With the EU Referendum fast approaching and the In/Out campaigns in full swing, we are being presented with a huge amount of information and speculation to process. For many of us, this level of data is more confusing than clarifying so, as a side to weighing up the costs and benefits, it may be helpful to consider the art of decision-making itself.
We are faced with hundreds of decisions every day; some barely require our thinking, others have us agonising over which way to turn. The methods by which we decide - and the ease with which we do so - vary from person to person and problem to problem. Some people plunge in without a second thought, which can sometimes lead to undesirable outcomes because of the lack of careful consideration. Others may be so undecided, perhaps because they are scared of making the wrong choice or of upsetting people who might be affected, that they are left in a state of mental paralysis doing nothing at all, letting other people or outside events determine what happens. The results may or may not end up in their favour, but the means of getting there are rarely satisfactory.
In the course of working with clients, I have found there are four key areas to consider when making a significant decision of any kind. None of them is particularly effective in isolation, but when considered as whole, they can often make the decision-making process smoother, clearer, as well as more authentic and rewarding:
1. Gut Feeling / Instinct
Regardless of how palatable it is, do you have an intuitive sense of what the right decision is? A lot of them time we do, but other factors (for example inconvenience, risk, impact on those around us) might make it easier to ignore or reject these instincts. Going on gut feeling alone can lead to impulsive choices but disregarding it altogether means we miss out on a valuable source of counsel. By taking the time to listen to your intuition and exploring the factors which support and oppose it, you develop your sense of insight and trust in your own reasoning.
2. Previous Experience
The older we get the more experience we amass. We develop a greater understanding of what brings us happiness and what contributes to our pain, both in the long term and the short term. We’ve observed how our actions can impact ourselves and others and how that makes us feel. We’ve achieved successes and made mistakes – some of which we might even have learned from! All of this contributes to our developing wisdom, creating a pool of experiential learning from which we can draw to inform our decision-making.
3. People We Trust
These may be people we know personally or individuals who we admire for their work, character or general life philosophies. What are their views – and why do they hold them? If we can hear what they have to say, or better still get in to a dialogue with them, we can discuss our conflicted positions and gain insight through their own knowledge or experience. It can serve to both broaden and narrow the platform of choice, depending on what we require. This is not to say ‘do what other people tell you to do’ – in fact if they are telling you to do something, rather than weighing up the options with you through their own perspective, you might want to reconsider how valuable a source they are – but either way, it’s useful to thrash out ideas with people we feel are getting it right.
4. Facts and Evidence
Like it or not, these are essential when it comes to effective decision-making. Instinct, experience and advice alone do not provide us with everything we need to make decisions specific to the circumstances. This needn’t just apply to fact-heavy debates such as the EU, but to more personal ones as well. For example: Do I leave my job? The facts might be that you are going to earn more money but it will reduce the amount of time you have to spend on other activities. The evidence of your bank balance / work-life satisfaction may determine one route; equally the fact that your children need your presence at home at the moment or you’ve recently undergone heart surgery may mean a different strategy is required. In these instances, creating a kind of cost/benefit analysis of your situation can help spotlight the best course of action. Doing your homework in this way will mean your decision is an informed one and makes it easier to back up should you need to.
Indecision can be crippling, while impulse action can be harmful – by considering these four steps as a whole you can help eliminate some of the anxiety that comes with decision-making or reduce the potential adverse effects of jumping in without thinking. This is not to say that we will always get it right, but we can go easier on ourselves knowing we’ve done all we can to make the best choice.
If you’re still finding it hard to make decisions and feel you could do with more in depth support exploring your options, motivation or resistance levels, you might want to consider counselling. For a free consultation in the Swindon area, contact Alex O’Donnell on this link.