I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Libra or something else, but I have always had a hard time making swift decisions. I want all of the information before I finally decide on an option. I want to know as much as I can know and then I weigh all of the factors very carefully. But eventually, I do make a decision – and I know it’s mine alone to make, no matter who else or what else may be influencing me. I know I have to live with the decisions I make.
Often, the bottom line for me is whether or not I think I can live with my decision. What’s the risk that I will later regret it? That is why when I make really big, life-changing decisions, I try to resolve it in as many ways possible as I can before I will take myself down a completely new path.
Before and during separation, I went with my former spouse to 5 or 6 different marriage counseling therapists. I gave myself 5 years to try to work it out with him before deciding whether or not to separate. Those were 5 tough years, but I surely tried. Upon the 5th year, with no improvement in sight, I moved out.
Some decisions are incredibly hard to make, but make them we must.
In my work I often help entrepreneurs develop strategic plans and make key decisions for their companies. We look at all reasonable options and weigh them carefully. Still, it always comes down to what’s in their guts. I believe that one’s gut instinct is very important to listen to and consider. Your gut instinct is your body’s reaction to a familiar experience, even if you think you are facing a completely new situation, your gut recalls similarities and is ready to warn you.
Should you always follow your gut? No. Sometimes what we think is instinct is really just fear – but the two are inextricably connected.
You may know if you get a wicked stomach ache driving to your new job whether or not it’s a reasonable warning from your gut (you don’t like the company culture and it is similar to another workplace culture you didn’t enjoy) or fear (this is a challenging new position and you’re afraid your perceived failings will ooze from your pores).
Hiring a new team member is a great example of an experience where your gut jumps in and begs to be heard. You’ve seen the resume, reviewed the candidate’s LinkedIn profile, asked around, conducted an interview, checked references – and still, with all of the evidence suggesting that you should hire this person, something tells you that you shouldn’t. Your co-founder or partner likes him or her and is pushing you to make the offer. So, you probably do. 90 days later you are wondering how quickly you can let go the new hire because she’s missing deadlines and has elicited a gossip circle that has everyone in the company taking sides. How could you have known this? Her references were sound. She has the skills and education the job required. People in your network who know her said she is great. But you knew something wasn’t quite right after her interview.
What cue did you pick up from prior experience? Whatever it was, your gut told you to beware, but your head told you that you had no good reason for not hiring this person, so you did. Your gut knew better.
Decision making is an every day occurrence. We make multiple decisions without even thinking about them, like ordering the same kind of coffee drink every morning at 8 am. It may feel automatic, but it is a decision nonetheless. You chose not to try something new, for example. Most decisions are mundane and simple: the blue tie or the yellow tie today? Dress or slacks? But there are moments in life when we must make momentous decisions; like moving abroad for a new job, getting married – or filing for divorce. These are the decisions that define our lives – and they can be terrifying to make.
I have a friend who has been talking about moving abroad for years, but she is vexed by the decision – so she chooses to stay. She thinks she’s choosing not to choose. But she is most definitely making a choice. Her decision is to stay and only dream of what her life would be like if she were living abroad. She has not chosen to be happy with her current situation either. So, she remains in a perpetual state of in-decision (and unhappiness).
I have found that once I have all of the information I believe that I need to have, and after I have tried everything in my power to stave off or change the course of what looms as a painful or difficult decision, I am forced to finally make one. I sit down and make a list of my options and I evaluate each one and try to envision the outcome. I check in with trusted advisors and friends to gauge whether or not I am responding to my gut or to fear. When I do that, my gut tends to kick in.
I don’t question myself. If an option gets an immediate gut response of, “Oh hell no I can’t do that!” then I remove that option from the list. Usually, I end up with 2, maybe 3 viable options. Sometimes one becomes immediately clear as the best option and I go with it. That’s often easier to ‘say’ than to do – like deciding to curtail relationships with people you’ve been connected to for a long time. You know their influence is harming you, but it’s hard to let go of old relationships that are no longer good for your life (and may never have been).
A few months ago I was working with a client who was trying to decide if he should pivot his company in a new, but related, direction from where he had been heading. It took him a while to decide. He was weighing everything over and over again. He was terrified of being wrong. Finally, I asked him what the worse thing was that would happen if he did make the pivot, and if he didn’t. He rattled off a long list of potential problems if he didn’t embrace the new direction.
When my client came to the problems of embracing the new direction, it became obvious to both of us that the only problem he faced was his fear of the unknown. The company had already organically began to move that way. He was the one holding it back, because he hadn’t decided yet to embrace what his customers had already told him they wanted. Once he made the decision to make the pivot, I witnessed a monumental change in his enthusiasm for his work – along with some very inspired ideas and and an energy level that had not been there before. The pivot he was putting off was waiting for him to say “yes,” and once he did, it sprouted wings and flew!
What decisions are you putting off and why? Maybe it’s time to make your lists. Maybe it’s even more important to get out of your head and just observe the situation for a while. You can certainly over-think a looming decision too – which is to say that you’ve never gotten out of “data collection” mode. Don’t beat yourself up if your decision is to ‘stay the course.’ That is also a decision. But mulling options over and looking for new ones until your head feels like it is going to explode is not decision-making. That is procrastination. And soon enough, as we all know, the decision will be made for you one way or another.
Action shapes destiny. Making a decision is an action. But choosing not to make a decision does not render the situation inert. It simply means that you are not taking part in deciding the outcome and you will later have to face the consequences of the decision being made without you.
My client could have chosen not to pivot in the direction that all the signs were pointing, and his customers would have likely gone elsewhere. They could have made the decision to abandon his brand and possibly derail his company. Instead, he doubled his numbers and is now seeking funding for the first time so he can scale up and keep all of the new competition at bay.
When it comes to making an important choice, somebody will make the decision; wouldn’t you rather it be yours?