“Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.” – Brian Tracey
• Move up or stay where you are?
• Stay or go?
• Expand or consolidate?
• Rent or buy?
• Another baby or more sleep?
• Wait or act?
• Say nothing or speak up?
• Mac or PC?
Like so many attributes of successful people, being decisive is far easier said than done. Of course, when the risks are low and the options are black and white it’s not so hard. But more often there’s a lot of grey as we grapple with alternatives, a lack of full information, and a future that is anything but predictable.
If only you could know for sure that the decision you make is the right one and worthy of the trade-offs and risks involved. Waiting a little longer, until you have more certainty and fewer doubts, can seem like the smartest, and safest, thing to do.
But is it?
It’s a general rule in psychology that for people to make the decision to change something it has to hurt more now than it hurts to change it. But what if right now you aren’t hurting that much (yet), with no pressing ‘pain point’? What if the status quo really isn’t ‘so bad’ and the potential gain not worth the potential loss or pain?
The truth is that you wouldn’t be human if you never wrested with life’s decisions, large and small. But if you’re waiting for certainty before you commit to a course of action, you can spend your life (career, happiness, business… ) on permanent hold. It happens.
In my mid twenties I found myself having to decide whether to pursue an opportunity to spend three years working in Papua New Guinea. One of the more dangerous countries in the world, there were plenty of reasons not to take it. But newly married and armed with a sense of adventure, my husband and I decided “What the heck?!” and jumped in. While living in Port Moresby had its fair share of challenges (which I wrote about in Brave), it was also incredibly rewarding. When I left PNG, I was far clearer about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life than I was before.
Decisiveness does that. Even when our decisions don’t go perfectly to plan, we still learn a lot more about what works, about ourselves, about life and about how to live it better
The Latin root of the word decision – cis or cid – means to ‘cut’ or ‘kill.’ You see it in words such as homicide and scissors. Since we live in a world of infinite choice, abundant opportunity and endless decisions, to be effective requires learning how to ‘cut’ or ‘kill off” options on a regular basis.
Sometimes those options are very attractive (e.g. like a high paying job or social status.) All of them have their own pay off (security, money, familiarity, low risk, adventure, certainty.) Eliminating them can be painful on multiple levels.
It’s why being decisive amid uncertainty is an act of personal courage. It demands having faith in yourself that whatever unfolds as a result of the decision you make, you can handle it and you will benefit from it – one way or another. That singular act of faith can ease your anxiety about the future and make you more powerful in shaping it. The truth is that there is no ‘perfect’ decision. Giving up trying to make one can spare you a lot of unnecessary stress.
It may sound counterintuitive, but avoiding making a change to the status quo doesn’t make you more secure, it makes you less so. Trying to avoid uncertainty by sticking your head in the sand and pretending everything will just stay as it is puts you at risk of being left behind as the world marches steadily on around you.
Decisiveness fuels personal power in ways that procrastination never can. So rather than trying to predict the future, focus on making the best decisions you can right now, with what you know now. If the future doesn’t unfold as predicted, or plans go pear shaped, you will adjust accordingly. Just never let fear of making a wrong decision keep you from making a right one.
As I wrote in Brave, the cost of indecisiveness can be steep – just look at how many leaders, businesses, careers and people have derailed because of it. To quote the 11th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision“.
Life rewards action, not indecision.
The best way to build decisiveness is to start where you are with the next decision you face. By all means, do your homework, weigh up the trade-offs, and calculate the risks. But then trust your gut instinct to guide you forward, even if it’s on to new ground that takes you out of your comfort zone. Because when you’re brave enough to make a decision, you’ll find the courage to make the decision right.
If you’d like support in being more decisive in your career and life, take the 10 day Train The Brave challenge www.TraintheBrave.com