“Once you make a decision, the world conspires to make it happen.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
What a terrifying thought.
Talk about ominous implications.
It’s empowering if you know the right decision and make it. But what if you don’t know or you struggle to make the right choice anyway?
Decision making is difficult. It’s part of life. Half the time I have to ask my wife what I want to order from a menu because I can’t decide. But my struggles with decision making run deep for a few reasons.
1. I can see the both sides of every argument
Watching my mind weigh decisions must be like watching a Chinese championship ping-pong match. I dart back and forth from side to side with unrelenting force and dizzying speed.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a debate between two sides of a political argument, or the choice between chicken or steak for dinner. The problem is that I’m playing this ping pong game against myself and sometimes I can’t let one side win.
2. My mind jumps from A to D
If the logic train goes from A to B to C to D, I rarely get to see the countryside at B and C. That doesn’t make it easy to articulate a well thought out decision to everyone else - a task I frequently find frustrating and exhausting.
This one hurts me in the workplace just as much as at home. I don’t want to backtrack and figure out steps B and C, so I just want people to listen to me and take me at my word. I run the risk of looking arrogant or demanding.
3. Most decisions are a lot more like chess than they are ping pong.
How often do the decisions we face have two clear sides and simple back and forth parameters? Almost never. Sure, choosing between chicken or steak might be like that, but the real decisions of life contain many more shades of gray.
This is where I get stuck overanalyzing. Imagine sitting in front of a chessboard and trying to play both sides of a game in your head by memory. That’s my decision making world.
I want to make the right choice, so I analyze and dissect and imagine and strategize. I mentally calculate move by move trying to get to the conclusion, but it quickly becomes too hard to remember where the pieces are on the board.
But here’s the thing: a proper mindset is one of the most crucial requirements for making a good decision; if not the most crucial requirement. How often have you seen someone in the wrong frame of mind - whether that be jealous, angry, frustrated, impatient, fearful, etc. - make a good choice? And the right decision can never come at the wrong time or for the wrong reason or in the wrong situation because timing and nuance and reason are a part of what makes it the right choice!
The right mindset is crucial, so I’d like to share with you my trick for getting in the right state of mind.
The trick is to get outside of my own head and try to view myself and the situation from an outsiders perspective. Let me explain what this means.
I will try to imagine I’m watching myself almost like e character in a movie. I look at myself from the outside with that omniscient viewpoint of the movie goer, and I assess what I think the character (myself) should think, say, or do.
We’ve all seen a character in a movie think or say or do something that we thought made no sense. We’ve wanted to shout, “why are you going into the house!? Run away you idiot!” Usually just this simple change in viewpoint shows me exactly what I should do next. The decision becomes clear.
When I still feel like I need clarity, I’ll get into that mindset and then I’ll ask some questions.
First, “Would I want other people watching this movie?”
This one cuts to the core. Don’t just imagine you are watching your life like a movie in front of you, imagine you’re in a packed theater. If all the people around you knew the context - what was in your mind, all your motivations, what you did, and why you did it - would that change what you decide to do?
Second, “What would this look like if the movie made it look easy?”
We’ve all seen those scenes in movies where the character does something nearly impossible, but makes it look easy. Whatever you are facing, imagine what it would like if it wasn’t hard.
Third, “What advice would I give someone else who was in this situation?”
Or - what would I yell at the person on the screen?
Fourth (and my personal favorite), “what would the hero version of the person on the screen do, and what would the villain version of the person on the screen do?”
Remember, the person on the screen is YOU. What would you do if you were the hero of the story, and what would you do if you were the villain. Sometimes this will reveal different actions, but sometimes it will reveal differences in your motivations and thoughts. The hero and villain might do the exact same thing, just for different reasons.
If you get all the way through this exercise - you’ve put yourself in the right state of mind and asked yourself these questions - and you still can’t find clarity around your decisions, it’s time to seek outside help.
Flip a coin
Ask a friend
Let your wife decide for you
Write me an email and I’ll decide for you
Curl up in a ball and cry (just kidding)
In the end, you aren’t a character in some movie. You have to decide and live with the decisions. But removing yourself from the situation might make it less complicated. And it’s complications that usually make decision making difficult. When clarity emerges, so - usually - does the right choice.
Ralph might be right about making decisions, so it’s important to make the right ones. I hope this exercise helps you look like a badass in the movie version of your life!
Let me know any thoughts you have in the comments or shoot me an email!
Thanks everyone for reading,
My name is Dominick Albano and I'm an author, speaker, and consultant.