“The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
Decisions, decisions. From the moment our eyes open in the morning we enter decision-making-mode.
Should I get up or sleep a little bit more?
Brush my teeth before or after coffee?
Breakfast today or just starve till lunch?
Which assignment should I start the work-day with?
How many youtube videos am I going to watch before really starting work?
What the hell am I going to eat for lunch?
You get the point.
Here’s the truth:
We make a lot more decisions than we even think we have to.
Every action we take, every belief we hold, every manner in which we interpret the events taking place in our day to day lives, in reality, is a decision.
It’s a decision about who we are, how we live, and how we decide to ‘take in’ the world as it shows up in our lives.
With all this pressure, how can we be expected to make decisions quickly, easily, and effectively?
Some Outrageous Brain Science
Nature Neuroscience recently published a study with the incredible revelation that brain scanners could predict whether a person would hit a button with their left or right hand a whopping seven seconds before the person was even aware of the decision.
S E V E N. S E C O N D S.
Think about what that means.
That means that the subjects’ deliberating in their mind about which hand to decide to press the button with was pointless.
This means that at least with regard to basic, simple decisions, the subconscious activity of the mind makes its choices before the choice becomes a part of our conscious reality.
If you think about this logically with regards to our emotional reactions to situations, it makes a ton of sense.
Imagine you’re confronted with a stressful situation or one that makes you angry. Your subconscious decides that you are going to be angry and then the thoughts you have literally tell you what to feel and why it is justified. The only thing weird about it is the fact that we genuinely believe it is the other way around!
So what does this mean for our decision-making ability? How can this understanding help us make decisions more quickly and effectively?
How To Develop The Ability To Make Quick Decisions
“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” – Maimonides
Step 1: How much deliberation does the decision require?
The first important idea in decision making is getting to the bottom of how much deliberation the decision requires.
There’s an obvious contrast in how much deliberation is needed in deciding whether to get a divorce vs. deciding what you’re going to eat for breakfast in the morning.
The issue of aimless deliberation appears where we spend time thinking in situations that are largely unimportant. Understanding that there is no reason to deliberate when it comes to making simple decisions is the first step in making them more quickly.
Thoughts are energy. Deliberation robs you of energy that can be used for more important work.
When you find yourself flip flopping back and forth in trying to make decisions like whether or not to get out of bed, you’ve almost always made a decision before the deliberation. All you need to do is ask yourself does this help or hurt me in light of my goals – then do whatever the answer is.
Step 2: Trust Yourself
One of the reasons making decisions seems difficult is because we’re so afraid of the outcome that we become paralyzed in action.
Do you understand that nobody in the history of mankind has ever done anything because they thought it was the wrong action to take? We all do what we subjectively believe is the right thing to do in the moment.
This is a law.
It’s easy to understand when you take it to the limit – even Hitler himself fully believed that what he was doing was genuinely RIGHT.
If we applied this understanding to our own decision making, we come to an important realization: What feels right in a moment is what we usually end up doing. To know what feels right doesn’t require thinking for hours on end about whatever it is you need to decide.
You already know the consequences of your actions – it is embedded in the decision itself.
Allowing a decision to be made quickly based on what feels right does NOT make you careless – it makes you intelligent. It is what you were going to do anyways!
Step 3: Embrace ‘Failure’
In hindsight, we’re almost always wrong.
We either tell ourselves that we didn’t achieve intended results, or we tell ourselves we could have done better, that an alternative would have had a better outcome, etc.
Regardless of a decision you make right now, you WILL inevitably end up questioning it down the line. Aside from the rare decisions that end up working completely in our favor and leaving us feeling ‘lucky’ that we made it, this holds true no matter what happens.
Embrace the FACT that what feels right in a moment does not always prove to lead to the best possible outcome. This holds true regardless of whether we spend ample time deliberating or not…so there’s no harm in skipping the deliberation anyways!
Step 4: Be Kind To Yourself
Once a decision has been made, there is zero benefit to further questioning whether it was the right one. The only possible result of questioning decisions that have been made and will lead to an inevitable result is suffering.
We beat ourselves up endlessly for past decisions we’ve made.
Does that suffering change the past? Does that suffering help you deal with the future? Is it pleasant? Do you like it? Do you WANT to suffer?
Developing a kind, easy-going relationship with yourself makes it easier to make decisions quickly because you no longer fear your own wrath and judgment.
We are our own greatest critics.
Learn to be your own best friend and decision-making quickly and effectively becomes a very simplified process.