“It’s a shortcut,” they said.
“Okay,” Anne replied. She decided to follow her new pals towards the local playground. It was a sunny day and her team had just won the first game of tag in her neighbors’ front yard. So, off they went. She rounded the corner and into the back yard, through the woods and down the path following a dozen chatty kids. The pace picked up and everyone was running. Anne was not as fast as the boys and a little faster than the other girls. She rounded the big Oak tree, then towards the creek and jumped high enough not to splash her yellow dress. Then, a quick climb up a slight hill towards the ridge and there was the playground. As she turned, she noticed a few kids cutting around the creek towards a small make-shift bridge. It was a quick glance, then a short jog to the softball field for another game of tag. Her team won three in a row.
Until that day, all of the new kids fell for that trick. Typically, they would run down towards the creek at the widest part. Only the kids that could actually make the leap went first; leaving just enough space for the new kid to see where to go. Some would get scared and fall down into the mud. Others would not even try. Anne broke the cycle. There was zero hesitation when she took her leap. No fear at all. She had just enough experience, information, and confidence in herself to trust in her ability to keep the dress dry. Anne was going to have fun with her new friends, however her priority was to keep her yellow dress as clean as possible. She didn’t have much time to worry about anything else.
As children, we are drastically less impacted by the stresses of…"adulting". As adults, we are forced to multitask our decisions. We are managing our bank accounts during the last few days in our credit card billing cycle (on our smartphones) while deciding which organic, gluten-free, vegan oat milk to buy at the grocery store today. When we are young, we only have a certain amount of hard drive space to fill, so to speak. We have parents, teachers, and extended families mixed with homework, hobbies, and holidays. For the most part, our lives are planned for us. Anne had a limited amount of information to prioritize that afternoon: (1) be home at 4:30 pm (2) homework before dinner (3) keep the dress clean.
In Malcolm Gladwell's second book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005), the author describes the main subject of his book as "thin-slicing": our ability to use limited information from a very narrow period of experience to come to a conclusion. This idea suggests that spontaneous decisions are often as good as - or even better than - carefully planned and considered ones. There was not enough time for Anne to carefully consider a plan to the leap over the widest part of the creek. Her plan was simply to keep the dress clean and to fit-in with her new friends.
Let’s weave the Pareto principle into this story (why not?). The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Perhaps then, most of our choices (causes) are based on limited information. The outcomes (effects) of our choices are what we have to deal with as humans every day. If we are constantly making a majority of our decisions with limited intelligence, then shouldn’t we expect to learn a lot of lessons along the way? Often times, we can get caught in reflection of those outcomes and attach fear-based emotions to our past decisions or circumstances. This limits our ability to be decisive and make choices in the future and can lead us to in-action; the in-ability to make a choice.
Research into the psychology of indecision shows invariably negative effects, with indecisiveness limiting our success in everything from our careers to romantic relationships. Additionally, indecision psychology indicates there are diverse causes. So, what causes indecisiveness in you may not be the same thing that triggers it in someone else. Your triggers might be trying to please people; thinking that if you let others get their own way, they’ll like you. If you get into the habit of letting everyone else go first when it comes to making a decision, you could lose the ability to make your own choices. After a landslide of bad choices leaves you disappointed, you can lose faith in your own judgment and trust yourself less and less. Modern society also presents plenty of options. When you want to decide where to go for dinner, when to book a flight, or what hat to buy, you’re bombarded by potential outcomes.
Being decisive is scary. The most common reason for being indecisive is fear of failure. Making a decision means that you might be wrong. No one likes to live with ‘being wrong’. Being decisive can be intimidating, but remember that not making a decision is also making a decision. Inaction is often more damaging, so you actually increase your chances of failing by not deciding. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”. - W.G.
Being decisive could mean that you hurt someone’s feelings. Often, making a decision means choosing one person’s idea over another’s. We want to be liked, and so we tend to be afraid that deciding against someone will ruin that relationship. Remember, that not making a decision is also a decision. By not aligning with the best idea, you are essentially saying that both ideas are bad and could lead to frustration from everyone involved. That being said, decisiveness might lead to some people getting upset. That’s life. By being proactive with a decision, you can control how it’s communicated and most of us will respect you for that down the road.
Being decisive means deciding without all the information. We are always being asked to make a decision with limited information and there’s always more intel we could get. This certainly causes delay and at its most extreme, it becomes ‘paralysis by analysis’. If you want more information, be specific and ask yourself questions. What information do you need and how long will it take? Is it really worth your time and effort?
Just for a minute, let’s consider the other side. Is there such a thing as being too decisive? Research in social psychology and behavioral economics suggests that decisiveness is not an unequivocal good. Studies on “mindset” reveal that, when contemplating an important decision, prematurely focusing on execution can exacerbate decision-making biases and lead to excessive risk-taking. Personally, I am guilty of this. I’m the type that will typically jump into the pool before properly testing the temperature of the water. While a decision-making bias may not result in bad decisions, real-world evidence suggests that a poor decision is often the byproduct of prematurely switching to an implemental mindset. “Don’t put the cart before the horse,” they say. For some of us, that’s hard to do. Have you ever found yourself in a situation and wondered, “how did I get into this?”.
There is a balance to everything. Walking the fine line of the “decision making process” can prove challenging for everyone. We’re all unique and fit into different places along the decisiveness scale. For me, I can get into all sorts of trouble by making quick decisions. This leads to situations that often require a fast solution so that I can begin micro-managing whatever ‘next thing’ I’ve gotten into. It’s a high-risk high-reward protocol and I’ve learned to accept that I may find myself dealing with consequences that I could have avoided by more planning. So be it.
No matter what team you play for (Making Quick Decisions vs. Making No Decisions), there are an abundance of tools that help during the process. I use the following list to help me navigate life’s more difficult decisions:
Being More Decisive
● Conquer the Fear - the hardest part is loving and trusting myself
● Stop Analyzing Everything - there’s always more information
● Ask For Advice - confide in a mentor or friend outside the situation
● Visualize the Outcome - meditate and play-out the “best results” possible
● Start Small - prioritize tasks and begin with the ones that take less time
● Perfection Is a Myth - do my best and manage expectations
● Be Proud - confidence is sexy
Finally, utilizing specific tools like prayer, meditation, and focused breathing to practice self-awareness can help calm the chaos of everyday life. The ability to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system during a hectic day is paramount on the journey towards inner peace. In Robin Sharma’s new book The 5AM Club, the author reveals his 20/20/20 formula. Suggesting that we all start our day with 20 minutes of movement (yoga/blood flow), 20 minutes of reflection (prayer/journal), and 20 minutes of learning (reading/podcasts). It’s a fundamental belief that exercise, mindfulness, and educating ourselves can lead to better choices and strengthen our ability to accept the outcomes. At the end of the day, there’s always work we can do to be better versions of ourselves. Not only to make good decisions, but also to be confident and happy with the results. After all, we’re only human
Michael Flowers is a musician, poet, and entrepreneur living in Los Angeles, CA. He is currently working as a consultant with a start-up media company in Hollywood and is the Executive Producer & Host of Why Lab Podcast. When not creating audio/video content, Michael loves spending time outdoors with his dog, Skye.