Make Decisions with Confidence

Paralysis by Indecision

It is always a challenge for me when someone expresses an interest in coaching but feels they aren’t ready for it. Sometimes it’s a money issue. Sometimes it’s a time issue. But sometimes it’s what I call paralysis by indecision. Some people are not really sure what they want, and think that until they decide, coaching can’t help them.

“I don’t know what to do.”
“I can’t decide.”
“I’m not ready right now.”

Imagine you wanted to go on vacation. You had the time and the money, but you didn’t know where you wanted to go. The world is such a vast and interesting place, with so many options. Go skiing or relax on the beach? Visit the pyramids in Egypt or the pyramid in Las Vegas? Wouldn’t it be a shame if you skipped your vacation just because you couldn’t decide where to go?

You see no one is ever “ready” for the next step in their personal growth. It’s a stretch, that’s why it’s called growth. Then again, in another sense, we’re always ready for the next step because life is growth. You’re either growing or you’re dying, there is no such thing as stasis.

As a coach, my job is to help you get from where you are to where you want to be. If where you are is stuck, I can help you get unstuck.

Some people hire a coach to help them with a goal like: I want to double my sales commissions by December 31, 2006 so my spouse can afford to go back to school. They are clear about what they want, why they want it, and when they want it by. The coach helps them with the how. Other people hire a coach to help them clarify their goals (which was the subject of the March Turn On to Life! Newsletter): I want to be healthier. The coach helps them with the what, the why, and the how.

A third group of people hire a coach because they know they want more out of life, but they don’t know what yet. Clarity is their goal, and that’s why they feel confused. But in reality, they are just as clear-they are clear about wanting clarity. I just help them put a focus to that goal: I want to clarify my values and define my mission in life so I can feel better about my chosen career, or make a change if my career is not in alignment with my values and mission.

Sometimes the most rewarding thing a person can get from any kind of personal development work is simply a greater sense of clarity and certainty about one’s life and choices.

I’ve been speaking in the third person, but maybe it’s you who feels this way. Maybe you feel like you have too many options to choose from. You’re paralyzed by indecision. Let’s look at a powerful way to help you get clear on what’s really important in your life. For those of you who already know what you want, this technique will help you make important decisions even more quickly and confidently than you do now.

Value Clarification

What do you value most? Love, money, honesty, passion? Integrity, health, generosity, humor? For many people, it’s difficult to express what they value most. We get so caught up in the urgency of the moment, we don’t have a clear sense of what our core values are? When your rent is due and you’re not sure how you are going to pay it, money may seem more important to you than love. But when your career is going well, and money is not an issue, but you are alone on Valentine’s Day, love may seem much more important than money.

So if you can’t really rely on the moment to show you what your true values are, how do you figure them out? Look to the past and the future.

The Time of Your Life

When were you happiest? When were you most proud? What were you doing at these times? What were you feeling? What values were you expressing or experiencing?

When does life seem to flow, as if success is effortless? When do you feel in the zone? What are you doing at these times? What are you feeling? What values are you expressing or experiencing?

Your life is an incredibly rich collection of experiences. By looking back at the times when you felt most successful, happiest, and most natural, you will gain an understanding of what is most important to you.

The People in Your Life

Now think about people you admire. Role models, mentors, teachers, managers, parents, friends, authors, great men and women from the past. Who are they? What about them do you admire? What values do they embody at the times you admire them the most?

Sometimes the first traits we admire in people are superficial. He has a lot of money. She’s beautiful and popular. But if you keep don’t stop at these first answers, and you keep asking yourself these questions, you will get to the important qualities. He’s funny and smart. She’s kind and giving. Look for themes, characteristics that show up in many of the people you admire most. Other people can serve as a mirror to help us learn about ourselves.

Your Legacy

Now, imagine yourself in the future, at the end of your life. You are surrounded by your children and their children, by your friends and peers, by your admirers. What do they love most about you? What do they admire about you? What have they learned from you? What values do you embody? Looking back across your whole life, what are you most proud of? What have you accomplished and what values were required for you to accomplish those things?

Our lives touch many people, and what we do will have an effect-good or bad-after we are gone. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

Rank Your List of Values

The result of asking all of these questions will be a long list of values. This is a great start, and by itself is quite useful in helping you make decisions when you are stalled. But when you take the time to rank your values, you will develop a clarity about your life that will enable you to make decisions more quickly and confidently than you ever thought possible.

