you a fresh perspective. They might be able to see impacts that are invisible to you with your organizational blinders on.
4. Check your vision. It’s always a good idea to run your options through the filter of your organizational aims. Which option fits in better with your core values? Which one will bring your team a step closer to the vision? Be careful not to jump at a short-term opportunity if it doesn’t move you closer to your long term objectives.
5. Weigh the risk. Write out what the impact would be for each option if everything went wrong. Which would you rather live with? Is the damage acceptable? How much can you control it? Smart leaders look for risk and seek to minimize it. The less you can control, the more it’s a gamble, and the odds can be stacked against you.
6. Do an “Eisenhower.” In making his fateful D-Day invasion decision in World War II, General Eisenhower thought through the worst case scenario, then wrote out a press release acknowledging the failure of the invasion and taking full responsibility for it. If you can do this for your operation and the decision was still worth the risk, there’s a strong sign to move forward.
7. Assess the gain. Relative to the risk, which option has the best up-side? What opportunities do you miss by not acting? Will there be another chance later?
8. Gauge the relational impact. Every action has an impact on your team that either brings you closer together or drives you farther apart. Your next move will build trust, or erode it. Think beyond the specifics of the decision and look at how each course of action strengthens or weakens your team and the people on it.
9. Flip a coin. Of course there’s always the saying:
“When you have to make a hard decision, flip a coin. Why? Because when that coin is in the air…you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.”
It’s another way of saying trust your instinct.
Be Decisive – The Takeaway
There’s another aspect to the coin-flip approach. In a recent study people volunteered to use a coin toss to help them make life decisions; 67% of the participants actually followed through on the results of the flip, whether it was starting a diet, dying their hair, or quitting a job.
Researchers followed up after six months and found that those who make changes were “substantially happier than those who do not make a change.”
So as you try to figure out what choice to make, do your best to gather facts, question assumptions, and weigh the options rationally. Use some or all of the techniques above to help you, then make the best decision you can.
In the end, if you are still having trouble choosing, maybe consider the results of this study, and the words of Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
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