Making decisions is a key skill in life. Any decision is something that unlocks a particular future for you; a future you choose consciously. The absence of decision means you don’t actively choose a future and are likely to be pushed into situations you do not wish. Not surprisingly, many people do not have a conscious awareness of the colossal number of decisions they make everyday and how these compounded decisions become their ‘life’. They do not realise how they use their daily ‘budget’ of decision making. That could help explaining the number of people who are not happy with their life; they don’t know how to choose a better life for themselves.
Decision making can be learned—and mastering that skill can really change one’s life. And like any skill, it needs to be nurtured and practiced regularly otherwise we get back to our default mode i.e. going along with the majority, in a world that has conditioned us since birth to adopt the choices that others have made for us (our parents, our teachers, our governments etc.). Yes, we are not encouraged enough to think for ourselves and the herd mentality is something that allows nonsensical events to occur (e.g. the coronavirus crisis). The power to be a free thinker is the antidote to mass manipulation—which is still common in our world. Honing you decision making skill is all about self-empowerment.
And you, how do you relate to decision making in your life? For example, have you ever felt paralysed to the point that you become incapable of making even the smallest decision? That’s typically because your willpower reserve is exhausted—and your mind feels foggy and unfit for thinking any longer. It’s a frequent syndrome of our modern age where we are overwhelmed by choices and spend a considerable amount of mental power dealing with them—although a vast majority of them are unimportant for our life and levels of happiness. But for some people it goes deeper: there is a blockage around decision making. So let’s journey through this essential topic.
Some sources estimate that the average adult makes about 30,000+ ‘remotely conscious’ decisions each day. That’s one decision about every 3 seconds! More realistically, we probably make hundreds—if not thousands—of small decisions every day that require some of our attention. Think about it: deciding what clothes to wear for the day, what to have for breakfast, what time you need to leave to be on time at an appointment, what task you should do next at work etc.
If you want to progress on your decision making—and especially if you struggle—it will be very helpful to reflect at your behavioural patterns. I suggest you start paying attention when a decision opportunity arises and when you make it. Indeed most decisions are made quickly and without even realising it. The only way to observe your own behaviour is to bring awareness to your thoughts. That requires extra effort and it will feel like you slow yourself down, but it will be rewarding. Another good habit is to take 5 minutes to reflect at the end of the day about the salient decisions you’ve made throughout your day. This will help you discover your own patterns and answer the following questions.
SOME INTROSPECTIVE QUESTIONS—
You are your best teacher if you only pay attention. It is the attitude of introspection that is key for any real personal growth. You just need to look at how you behave when confronted with a choice and over time you’ll realise what you can improve.
Something to really understand is that you only have a limited amount of willpower available for use each day—the power you need for making decisions. Think of it as your daily ‘budget’ or ‘allowance’. That power is mental and most people ignore how to use it selectively. In other words, they spend it mostly on mundane decisions whereas—if you want to be an achiever—it should be kept primarily for what truly matters: making decisions that have a high impact on your life, i.e. the important decisions.
Of course we have free will so everybody can choose how they spend their daily budget; but there are consequences. The way we use and direct our mental energy is what makes the difference between people who achieve consistently their goals and those who struggle to follow any direction in life. The latter tend to waste their mental power on things that do not help them one inch in achieving their goals. Well, of course, that assumes someone has worked on defining their life goals in the first place; and if you’ve never thought about your goals, it will be time well spent to start today!
One of the secrets of being effective at decision making has nothing to do with being a genius with superior mental capacities; it is just about being clear on what’s important and what is not, and refrain from engaging in making too many unimportant decisions in your day. In that way, you preserve your capacity to choose throughout your day and avoid depleting that precious resource. You then allow yourself to focus only on what’s making a significant improvement in your life.
It does not mean that you need to spend 100% of your time in this high-efficiency mode and transform yourself into a sort of draft horse of productivity. There are moments when you want to unwind and spend time on things without any particular goal, play, relax etc. and these moments are actually crucial to help the mind recover. But what I am saying is that for the portion of time you dedicate everyday to intellectual work, your mind should be sharp and focused on what truly matters to you. That advice also applies to time management in general.
I started some introspection work years ago to find out how I behaved in my decision making. I found out that I made poor use of my daily capacity for decisions. Especially around deciding what to work on and when. In fact I’d often take care of some relatively unimportant things that I wanted to get out of the way all throughout the day, just to find out that I’d end up at the end of my day exhausted and unable to spend time on doing the important things that I had kept for the end. That type of self-sabotaging strategy is typical of procrastination. But the good news is that you can break free from the cycle: you just need to make smarter decisions about how you use your mental energy. And that will benefit not only your decision making abilities, but also many other aspects of your life where you need your brain to make rational decisions. Also, I found out that making the best decisions about how to use my time was the foundation for solid time management and productivity skills.
We can all be indecisive at some points in our life. It’s normal to have doubts. But when it becomes a chronic condition, it needs to be examined properly to understand the root cause.