Ranking your list of values is probably the most challenging part of the value clarification process. How do you choose between love and respect? How do you choose between honesty and integrity? It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Think about some of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make. Why was it so difficult? Because you did not have a clear sense of what was most important to you. Do I accept the job offer with a higher salary or the one with a greater opportunity to learn? Sure that’s a tough choice if you don’t know what you value more, money or education. But what if you knew? What if you knew that education was significantly higher on your list? That choice wouldn’t be a choice at all!

Regret and Second-guessing

Even without this value clarification process, you will often make choices that are consistent with what you value most. For example, you choose your mom’s birthday dinner (family, gratitude, love) over a weekend camping trip with your buddies (personal freedom, adventure, peer bonding). But what happens the next day when you hear about all of the wild fun your buddies had without you. You start to think, “Damn, I wish I had gone camping. I could have had dinner with my mom some other time.” Second-guessing, regret.

Regret and second-guessing are the result of a lack of confidence about your choice. And confidence is a result of clarity. Even if you had a great time, the best family dinner ever, it will never make you feel as free or adventurous or connected to your peers as a camping trip could. They are different experiences. With any choice like this, you will always have the risk of regret if you don’t know what’s most important to you.

This is even more evident when your choice has unforeseen negative consequences. For example, let’s say your boss asks you to work on Saturday, suggesting that it will help your chances for getting the promotion you want, but you’ve made a promise to your son to take him to some event he’s waited all year for. So you tell your boss that you can’t work on Saturday. Normally, this would not be such a big deal. You’ll still have a good shot at the promotion, and at worst, you’ll have to wait another year for it. But, that Saturday, your company loses an important client. Your boss overreacts, blaming it on your absence, and fires you. Now how do you feel about your choice to spend the day with your son instead of going to work? What kinds of things do you say to yourself? “What was I thinking? This day with my son was not worth losing my job over! I should have gone in to work.”

This is where clarity would help. You did not make a choice between your job and spending a day with your son. You made a choice between working a sixth day that week and keeping a promise to your son. If you were crystal clear that integrity with your son was more important to you than career advancement, you would see this situation as an overreaction by your boss and nothing more. But a lack of clarity will result in second-guessing and possibly even guilt, self-degradation, and shame.

Not only is it easier to make decisions when your values are clear, it is easier to live with those decisions.

(Value clarification is an important part of the 10-part Turn On to Life! course. In Class #4 you learn how your values are related to your beliefs and how to change disempowering values that no longer serve you. In Class #6, you use your ranked list of values to help you discover your unique purpose in life and to write your Personal Mission Statement.)

Note that, like a Mission Statement, this value clarification process can be adapted easily to group values. Families can use it to clarify their common values. Businesses can use it to clarify the corporation’s values. When all members of a group are on the same page, the likelihood of destabilizing internal conflict decreases.

Pick a Card, Any Card

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do if you are stalled is to make a decision, even if it is arbitrary. One of my favorite anecdotes illustrates this idea:

The head of a large organization assigned two management teams to research the effectiveness of two different strategies the organization could pursue. Each team spent a month analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of their assigned strategy. It turned out that both were very good strategies, and as a result, each team believed whole-heartedly that their particular strategy was the one that should be implemented. The head of the organization met with the two teams and listened to a half-hour presentation on each strategy. At the end of the presentations, he announced with no hesitation that the organization was going to implement the first strategy. Some people were happy with the decision, others not, but everyone left the room ready to take action.

Later, one of the most senior managers found himself alone with the head of the organization. He said, “Excuse me, sir, may I ask you a question about your decision today?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“Our best people spent a month researching these strategies, the complexities, the positive and negative consequences, the costs. And each team made a great case for their strategy. Pardon me for asking, but how could you know from a half-hour summary which strategy was better?”

“I don’t know. They are clearly both excellent strategies. What the organization needed was someone to make a decision. That’s my job and I did it.”

What this man knows and many people don’t is that the universe rewards action, not perfection. Now is better than perfect. When you make a choice you get feedback. You create a conversation with reality. And from this conversation you will learn the wisdom of your choice.

The lesson here is, when you are stuck, do something-anything-and you will gain useful information. If you choose A and it doesn’t work out, great! You now know something valuable: don’t do A! Now you can move on to choice B.

How many days, weeks, months, years, have you spent dwelling in indecision? Making a wrong choice and backtracking is still quicker than staying stuck in the mud.

Does this mean I am recommending that you jump into a situation without thinking? No, of course not. Be smart. Do your research, your due diligence. Contemplate the pros and cons. But research and contemplation can become an unending process if you let it. Sooner or later, a decision is necessary. Act now!

©2005 Curtis G. Schmitt

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