“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present” — Lao Tzu
There is no greater skill than learning the art and craft of decision making.
No matter what you want out of life, the power to carefully think through your decisions, work under pressure, live with the results and know how to adapt to changing situations will get you there.
But, what do you do when making decisions freezes you up, sends you in a momentary (or long lasting) state of panic? How do you make decisions when you love (or hate) all the choices and are afraid of making the wrong one? How do you make decisions when you made a mistake before and it cost you?
That’s what we’re going to explore in this article. Let’s dive in.
Forget the fear of being left out
Stop thinking, “What if?”
This is a question that has its time and place, even in decision making, but when it begins to limit you, stop. Don’t let the endless stream of what might happen, what better things could happen, what awful things may come out of your choice, and so on and so on, freeze you up. That’s when “what if?” becomes toxic and not helpful, that’s when to cut it out.
Not making a decision, or freezing up when trying to make one, is the ultimate way to be left out. If you’re afraid you’re going to be left behind, shut out, or make the wrong decision and lose something because of a decision you’re being faced with, guess what? Indecision is a decision. Tough love, but it’s true.
Ground yourself in yourself. Stop worrying about what others might think, they likely aren’t even paying attention to you anyway. And that is a good thing, it’s your superpower if you let it be. Leverage this reality to help you boost your decision making skills. Use this reality to further know yourself, and to firmly ground yourself in this present moment. Use it to help you make up your mind and decide your course of action.
Flip the script on mistakes. Stop worrying about what the perfect choice might be, there isn’t one. Focus instead on making choices and learning from them. Whatever their cost and consequence, good or bad, promise yourself you’re going to grow from your decision and you’ve stolen most of the power back from indecision.
Perfection is a lie. I get it, it’s an enticing one, but it’s still a lie. I know where you’re coming from if this is you, I battle with perfectionism constantly. But, the cold hard reality is, there is no perfect choice. If that’s what’s freezing you up, let that reality sink deep deep inside of you and boost your confidence.
There is no perfect choice. Just the best choice you can make right now with what you know and have at your disposal.
That’s it. That’s all you’ve got to work with. Let it be your secret decision making power. Stop trying to be perfect and start making decisions, and trust yourself that no matter what, you’ll grow from it. Win or lose, you’re going to choose growth.
Here’s the thing, and I really want you to let this sink in: imperfection leaves room for growth. And that ain’t bad.
Stop trying to live in the future
No, really, it is just that simple. A lot of my own fear of making choices is grounded in this truth right here. Worry is a symptom of trying to live outside of the only reality any of us truly have, this moment, right now. The present moment.
That’s why, if you want to truly level up your decision making skills, you have to focus on what’s immediate. What’s right in front of you, what’s available right now? What are your options and what do you already know about each, right here, right now?
Now is all we really have. When you embrace that, you’ve embraced a power that can be applied to all areas of your life. But, it won’t come easy, and this power will demand constant cultivation.
For me, this means meditating, little conversations to myself, and embracing the messiness of life. It’s a constant struggle, but one I’m slowly learning to overcome by grounding myself in this present moment.
Use previous choices to power current ones
Learn from the past, don’t let it cage you in the present.
No matter what previous decisions have cost you, don’t let those realities hold you back, freeze you up, or stop you from making the decisions right in front of you, right now. Flip the script, learn from the past, embrace a growth mindset and find strength in momentum.
Have a dangerous level of faith in yourself. Not overconfidence or shallow ego, but faith. Bedrock, genuine, authentic, true faith. Meaning: Trust yourself that no matter what, you know down deep, you can handle it. That you can have something powerful inside you that will carry you forward.
If you’re afraid to make a decision because previous ones have cost you something or you’ve made mistakes before, ask yourself what the lesson was. That’s what decision making really comes down to, and if you want to become kickass at making them, you have to become a student of your past choices. Learn to be reflective, contemplative, thoughtful, mindful and let your past decisions become the mentor to your present ones.
Learn to use all previous choices (good and bad) as a foundation for your present one. One choice feeds the next, but this doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. If you’re open to the opportunity to growth that each decision is packed with, let those previous decisions propel you into sharper decision making skills now and in the future.
Know when to stop thinking
Research is good, but balance is better.
Here’s a universal truth: balance is the secret to living a good and meaningful life.
No matter what it is you’re trying to decide, know when to turn off your mind, when you’ve done enough thinking, enough planning, enough research and reading and when it’s time to pack it in and make the danged choice.
Plan just enough, but no more. That’s the trick. Striking the balance between research, study and decision making is a thin line sometimes, but it’s an important one. Too much research, too much thinking, too much planning is just another mask that worry wears.
I get it, I’m sometimes a bit of an over-thinker too, but learn to see this for what it really is. Fear of making the wrong decision. Overcome fear with dangerous amounts of faith and confidence in yourself. Not meaningless ego or false bravado, but legitimate confidence because you’ve made tough decisions before, you’ve had wins before, and you’ve survived mistakes before.
Trust your instincts, know when to dive in. Know when it’s time to make the decision and to stop thinking. Trust your gut, trust your potential, trust you know how, trust yourself.
Your next steps
There is nothing tougher than making a good decision, but you know what? Decision making is a skill. The more decisions you make, the easier they become. Big ones, small ones, and every kind in between.
It’s true, decisions require you to own them. They require you to step up and accept responsibility for your life, but the thing is, there are no short cuts to greatness. The tougher the challenge, and the more you go through on your way to success, the better your bragging rights. The greater your growth.
You’re better equipped than ever to handle these challenges now. The only question left is, what are you going to do next?