By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Anthony Robbins, the self-help guru, said, “I believe it’s our decisions, not the conditions of our lives, that determine our destiny.” That powerful statement implies that we each are more in control of our current and future situation than we might believe. Decisions create action, and action creates results. Making decisions today will shape your tomorrows.
Many of us sit on the fence about important decisions in our lives because we’re afraid of living with the consequences of making a wrong choice. We won’t make perfect decisions all the time, and we don’t have to. It’s been said there are no wrong decisions, only different lessons to learn. Understand that not doing anything is actually a decision not to act. Either way, you’re in control of the situation. A well-thought-out decision, even one that dares to assume some risk, is a powerful force.
As it is with all things, decision making is something that improves with practice. So start with small decisions and build your capabilities. Here are five ways to flex your decision-making muscles.
1. Get more information. I’m amazed at how many people try to decide on something important based on limited information. You can find information on the Internet and in the public library about almost anything. But the best way to learn is to speak with people who have been there and done that. For example, talk to several people working in a specialty you’re interested in, or get some ideas from those with the graduate degree you’re considering. The more facts and anecdotal information you have, the better able you’ll be to make a decision that’s right for you. No one information source is complete, but each helps build a bigger picture. Many times, facts will surface that you hadn’t considered.
2. Write down what you’re thinking. Writing is a great way to sort things out. You can use your computer or put pen to paper. When you write, you take an idea from the abstract and to the concrete. It’s also a means of expression that often leads to clarity and decision making. You can see it, read it, go back over it, and analyze it. What should you write? You can assemble the facts, express your thoughts and feelings, and jot down questions that loom in your mind. Have a “conversation” with yourself on paper. Reading your thoughts can be telling. While you’re at it, write down the names of people you need to speak with or information you need to get. If you write it down, you’re likelier to act on it.
3. Make a pro-and-con list. This simplistic technique can help put things in perspective. Sometimes when we try to make a decision, the potential drawbacks dominate our thoughts. Likewise, we may latch onto a benefit and overlook the potential negatives. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. Use one column to record the pluses; write down the minuses in the other. If you’re trying to decide between several possible choices, make a list for each and compare them all.
4. Talk it out. Discuss your situation and indecision with a trusted friend or colleague. Your friend may be able to give you advice based on his or her own experience. But aside from that, talking is itself therapeutic. That’s why many of us pay a professional to listen to our problems – not only do we hear ourselves out loud, but our listener can give us objective feedback based on our words, emotions, and body language. Often, I can tell just by listening to someone that he or she has a clear slant one way or the other, even though that person can’t see it. Discussion, brainstorming, feedback, input, and validation are all important elements of effective decision making.
5. Go with your gut and listen to your heart. How many times have you made a decision against your better judgment and later regretted it. We say, “I should have listened to my gut instinct” or “I knew in my heart it wasn’t the right thing to do.” It’s happened to all of us more than once. Learn to listen to your inner voices and your gut reaction to things. Spend some quiet alone time with your thoughts, away from the distractions of everyday life. It is said that all the answers we seek are within us if we only take the time to listen.
Create your own positive tomorrows by making decisions about your life and career today. Rather than wasting away in inactivity and indecision, build up your decision-making muscles for a strong and healthy future.
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