Have you ever worn a pair of shoes that didn't fit well? Maybe you borrowed them from someone else. Maybe they were a gift. Maybe they looked really cute at the time and were on sale. Whatever the reason, when you tried them on, you may have noticed something was off, but they weren't too uncomfortable when you took a few steps in them.
The thing is, you wouldn't want to walk a mile in those shoes. Definitely not twenty. You'd get blisters, your feet would ache, and you might even injure yourself. Yet people do this all the time, when they make decisions based on what other people say they should want, instead of what they actually want. And they wonder why they are miserable.
Take the time to distinguish whether your objectives are truly yours or others', and trust me, you'll be able to go much further.
"The possibilities are endless."
It's a phrase meant to inspire. However, it can also trigger anxiety and paralysis. With endless possibilities, how can you possibly choose?
Next time you find your self staggering under the weight of all the possibilities, simplify your decision.
Do something different, or stick to the same path. Pivot or persevere.
It's tempting to think that everything depends on this one big decision. That once you make your choice, your world will change forever. That kind of story has a nice dramatic flair if you're the audience. But it's incredibly stressful if you are the decision maker.
The reality, though, is that decisions are not one and done. As soon as one of the three components of a decision changes (the available options ,your objectives, or the information) you have an opportunity to make a new decision.
Once you recognize that, decisions won't have to be so big and scary.
Each time someone asks me to teach them how to make better decisions, I start with the same fundamental principle Professor Ron Howard teaches in his decision analysis course at Stanford:
Every decision has three parts: options, objectives, and information.
Like a three legged stool, if you take any of the three away, the decision topples.
Without options (plural), you are simply following a predetermined course of action.
Without understanding your objectives, i.e. what you prefer in the outcome, it's impossible to judge what option is better than the others.
Without information on how options and objectives intersect, you are blindly rolling dice.
Good decisions require consideration of all three parts.
Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. - Steve Jobs
In order to say yes to something, you are going to have to say no to something else. It can be scary, but it's better than staying stuck in limbo.
It's said that some of the greatest business minds (e.g. Steve Jobs) wore the same thing every day so that they wouldn't get decision fatigue from the little things that didn't matter.
An expert decision maker doesn't focus on optimizing every outcome. An expert decision maker optimizes the energy allocated to decision making.
Be intentional with the decisions that matter. Delegate or let go of the rest.
Even when you feel everything is outside of your control, you still have a choice. You have the power to choose how you frame what's happening and what you do as a result.
"Joy is a decision, a very brave one, about how you are going to respond to life." - Wes Stafford
I could see her 8-year old face twist up with consternation. It broke my heart that she had already internalized a common misconception about decisions, and it was visibly stressing her out.
"But what if I choose wrong?"
We were playing a board game. She had a decision to make, and depending on what came up on the die, the outcome could either be good or bad. She thought if the outcome was bad, so was her decision.
"Make the best decision you can, with the information you have. No matter what happens, know you made the best decision you could, given the information you had at the time."
She took a deep breath and relaxed. "Ok. That makes sense." She rolled the dice, crossed her fingers, and hoped for the best.
Have you ever made a Pro vs. Con list? Yes, the one where you list the advantages on one side and the disadvantages on the other side.
My bet is that you've been using it wrong this entire time. What most people don't know is that it's not about counting up whether there are more advantages or disadvantages. What it's really for is to help you identify patterns in what really matters to you.
Decisions are the things that you can control.
Uncertainties are the things that you can't.
Focus on decisions gives you power.
Focus on uncertainties leaves you feeling powerless.