Our decisions shape the progress of our lives and careers, representing the challenges and uncertainties of life. How we answer them determines our place in society. Our success in the parts we play as a manager, husband, wife, father, writer, athlete, entrepreneur, student, relies on the choices we make. Making good decisions is a fundamental life skill. Some decisions are obvious and require less deliberation with minimal consequences. Those are the exceptions. But there are potential choices which require a great deal of self-reflection and assessment. Questions like:
Should I go to university?
Am I willing to change careers?
Will I have children?
Where should I live?
Should I earn more money but remain unfulfilled?
Will I learn a new skill?
How should I invest my savings?
Decision Making Process
Most of us dread making tough choices because they bring anxiety, fear, uncertainty, regret and expose us to the judgements of others. Our discomfort leads us to making quick, impulsive decisions, or not deciding at all. Sometimes we even let luck define our fate, flipping a coin to determine where which way we go. The good news is, we can learn to make smarter choices easier through a decision making process.
Step 1. Identify The Decision and Objectives
When deciding to act, it’s essential to identify the choice you’re about to make. What are you trying to achieve when you say yes or no? How does it benefit your life? What do you want to be known for? We should think of our decisions as a form of goal-setting and a way of self-reflection to gain a vantage point for all other decisions which come along the journey. If we skip this step, we increase the risk of making ineffective decisions and taking action for the wrong reasons. For example, you may be faced with a decision to quit your job. Is it a new career you’re chasing, or is it a different boss you’re looking for? Identifying the decision and your objectives, you avoid making an unbalanced choice.
Further to asking self reflective questions, acknowledge what your ultimate goal is. ‘I start at A, but what do I want when I get to B’. Thinking through your objectives gives direction to your decision making.
Step 2. Choose Your Alternatives
Our alternatives represent the range of potential choices available to us in pursuing our objective. Because we are subsctepticle to dwelling in failure from one choice, we should acknowledge different approaches to reach our objectives. In the example of changing careers as an objective, there are tradeoffs to consider: How much time will I be required to sacrifice to learn something new? Am I willing to earn less in the beginning to make more in the future?
The alternatives are not a single action, but are a set of actions comprising individual elements that together provide an approach to reach the objective.
When we don’t take enough time entertaining all factors available to us, we can overlook opportunities and alternate courses of action which help our objective. To choose the best for us, we should ask ourselves a set of questions:
Am I overlooking anything?
If I did XYZ, what would happen?
What could be possible if…?
Our answers determine how well we have self reflected and negotiated all alternatives available to us. One thing to remember is we can never choose an alternative we haven’t considered. For example, If we would like to move houses, there may be one amazing house available to rent, but if you’re unaware of it, you won’t move there. No matter how many alternatives you have, your chosen can be no better than the best of the lot. Thus, the payoff from seeking new alternatives can be extremely high.
Step 3. Following Through
The third step is the first step in performance. The self-reflection and the allocation of decisions has been done. This is now the time for action. When we don’t understand how to reach our objectives, it becomes easy to be indesisive. What’s important is taking the first step and aligning our behaviour with action towards the objective. The first step may be showing up to the gym for the first time, researching how to start a new business, or starting conversations with a financial advisor. Whichever your objective is, performing the first step brings a great deal of clarity to take an extra step. The clarity you incur from this following through the decision making process extends itself from the learning and experiences in taking action. Our clarity has the ability to create our own motivation.
Step 4. Measure Your Actions
Without a way to measure, we risk seeing the seeing results from the choices we make. We should always be vigilant in what’s working and not working. If one alternative isn’t serving us, then it’s time to choose another. We waste previous time doing something the wrong way for too long. To clarify what it is we are measuring, we should ask ourselves some questions:
How will I know if I am making progress towards my goal?
How can I specifically measure my progress?
When will I know I’ve achieved my outcome?
When measuring our objectives, we put ourselves in position to make better decisions throughout our journey.
Step 5. Remain Flexible
As we strive to reach our objectives, things don’t always plan how we see them. There are often unexpected troughs amongst the expected peaks. Along the journey of taking action on an ultimate decision in life, our paths are likely to change and we will need to alter the course.
The goal should still remain the same. We should always think of making smaller adjustments to improve so we can continue to make optimal decisions based on our ultimate goals. The decision making process will help put you in a better position to achieve the results you seek.