How to make confident decisions
Ooh, now here’s a big one for me. For as long as I can remember, making confident decisions has always been a bit of a struggle. When graduating from high-school some 20 years ago my friends actually wrote into our yearbook under my name:
Should I, or should I not..?
I know, bad right?!
If you too are agonizing over every big and small decision then let me tell you, there is hope for us, even for hopeless cases like me. Once I realised that this is a habit, and that it can be trained like a muscle, life starts to flow a lot easier.
But in order to successfully establish new habits, we first need to dig a little deeper by:
- Identifying the underlying causes/blockages/fears that lead to indecisiveness.
- Acknowledging (lovingly and with a sense of humour) your reactions.
- And regaining confidence in your intuition.
So let’s explore:
What is really going on and why do we get stuck making confident decisions?
Every decision comes with uncertainty. Should I go for A, or better choose B? Do I take this route, or the other? What are the consequences?
Do I listen to my head, or follow my heart?
Our minds don’t like uncertainty, and there are some common strategies we might have developed in order to get away from it:
1) Research, research, and more research.
To this day this is my favourite”tool” and one of the most common things we do when we feel uncertainty. We do an online research, read all about it, try to gain more clarity by gaining more information. When it comes to big decisions of course this is a valueable strategy, you need to get the facts, but often there comes a point when it’s just too much. We might have gathered all the information we possibly can, but we still feel confused and uncertain.
2) Write a pro & con list.
Or a cost-benefits analysis. Or some other kind of rational decision-making strategy. I know people who make the most elaborate spreadsheets listing different factors/criteria, scoring them, and weighing the factors so they can come up with an overall score. While it’s great to put things on paper, uncertainty remains. These tools are helpful, but recognize that they are just another way to relieve the discomfort of uncertainty.
3) Ask other people about their opinion.
Oh yes, I used to do this a lot. Instead of following my gut instinct I’d consult all my closest (and even not so close) friends until I got even more confused. Of course it can be very helpful to speak to someone in order to get an objective view, but do recognize that in the end the decision is yours, and you probably still feel uncertain.
The classic response to uncertainty: getting away from making a decision, not thinking about it, delaying. But of course this doesn’t get you away from the feeling of uncertainty. It stays with you, giving you stress and bad sleep.
Do you recognize any of these?
Which one is your favourite, your default strategy?
While some of these tactics can be immensely valuable - to a certain point - they do also consume a HUGE amount of time and energy. And none of them really solve the problem for us, do they? Not on a deeper level. So the billion dollar question is:
Why are we so uncomfortable with uncertainty?
Be assured it’s not just me or you, it’s human nature. We cling to things, we want a certain outcome. We make up stories in our head, we create scenarios, we have expectations, and we get attached.
There is fear of missing out, fear of making a massive mistake, fear of failure, fear of success (yes that does exist). We ruminate about the consequences of our decision, and we wonder whether we’ll be ok if we make the wrong choice.
Luckily the world isn’t as black and white as our minds like it to be. There simply is no “right” choice. For most decisions we make, we’ll be perfectly fine. And we are equipped to deal with the consequences that come along.
Creating a new set of habits
As we clearly can’t get rid of the uncertainty around decision-making, we need to stop agonizing over it. Life is pretty much defined by uncertainty. Can we feel excited about this and embrace the constant flow of life instead of going decision-crazy?
We can do all the research, come up with a decision-making system, delay... and we are still unsure of what choice we should make. We still feel anxious about it. And we will never be able to control the outcome, how people react and how circumstances play out.
Yes, the workings of the universe are a mystery, but recognize that you are connected.
You need to create space in order to listen.
If we could just cut out the mental noise, get quiet and follow our intuition, confident decision-making should be sharp and sweet.
I know, blurry subject. How do I even hear my instincts, you might wonder? What is the fast track? Of course there is no magic bullet but a little daily practice goes a long way. Yoga, meditation, body scans, journaling, getting out in nature… All great helpers.
