This is part III of the series about decision-making. In the earlier parts I talked about how our decisions determine our lives as well as why we fear making decisions and what to do about it.
Even when you deconstruct the mental barriers, making a choice can still be tough. Therefore it is good to have a few mental models at hand you can fit to a wide range of decisions.
Below I describe a few decision-making models I use to navigate through my life.
Visualize the short, medium, and long-term consequences
Decisions often change when the outcome is put into perspective. What seems to be a good idea at the moment can turn out to have been less than smart later on. So before making a choice, take a moment to ask yourself about the short, medium and long-term consequences of what you are about to do.
A good area of application for this model is that of food and nutrition. It is an area in which we are prone to make short-term decisions because we let instant gratification get the best of us. However, what may taste delicious in the moment might lead to a sugar crash in the medium run and to excess weight and health problems over the long haul.
On the other hand, the things that are good for us take a little while to show their benefit. Training and diet changes are prime examples of this. Visualizing consequences and results over the medium and long term really helps when delaying gratification.
Precommitment – Throwing your hat over the fence
Another way to counter indecision is to not leave yourself another option, to make a commitment that is very hard or impossible to back out of. If you throw your hat over the fence, you have no choice but to climb over and get it.
For instance if you want to live abroad, book a non-refundable flight for a date in the near future (which is what I did). If you want to launch a product, invite all your friends to the launch party. Since the decision has already been made, all subsequent actions must align with it.
This type of precommitment forces us to focus and direct our energy and actions toward achieving the goal we have set for ourselves. The three weeks leading up to my move abroad were among the most productive I have had this year. Because of the limited time frame I had to cut out all inessentials and there was no way for postponing anything.
Listen to your gut and intuition
I have a tendency to try and solve everything in my mind. It has caused me a lot of frustration because over and over again I had to find that the things that “should” work (from a rational point of view) don’t work in reality:
Trying to use willpower to adhere to a diet almost always results in quitting. Working harder and longer hours does not lead to bigger and better results. Being the nice guy doesn’t get you laid.
Humans aren’t rational beings and not everything can be solved by logic and thinking alone. When it comes to hard choices, we often intuitively know which is the right way to go but we are held back by fear (that bastard). So in our heads we find rationalizations and excuses and talk ourselves out of it. In these moments it is important to check in with your gut and intuition.
Because I noticed that trying to solve everything rationally didn’t work, in the beginning of the year I decided to go with my gut feeling from now on. It is a decision I wished I had made earlier. Many of the best things this year have happened because I followed my intuition.
So check in with your gut when making decisions. You will find that it often knows what it’s talking about. Then use your mind to form a plan.
Confront your fear
As I mentioned in the earlier articles, in most cases we avoid decisions because we are afraid. However, the things we imagine will happen when we take a risk and commit to a choice are mostly unfounded and often highly unrealistic:
“When I ask my boss for a raise, he will fire me. I will never find a job again and will have to live in a card board box on the street.” – “If I try to talk to that girl, I will start crying and bleeding from my ears.” – “If I don’t flip the light switch 24 times before leaving a room, my family will be eaten by a bear.”
Rationally we know these fears are far from reality, but still let our emotions get the best of us by avoiding the imagined threat. Instead of running from the worst-case scenario it is a much better idea to address it beforehand. To preempt fear before it can derail us.
To do so ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?”, “What would I do if it came to pass?”. When we answer those two questions, most often two things happen: a) we realize that the fear we are dealing with is ridiculously exaggerated, and b) we are already well equipped to deal with what we are most afraid of.
Because we already have a solution for when sh*t hits the fan, the perceived risk is much smaller and allows us to move forward. In the course of that we also find that our biggest fears almost never come to pass.
Your homework – Make a lot of decisions
Now, after reading the three articles on decision-making, here is a little homework for you. I want you to make a list of everything you are undecided about and that you have been putting off lately. It doesn’t matter how big or small, whether it’s where to go on your next vacation or what to have for dinner. Anything that you feel is hanging in the air and needs to be taken care of.
Go through that list point for point and make a decision for each one. Schedule the meeting with your boss, make an appointment with your travel agent, I don’t care. Do what you have to do to get it out of the indecision vortex. If you can’t make a decision right there and then, determine what is missing for you to be able to do so and decide on the next step and when to take it.
Commit to resolving each and every point on the list. I promise afterwards you will feel more in control of your life and will be surprised on how much more mental capacity you will have available. Also, let me know how it went.
Whatever decisions you are facing right now, I would like to hear about them. or tell me in the comments. If I can, I will gladly help out.