You know when you have a decision to make but just can’t decide what to do?
You go round and round in circles with ‘what if’s’, but can’t ever seem to reach a decision. You may even catastrophise the issue in your head by exaggerating the potential consequences of any decision you make.
Well that’s exactly what happened to me recently. I was just getting ready for bed when my mobile phone pinged with the sound of an incoming email. Foolishly, given the time of night, I read it. Big mistake! The message was important, and left me in a quandary about what I should do. Worse still, I knew I would lose sleep over it if I didn’t make a plan about what I was going to do before I climbed into bed. I’d had a long and tiring day, so I decided I would proactively think about it the next day when I was in a better frame of mind.
The next day I went for my usual brisk early morning walk (with an extra-large coffee treat at the end of it!). With drink in hand, I began to think about my dilemma from the previous night. After considering all my options and the choices open to me, it became obvious what I should do.
Was the coffee really that good? Well it may have contributed a little! Actually I had fortuitously stumbled across some powerful principles for a reliable decision-making process. These principles are derived from good evidence about how we dial up and inspire the best version of ourselves to do our best thinking and work. So as a coach and friend, I am sharing them with you.
1. Proactively choose when you will make your decision
Very few of our daily problems require our immediate attention and action. So, if it’s the wrong time or place and you’re in the wrong frame of mind, make an appointment with yourself! Don’t confuse this step with procrastination. This is about making a plan and choosing when you will be in a better position to take time to think about your dilemma and make your decision.
2. Be at your best
There is good scientific evidence that when we lack sleep, food or exercise our brain does not function at its optimum level. When we’re faced with challenging situations, we need to bring our best self to the table so that we can make the best possible decision available to us. We want to be at our physical, emotional and intellectual best. To be at your best, make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you’re not hungry, and try a brisk walk – as I do every day – all of which will improves our thinking and decision-making power.
3. Know and choose your optimum time of day
We all have different productivity cycles. Some people are ‘larks’ and function best in the morning (not me!). Others are ‘night owls’ and do their best work during the afternoon or evening. Most of my doctoral thesis was written during the hours of darkness. This was not out of necessity, it was a choice. I noticed that during this time there were no distractions. Once I started, I couldn’t stop writing!
When is your best time of the day? When do you feel most energetic and raring to go? When have you come up with your best ideas – your ‘aha moments’? What time of day was it? This is likely to be your optimum time.
4. Create your ideal environment
This might be difficult to achieve with busy jobs, family life and other commitments. However, the basic principles are achievable with a little discipline and restraint. Simple actions such as switching off beeps, bongs and visual notifications. In fact, research has shown your phone and other devices need to be completely out of sight even if they are switched off. The same goes for your to-do list.
Take a pen and paper and go to a place you like to be. This might be a park bench, a fireside chair a favourite garden spot or even at your breakfast table or desk – if it is clear of distractions!
5. Determine your options/choices
Don’t jump straight to a conclusion. Start by working out your options, as many as you can. Try to be as objective as possible – imagine you are helping a friend come up with a list of potential solutions to their problem. List all the possible solutions without comment or judgment or too much thought (at this stage). When you have exhausted your list of options, push yourself to come up with just one more. And then one more after that! You will be surprised how many additional ideas you can add to your list.
6. List the pros and cons of each option
Next you need to analyse the options you have listed. Some will be a straight no, but for the rest write down the benefits and risks of each, and consider how you might mitigate any undesirable consequences. To stay in the realm of reality and prevent catastrophising, ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, how bad would this be, and how will I deal with this?
7. Choose now
Now make the decision! Don’t put off this all-important step. Do it now. It is easy to procrastinate and put off a decision that might result in uncomfortable consequences. Deferring is not helpful and will cause anxiety and stress. The only exception to this rule is if you truly lack an important piece of information that could either give you another option or influence your decision. Otherwise, now is the time to make the choice.
Decision making is part of everyday life, but it can still be difficult. We do it well by ensuring we are at our best when we make important choices. Following a clear process brings control, and gives us confidence we are making the right choice.