What blocks us from making decisions? There can be so many things happening in our heads, many of them at the unconscious level. But invariably behind our reluctance to make decision is the energy of fear—or one of its many forms.
If you are willing to investigate why it’s so hard for you to make decisions, here are some guidelines questions:
It can also help to go back in the past and deconstruct your own attitude towards decision. Are there any memories particularly painful you have about making a bad decision? Usually some childhood memories can hold some strong emotional energy regarding that. The questions above are just to trigger some increased awareness in yourself. To complete the healing, you will need to address the emotional layer and release the energy that does not serve you anymore.
For some people—usually endowed with a logical mind—making a decision can be overwhelming no matter how small the decision. There is a sense of anxiety; the unconscious thought that if they do not make the ‘best decision’ possible, they’re a failure, or even that their entire life is going to be ruined. The strive for perfection is the source of stress. There is often an impulse for making lots of verifications and analysis to identify the best possible outcome, which can be very time consuming. Worse, there is this feeling of doubt that can hardly be dissipated by any research.
Next time you’re in the process of making a decision and you find it difficult, pay attention. Do you feel that your levels of anxiety are rising about making the wrong choice?
That ‘paralysis by analysis’ is caused by an overactive rational mind that likes to contemplate every possible angle. The mind becomes quite rigid in its search of the ultimate solution and lacks the flexibility to see the truth. The truth being that there’s never a perfect choice and we will typically have to compromise and prioritise certain things over others when we choose. What matters is to make a decision ‘good enough’ for us, without spending a ridiculous amount of time choosing.
For the perfectionists of this world, I’ve created this simple yet powerful exercise.
Being spontaneous for deciding small things & Letting go of the outcomes
This practice is designed to help raise the levels of trust for the person who’s having issues choosing quickly—even for mundane decisions—and who’s concerned about the negative consequences of a poor choice.
Being able to make simple decisions with detachment, and see that it’s fine in the end, will raise your confidence levels and help you build up your willpower.
Although each small decision puts us on a slightly different timeline, the important things in our life will find us no matter what route we take (it’s called destiny). It’s important to remain confident while making our decisions and realise that in the end, very few things matter a lot. Refusing to make decisions is refusing to live our life because it’s a normal part of life.
There is only one source of stress for decision making and that’s ourselves. When we put too much pressure on ourself, we experience too much seriousness in life. And that can block us from making decisions in a smooth way. So if you recognise yourself in that description, it’s important to dedramatise the impact of your choices. What we should remember is that as long as we do our best in the moment of choice, with the information available to us at that time, then there’s nothing we can have regrets about.
Making a decision is actually a powerful event. It’s a manifestation of your personal WILL. It’s a statement to the universe: ‘I am going this way’. It’s about picking one alternative among many and letting go of the other ones. That second part is very important. We need to let go. Not letting go of the other alternatives means we’ll be haunted by regret, rumination such as ‘what if I had…’ thoughts; and that hurts our willpower. We need to nurture our personal power of choice: that’s what allows us to select one thing and invest our full energy into it without looking back. Trusting that process will allow us to go through life with confidence.
Knowing now how much you should cherish your willpower, before making any decision you should first and foremost ask yourself: ‘Is that thing even worth spending time thinking about?’. In other words: ‘Do I really need to use my mental energy for that topic?’ Well that’s where the choice becomes very personal. Nowadays many people are constantly keeping busy with emails, instant messages and various social media that all act as a black hole sucking out their mental energy which thus becomes depleted and unavailable for the truly important tasks in their life.
For the mundane decisions in life, you may want to practice the exercise above ‘Being spontaneous for deciding small things & Letting go of the outcomes’.
So where do you draw the line? What do you choose to keep? It only depends on you. But, you see, this first gateway of triage is critical because what happens here will make a huge difference down the road. Because if you want to preserve your willpower, you will consciously discard those situations and decisions which are not what you want to focus on. You will nip it in the bud. You will distance yourself from those black holes and put your attention on the life you want to create for yourself i.e. the important decisions and actions of all sorts.
So here you are after passing the first gateway—which means it’s about something you believe matters, or that you are consciously happy to spend time on. You will now start contemplating the alternatives that you can come up with. This is a phase of expansion where your mind will expand to understand the possibilities which are available to you. For SIMPLE decisions this step will be obvious and almost instantaneous. But for the COMPLEX decisions, this is where the real work takes place.
You can put your thinking in writing when the decisions are complex and you need to really weigh the pros and cons. You can even get into meditation for that and visualise the possible futures you see for yourself. Avoid rushing but equally do not indulge in procrastination. Important and complex decisions are rarely urgent, so you will have the occasion to get back to it. Taking a break for a few days before thinking about it again can also be a good thing—rather than trying too hard to address it every day.
At the end of your exploration, here comes the time for CHOICE. You should use all your personal willpower then with trust and confidence go for one particular alternative. This is a phase of contraction where your mind will release all the previous thinking and now focus on only the one of many possibilities you chose. You take full responsibility for your choice and accept the consequences.
