Decision

Tough decisions to make? Try stretching out the decision-making process over a long period of time, giving yourself chance to view it from multiple angles and in the light of various aspects of your life.

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Let’s face it – decisions can be difficult. They can feel stressful, all-or-nothing, black-or-white, either-or. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to have more time to make a decision, and to feel confident about it, without all the stress and second-guessing?

If you’re in a situation of having to make a decision in a very short time-frame, a situation that is essentially going to go one way or another by a certain date, regardless of what you do, then there’s probably a limit to what you can do.

Recently I’ve been thinking a bit differently about decisions and working at changing my behaviour so that I don’t face these situations quite so often.

When I look back over my history of decisions, a strategy I’ve found helpful is to identify and anticipate decisions that I might have to make at some point in the future, and then begin the process of thinking about those decisions in the present. Thus, the length of time between thinking and acting is stretched out over a much longer period than it would have otherwise been.

To take a decision apart, take it to pieces, and think about each of those pieces over a longer period of time. Instead of waiting until January, two years from now, I start to think about that decision right now.

This results in a slower, more reflective pace of thinking. With more time, I can think about the decision from more angles, perspectives, vantage-points. I can take my present, or even past, self and project that self into hypothetical scenarios that would occur if I decided either one way or another.

Thus, the decision-making process come to reflect and integrate a multitude of factors over a longer stretch of time, rather than being limited to the small number of more immediate factors.

Given enough time, perhaps a matter of months or even years, I can eventually get to a point where I know enough about the decision that it no longer becomes a decision. The alternatives are eliminated and the one correct path reveals itself. At that point, the decision is no longer a decision and I can just act.

One example of this is the decision of whether to take steps down a new career path. Perhaps involving study, research, etc. Is this an area I’m interested in? Is it a career path I would do well in? Now I could postpone doing anything until I had reached the point where I had to make a quick snap decision about whether or not to take the plunge into a new field. Say, when my current career-path turned into a dead-end.

But instead, at some regular interval (perhaps every weekend or so, or every now and then whilst walking to work), in a relaxed, non-urgent, non-directed manner, I can think about what it would be like if I went down that new career path. I can imagine what it would be like if I was going to do this new job today, and guage my motivation and energy I’d bring to it. I can absorb material about the career path (e.g. listen to a podcast or read an article about it) and project myself into the scenarios raised in that material. In a way, it’s like rehearsing for a performance – imagining the audience is there and the pressure is on, prior to actually having an audience.

Other factors to consider might include how that career transition would affect my self-image, how it would affect others’ perceptions, how sustainable it would be, how I would deal with temporary turbulence it might create.

In summary, the next time you face a decision, major or minor, why not put yourself into a time machine, travel back to the present moment, and start to slowly and gradually work through the decision in your mind. Stretch it out, give it time, and see if you can enjoy the process!

Ship

Life doesn’t always go to plan. How might we think about plans in a way that keeps us motivated and moving forward?

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Have you ever had one of those “face-palm” moments in life, where it suddenly hit you that you had made a less-than-optimal decision? If you had known more, you might have made a different decision, or no decision at all!

The frustrating thing is, now you do know! Now you can see that X and Y are necessary, in order to achieve Z. But at the time you made the decision, you weren’t aware of this.

The problem is, at the time, you didn’t have the information or awareness to know what the problem with your decision was going to be, whereas now you do know. And I think this reveals something about how work gets done and things get achieved in time, which is: not everything happens in the order that we think it will happen.

We may have a model of the world in our minds, which is sequential and tied to certain dates and times, kind of like a flowchart. For example:

InYourMind

A leads to B leads to C and D, D leads to E and F, and E and F lead to G.

The way things actually work out, often is quite different. For example:

InReality

A leads to B. B seems like it will lead to C, but actually ends up leading all the way to Z. And it’s only when we get to Z that we then see the whole alphabet, and that the process involves all 26 letters, not just the 6 or 7 we started out with!

We can’t really change the fact that reality often doesn’t go to plan. However, we can offer ourselves some mental consolation and self-forgivenness.

We can remember how much we didn’t know at the time. Give that memory space. And give ourselves “permission in retrospect” to have not known everything. “I didn’t know, we didn’t know”. And because that time has already passed, we can’t go back in a time-machine and make it any different (at least, not until Elon Musk gets round to time-travel!)

So, in a sense, there wasn’t necessarily ever a problem. The project did go “according to plan”, but it was just a different plan than we had originally understood! Perhaps a larger plan, perhaps smaller. But it is a plan, and there is a structure to it. We simply need to maintain our awareness of the change, adapt to it and move with it.

As you go through this kind of change many times, over the course of a career, you develop mental processes and tools for working in this way. Rather than our plans becoming like a large structure, say a tower made of stones, which can’t bend or move, our plans become more like a ship, which can be steered in one direction, then steered in another, moored and unmoored, or taken to a warehouse, dis-assembled and re-assembled.

So a change in plan isn’t a catastrophe. It’s valuable information that we can use to steer the “ship” of our work and make new discoveries along the way!