For years I’ve been teaching that fear based decisions are not really decisions at all. Actually, fear can produce decisions. If I’m deciding the best path to safety, for example, fear can even be useful. However, on the average, fear-based decisions are not typically very good ones. Why? Because when we make a decision based on fear–no matter the source of fear–we often do so from a state of mental paralysis. By this I mean, we make a decision that is emotional, absent fact or logic.
I heard a woman ask an interesting question yesterday. She wanted to know what you do when you have to make a decision based on two options, neither of which will produce a positive outcome. It’s an interesting question. It occurred to me that I have been in that situation more often than not. As my husband and I discussed this reality over lunch, we thought about the many challenging decisions we had to make with respect to our son Michael.
Our son had a rare life threatening disability, and it seemed that we were always trying to make decisions about what was the best road to take on his behalf. This doctor or that? Surgery? Therapy? Wheelchair or walker? Which medication? Which school? Is this direction safe or unsafe? On and on it went. Most of our choices centered on the lesser of two evils. It’s not like we were trying to decide if Michael should attend Harvard or Yale. No. We were making life choices on behalf of our son that had the potential to either help, hinder, or perhaps even cost him his life. The long and short of it is that not all decisions produce positive results. In the end, you do the best you can given the information you have at the time. The key is to gather the information.
Here are five important things to note when facing hard decisions:
1. Move Past Paralytic Fear: When you find yourself paralyzed by fear, when it seems that you have no options, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you have really done the hard work of gathering all the information you need to make a decision. A really wise friend of mine once said to me years ago that when it comes time to make a decision, the decision is often already made. What he really meant by that statement is that if you do your homework and explore all the options, you will often know exactly what to do next. The answer or direction often reveals itself through the process of discovery. If you try to short change the process, you’ll only wind up confusing the issue.
2. Categorize the Most Important Elements of the Decision: When we’re worried or scared, all aspects of a decision seem to get jumbled in our mind and take on an equal level of importance. If you’re finding yourself going in circles, take some time to reflect on what the most important elements of the decision are. Is it price, product, or the long-term consequences of your decision on others that is worrying you? Break those elements into categories that will allow you to manage your concerns and begin your research there. Once you know the answer to some of those pressing worries, you may find that the decision is not as challenging as you initially thought it was.
3. Seek Wise Counsel: I’m amazed how often people make decisions without seeking wise counsel. My husband, for example, is in the real estate and land development business. And, he has a great financial mind. I am always intrigued by the fact that some of our friends come to him for advice AFTER they’ve already entered into a bad real estate deal. Remember, it’s much harder to clean up after a bad decision than it is to be proactive and seek wise counsel from a variety of sources beforehand.
4. Be Prepared to Renegotiate: What I mean by this is that you have to cut yourself some slack. Not every decision is a perfect one. Things change. Life happens. A decision made today may have to be renegotiated tomorrow. Even if you don’t have the power to renegotiate the exact decision, you can make other decisions to allow for new perspectives and better direction. This level of decision-making requires flexibility and a willingness to broaden your thinking.
5. Don’t look back: If you’ve made a decision that didn’t quite turn out the way you’d hoped, don’t waste time in regret. You’ll learn a great deal about your ability to maneuver your way through the decision-making process if you are open to learning what you could have done more, better, different. No purpose is served in beating yourself up over something that’s already past. Focus on how you’ll handle a similar situation in the future. Everyone makes a bad decision at one point in time or another. However, bad decisions can become a habit, a way of life for some people. The difference between those who make bad decisions now and again and those who live in bad decisions has to do with perception. Am I a victim in life or am I proactive? Wise decisions require a balance between reflective thought and letting go. Examine the nuances that kept you from making a more meaningful and productive decision in the first place. Reflect, consider, and vow to remember. Then, move on. You’ll do better next time around if you just learn to pay attention to your own thought processes and how they impact your actions.
Question: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself in facing hard decisions?