Good at Decision Making?

We apparently make around 35000 decisions a day – many inconsequential and unconscious such as whether or not to have that second cup of coffee and some which have substantially more impact on others and our own lives. Without all these decisions, we wouldn’t get out of bed and if you think you’re bad at making decisions, remind yourself that you’re constantly making them and they mostly turn out fine.  Trusting yourself really helps.

You can listen to this as a podcast here.

Procrastination is not good

When it comes to some of the bigger life and business decisions, putting them off or procrastinating is one of the biggest things that hold us back.  We just get stuck.  The period of time when we don’t bite the bullet and make a decision is a really frustrating and unproductive one. It’s a limbo state, where we can lose energy, motivation and it is a big waste of time.  If others are waiting for you to make a decision, you can lose their engagement and momentum is lost.

Deciding not do do anything is a decision in itself

Of course, deciding not to do something is a decision in itself. The outcome is different to that of procrastination. Decide this, but make sure you then leave the question or issue and don’t go back to it and ruminate and beat yourself up, wondering what might have been.  It can be a good thing to give yourself a timescale.  Decide not to do anything for a clear period of time and then revisit.  This is still much better than just going over and over something with no firm decision. And of course, deciding not to do anything has to be for the right reason – it’s not just an excuse to put something off.

Take action

Taking action is of course a great option as then you’re moving forward, you’ve broken the status quo and you’re giving yourself the opportunity to learn. You will never know what taking action will bring until you actually do it.

Take action and insight follows

But what if it turns out to be a bad decision? I like to think that there’s no bad decisions, just the opportunity to learn and it’s you  that chooses to label it as bad – what if you reframed it and called it something else? A chance to learn, an exploration, a fact finding mission, a curious project, whatever it is, it’s something new and you’re finding out / gaining insight which your would never have had otherwise.  You’re doing what you think is right with the information you have at that moment in time. And that is all any of us can do.

Need to research first? Give yourself a deadline

Which brings me on to information gathering.  We are all different in the amount of information and data that we need to enable us to make a decision.  Some will spend weeks or months researching a new washing machine, only to find, just as they decide on the best one for the best price, that there’s a new model released or a sale. Others will buy the first they find and not give it another thought. I guess when buying a washing machine, as long as it does the job, it doesn’t really matter how much research you put into it but some business decisions are more important.  Your decision may impact others and the business, so gathering a good amount of information is sensible. But what is the right amount? You could go on forever finding more data and the situation may get worse, your staff might get frustrated, confused, with not clear decision coming from you.  Here it’s advisable to give yourself a timescale – a period of time for research / information gathering and then a deadline for the decision.  

The importance of conviction

Once the decision is made, it’s so important to dedicate yourself with conviction to that decision.  Being half hearted about it in the hope that you can always say “well, I was never very sure about it” means you’re really not giving it the best chance and are setting up to fail.  Conviction is so important. Get behind your decision. and remain open minded.  Again, give it a timescale so that in x weeks/ months you come back and evaluate.  If certain aspects aren’t working, you can tweak or make another decision.  It’s useful to remember that each decision we make is not the last one, there can be and will be more after that.

A good way of making decision is to follow this process:

Definition – describe succinctly what the decision that needs to be made is.

Others – who will be affected by each option? Do you need their support / buy in? If so, it may be best to work through this with them so that they are engaged and motivated by the process. Although this is not always possible or appropriate.

Outcome – What would you like the outcome to be?

Options – what are your options and which one will best align with the desired outcome?

Consequences – what are the consequences of each option? Here there will be good and bad / risks. Can any of the risks be mitigated?

You should be narrowing down the options now to the ones that best align with your desired outcome and have sufficient information to move towards making a decision. You may have gaps in information / data – set yourself a deadline for gathering this.

Time to choose.  Make the decision.  Define clearly what you have decided to do.

Action – what do you need to do – describe in detail the next steps. Allocate responsibilities if necessary / appropriate.

Timescale – set clear milestones for the actions needed and a date for when you will check in /evaluate.

Commit – get behind it with conviction (whilst keeping an open mind and accepting that some tweaks / changes can be made if the outcome isn’t met at your agreed date.)

Questions

Asking yourself the following questions can be really helpful.

What if you couldn’t fail only learn?  Fear of failure is a huge obstacle when making decisions.

What if you trusted yourself to make the best decision available to you?  Self doubt / lack of trust in self means you question your own decision making.

Is there something holding you back? Fear / what others think  (check out my other podcasts for help with these).

Things that get in the way of effective decision making

  • lack of self belief / confidence – you will never feel you’re making the right decision as you will always question yourself
  • Refusal to face up to the need for change – putting it out of your mind, putting it off
  • Too much attachment to the known and fear of the unknown which creates a resistance to making quick decisions.  Decision making often means change, and not everyone likes change.
  • Need for more data / information.  As I mentioned above, some people will have a need for more and more data and will never be satisfied with the amount of research they have done. Decisions are put off indefinitely.
  • Having to reach a consensus – whilst it’s important and hugely useful to seek the input and ideas of others, it’s necessary to reach agreement on what happens if there is deadlock and all can’t agree, otherwise decisions can’t be made and action can’t be taken. If you don’t need consensus but are an advice / approval junkie, similarly, you will find it difficult to make decisions if you don’t get validation and approval from everyone.  Give yourself a deadline and make a decision. Listen to your gut instinct.

Which brings me on to intuition

How much of a part does intuition and gut instinct play in decision making? This depends on so many things, particularly on how others will be impacted by the decision. If your intuition is balanced with insight and experience / evidence, then going with your gut instinct can increase your level of conviction and you’re more likely to own the decision and get behind it. If it’s all instinct and no insight or evidence, then it’s likely that emotion and belief will skew the decision.  This is OK for many decisions if it’s only you being affected and risk is small.  Not so reliable if your decision will impact others and your business for example.  So if your gut says something, check it out with some facts and evidence before diving in.

Once a decision is made, action must follow quickly to ensure you follow through.  Be curious, open minded and prepared to admit it’s not working after giving it a good go, if necessary.  Sticking doggedly to a decision and refusing to tweak can be very damaging.

Practise makes progress

As with so many things, the more we practise the better we get at decision making.  Taking the opportunity to be bold and decide will help you grow in confidence and your clarity and conviction will be more freely available to you.  Start small and when there’s an inconsequential decision to be made and one that you normally can’t decide upon (could be what to choose on a menu!) – just jump in and do it without too much thought eg challenge yourself to decide in 10 seconds and there’s no going back! Have fun with it and you’ll start finding you can train yourself to be more decisive and trust yourself as you get on to more important decisions.

Challenge your beliefs

Also, changing any beliefs you have around decision making.  You may think “I’m not a decisive person”.  Challenge this.  What would it be like if you were? What if you became more decisive? Start convincing yourself that you are decisive and confident in your decision making.  Tell people! 

So next time you’re facing a decision, follow the decision making process, ask yourself the questions, get behind it with conviction and challenge yourself to change the narrative of bad decision vs. good decision.  Have some fun with the less important decisions and build up your skillset with the more important decisions.  And forgive yourself for making mistakes, as they do happen and we learn from them!

If you’d prefer to listen to this, go to my podcast here.