And once you’ve decided, it’s equally important to stick with your decision for as long as possible. Not to say that you cannot change your mind; but beware because a situation where you constantly change your mind because you are unsure will hurt your willpower on the long run. It’s important to honour your choices.
Often, when your decision is not backed by enough certainty, you will attract situations where people will give you arguments going exactly against what you’ve just decided, which may shake you and only add to your confusion. That’s a test the universe is sending to see how firm you are, how committed you are. If you carry on no matter what, these obstacles will soon be removed from your way.
There is much to say, but I’ll get over some key points.
Confusing important decisions with non-important decisions is a classic mistake. The determination is based on the impact it has on your life and how you value that impact. It’s very personal. Most importantly: stop thinking that everything is important, because it’s not!
Here’s a tip: for those small decisions that do not matter, make them quickly! What’s the point of spending hours for making a decision where the difference between the outcomes will be barely noticeable on your life?
Make the most difficult decisions in the morning when your willpower level is at its maximum. Do not make important decisions in the evening or when you’re tired.
Changing constantly the topic of attention is known to deplete our mental resources. That means that making 3 small decisions back to back is more tiring than making one big decision. That’s important to remember this point because we often underestimate the amount of time and effort we spend on small decisions every day.
Generally speaking, women have more issues with making decisions than men. There is often a sense of expectation that someone else will choose for them (e.g. their partner). There is also a high creativity for coming up with various solutions, which can then become overwhelming at the time of choice.
Also, kids whose parents have not empowered them to make their own decisions will develop the habit to wait for others to choose for them, and will feel generally unsure about their choices.
Certain behaviours that we engage in are well-known for depleting our mental energy levels. Remember: nobody can force us to do it, we just go there ourselves! Below are a few notable ones:
All these activities have something in common: they engage your mind, they deplete your mental energy and you are left tired afterwards—mentally tired. For those who do office jobs with multiple streams of work in parallel, you will know exactly what I am talking about. At the end of the day, after spending 8 hours in front of a computer screen juggling between emails, instant messages, spreadsheets etc. can you really say that your mind is performing at its best?
The problem is not that our modern world is a horrible place to live in, the problem is that we have NOT learned the skills necessary to go through this digital age and preserve our sanity. And the keyword here is selection.
You can ask for guidance before making a complex decision. You can ask your Higher-Self (i.e. the wise part of your consciousness) what is the best decision. Some people need to get into meditation, others just ask mentally and get an answer straight away. The answer may take the form of a feeling, an image or sensations in the body; it’s very personal and something you will discover as you practice. What matters is that your Higher-Self always knows, and you just need to ask. But then you need to quiet the ego otherwise you won’t hear the answer! And the answer may be the opposite of what your logical mind would choose. But deep inside, you will know it’s the right choice anyway. And if you learn to trust your higher guidance, it will transform your life.
Cultivate your willpower. It’s a precious energy. Respect it. Don’t deplete it for things which are not worth it. For example when the ego mind rumbles about trivial things and you get a lot of willpower sucked into things which are meaningless; that is a typical strategy of the ego, who wants to keep you busy with things which are not at risk of threatening its control over your life.
You don’t need to act upon each and every thought you have throughout the day, especially when they lead you to decide to spend time on activities which are pure distractions taking you away from what you had planned to do. What matters is to focus on what you want to do, instead of being carried away by your fleeting thoughts. Making the wisest decisions then becomes an essential tool for boosting your personal productivity.
When you become hesitant to choose, the important thing to remember is that choosing is part of the game of life. It’s normal to make mistakes, we can’t always be right. It’s part of the process of living. The more situations we are confronted with, the more we learn to make the best decisions. It’s a skill, it comes with experience. Something you rarely do can be intimidating (e.g. deciding which house to buy, landing your next job) whereas routine tasks should be easy (e.g. buying your weekly groceries, choosing your route in public transport to go to your destination).
You should be aware that intuition always beats the rational mind at the decision making game. There’s never enough data for the rational mind to choose properly, and so it will often fail. Intuition, on the other hand, taps into something bigger and can guide you to the best decision—even if at the time you didn’t have all the data for your rational mind to agree. But, sure enough, in hindsight you will understand why your intuition was right.
In a universe of duality, no decision brings the perfect outcome. Granted, there are better choices than others, but no two choices are like black versus white. It’s always in the nuances. Therefore, I like to remind myself that even if “the grass looks greener in the field next door” it’s all an illusion of the ego. Gratitude for what we already have goes a long way.
It is the nature of free will to be able to pick one alternative among a vast amount of possibilities and experience the manifestation of that version of reality. This is what makes life exciting, and should fill us with excitement and anticipation, but certainly not stress and even less the fear of making a suboptimal decision. One way to relax is to develop the habit of “trusting that right choice is taking place right now” and embrace it. Preserve yourself, pace yourself, love yourself and you’ll notice significant improvements about your decision making.
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