And then we also need to learn to be ok with uncertainty, and get into the habit of making decisions without second-guessing.
We need to get used to the fact that whatever choice we make, there will be a cost. And that is true even if we make no decision at all - that too is a decision, and it has consequences. Over the long run, the cost of indecision is usually worse than the cost of making the wrong decision.
Out with the old. In with the new!
So now that we looked at some of the root causes of indecisiveness let’s get practical. Let’s train your mind to make a decision, and move on. Let go of the stress about whether it’s the right choice (there’s no such thing) and instead deal with whatever consequences come along.
Learn to trust that you’ll be ok.
Here’s a set of habits that helped me greatly to make confident decisions without the painful procrastination. Play with it, find a set of tools that work for you, and practice:
1) Recognize the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty.
As you start with your habitual indecisiveness, notice that you’re feeling unsure, insecure and probably stressed. Your mind starts spinning and is doing a great job to either create stories or to get away from it. It’s about acknowledging what’s going on when you’re stuck with a decision, right in the moment as it’s happening. No need to do anything about it, no need to push it away. Just recognize and allow it to be there.
2) Explore with curiosity.
Get quiet, lie down, and drop from your head into your body. Notice the physical sensations of uncertainty in your body. Where is it located, and what is the texture of the sensation? Stay with this feeling for a moment, not worrying about the decision you have to make, but instead being curious about the physical feeling. Does it change? Does it move? Is it unbearable, or can you stay with it? Can you relax around the physical sensations?
By this I don’t mean a rational pro & con list. I mean having a journal by your bed and writing three messy pages first thing in the morning. Whatever comes to mind. This has helped me so much over the years to reconnect to my instincts and figure out what I really want. With all the information overload, with all the noise in our heads about right and wrong, our intuition is a much more reliable source than our head. Decision-making comes so much easier when you know what you truly want.
Enjoy nature. Breath. Move. Play. Sweat. Meditate. Clear your head, get into flowstate. And afterwards sit down, and do the rational bit that needs to be done:
5) Get the info & evaluate.
This is the practical part. Now that you realize that uncertainty isn’t something you need to run away from, you can just make the best decision you’re able to make. That might mean doing some research, gathering information, even asking others for advise. Information doesn’t hurt, but don’t let this delay your decision. And don’t procrastinate by trying to gather every single bit of info you can. What are the costs, what are the benefits, what could be the best and the worst outcome? Again, don’t take forever evaluating all of this, just give these things some consideration and then take action, knowing you have done the best you can.
6) Don’t look back & deal with what comes up.
Now that you’ve made the decision, get out of the habit of second-guessing yourself, worrying that you've made the wrong choice. Just follow through with it, until you can see the consequences - both negative and positive. Cherish the positive consequences, and deal with the negative ones. It’s no big deal.
Think of it like surfing: Are you going to bemoan the fact that the wave didn’t break exactly as you’d hoped, or are you just going to flow with the wave?
So let me summarize these steps:
- Acknowledge the discomfort of uncertainty.
- Drop into your body and stay with the feeling in curiosity.
- Gather info and make the best decision you can.
- And then deal with whatever consequences come up. Trust that you'll be fine.
Practice with baby steps!
A great way to train your mind is by starting with very small, unimportant decisions. What will I have for lunch? What am I going to wear? Am I going to yoga or to a friend’s dinner on Friday?
And then stick with your decision. It's done, no more procrastination, no more energy wasting.
Practice decision-making every single day for a month, and make it fun. Notice as often as you can when your old habit of indecisiveness comes up, and then put your new set of tools into action, replacing old habits with new ones.
Do it with joy, compassion and a sense of humour.
After a few weeks you will notice that you’re moving faster. You’re learning to trust your instincts, and you’re becoming more confident in your decisions.
And that is worth putting in some extra effort to form this new habit, isn’t it!