MAKING WISE DECISIONS AND CHOICES
A real decision is making up one’s mind based on a free, well thought out and personal commitment to a choice, option, proposal or alternative. To make a wise decision, we need realistic information, a collection of facts, figures and feelings. A healthy self-esteem, assertiveness, self-reliance, good judgement and confidence are qualities and characteristics that facilitate decision-making. It is mostly through our ability or inability to make decisions and choices that our life is as it is today. We take charge of our own lives every time we make real decisions based on our priorities and values. We always have a choice in what we do and how we think. Making choices and decisions offers the possibility to change and improve. On the other hand, if we have great difficulty making decisions and choices, we can have all sorts of problems and complications. Decisions can be terrifying since every time you have to make tough choices, there are inevitably risks and implications. Every major decision has an element of risk, but it also offers the possibility of a benefit. No matter what you do, sometimes you will make the wrong decision. In fact every time you take a tough decision, you must be willing to admit that you might make a mistake. No wonder a lot of people abdicate their responsibility to take decisions and make choices. They depend on others, procrastinate and don’t participate fully in their own life.
To start with, you need to have an objective perception of yourself and of reality. You have to understand who you are and know what you want. No one else knows enough about you to make the best decision for you. Every time you make a decision, you are expressing your personality, your values and your feelings. Every decision and choice you make and every action you take is based on your level of self-awareness. Your self-awareness can be defined as the clarity and vision with which you perceive and understand everything that affects your life. It determines your concept of reality. Your level of self-awareness dictates your experiences, attitudes, emotional reactions, anxieties and aspirations. Most importantly, it indicates your sense of self-image and personal worth, and how you feel about yourself.
Basic principles can guide you in making decisions in all aspects of your life. Start by asking yourself if it really matters what decisions you take. Ask yourself if you are truely meeting your needs and priorities. There are lots of choices and decisions you make each day that really don’t matter a great deal: things like what clothes or ties to wear, what toothpaste to use, what to eat for lunch, which birthday present to buy, what movies to see. While you want to make a good choice, don’t waste too much time on them. There are other times you may think you don’t have any choice. You have no choice because you are told to do something. You have no choice because you don’t like any of the alternatives suggested to you. You have no choice because you have a bad habit that you can’t change. These are just excuses. You always have choices even when you don’t like them. Accept that some choices will involve tradeoffs and compromises, some of which might be unpleasant.
As part of an organized society, it helps if whatever decision you take is legal. Gather as much information as you can so that you become more aware of the multitude of alternatives you have in any given situation. Inform yourself thoroughly of all options. Remember that you usually have more options than you think you have. Separate facts from opinions, assumptions, rumours and hearsay. Ask yourself what are the consequences of your decision. Get in touch with your deepest values and feelings. You may have to seek professional advice before making some decisions. Consult your lawyer for legal advice, your plumber for plumbing solutions and your doctor for a medical decision. When faced with a tough decision, concentrate on it and list the pros and cons on paper. Select your best option based on your factual information, priorities, and values. The decision taken should support your objectives and goals. To get better directions, you need a good map. Plan ahead and think it through. You usually go through this more rationale decision-making process when you have plenty of time to plan and choose, for example, when you want to buy a new or second hand car. There is an old Chinese saying that goes like this: “It takes less time to think things through to make a wiser decision than it does to correct a poor decision”.
There are situations when you don’t have time to ponder and you need to make a decision fast. Some examples are: while driving your car you come to a crossroad and you have no idea which way to turn; somebody points a gun at you and asks for your money; you are the only one at a scene of a fire and somebody trapped inside is calling for help. In these kinds of situations, you go with your instinct, impulse and gut feeling. There is no time to use the intellect and go through the rational decision-making process. Whenever time permits and especially for the more difficult decisions you need to use your rational thinking process together with your experience and intuition. When you find it difficult to make decisions, it means you have some doubt. Use your doubt to maintain perspective and to question your assumptions, judgments and motivations. Let yourself be guided by your main purpose in life, your core values and your priorities. Your decision should be consistent with your values, especially the value of respect. Remember: don’t do anything you would not want done to you!
If you are unsure about all the specifics of the issue in question but you still need to take a decision, you can ask yourself whether your decision enhances your fulfillment and happiness as well as that of those who will be affected by your decision. Ask yourself whether the guidelines mentioned above have been generally met and if they have, just do it. Sometimes it takes courage to make bold decisions and to achieve results. It helps to ask yourself what it will cost if you don’t take decisive action. It can be very tempting to wait for permission and confirmation before taking any decision. Often opportunities are lost that way. On the other hand, if you rush in to make quick decisions without taking into consideration the basic principles of the decision-making process, you can make mistakes and blunders. The most practical ways of making tough decisions are to use your information, insight, references, experience and intuition in conjunction with your values, beliefs and priorities. Basically, know yourself and your decisions will be wiser and more realistic.
We tend to idealize ourselves, expecting and demanding too much from ourselves. Some decisions need time for development and clarity. We want to make the right decisions all the time if possible. We have doubt and we are scared of making the wrong choices. We must overcome our fears of making wrong decisions. Without any doubt, we are going to screw up along the way! No matter what we do, we will sometimes make the wrong decisions and choices. Let’s face it, no decision is perfect. There are no absolutely right or wrong decisions, just different ones. While there is never a perfect choice, there are wise and sensible choices. Sometimes no matter how long we consider the different options, there are still several possible choices and solutions which are acceptable. It does not mean that we should be paralyzed by severe ambivalence, changing our mind back and forth. We should not procrastinate by exercising excessive caution, making sure we have ideal conditions for making a choice. Choosing not to make a decision can lead to anxiety, apathy, discouragement and low self-esteem. There is always the danger that other people will make the decision for you. It is much better to assess your situation clearly, think things through rationally and make the best choice you can rather than procrastinate. Remember that even the most serious decisions you make are usually not as important as you might think. Have the self-confidence to believe that whatever happens as a result of your decision, you’ll be able to handle it. Most of the time, the supposedly important decisions are forgotten as you move on. Once a decision is made, it’s the commitment and dedication you have to see it through that will determine whether it will turn out to be right or wrong. You then have to discard the other options and alternatives. The commitment to the designation and implementation of your choice is crucial to making it a good decision.
Of course, you have the right and flexibility to change your mind and have second thoughts if conditions have altered to warrant it. Sometimes when you realize you have made a mistake, you may still have enough time to correct it. With each decision, if you have done the best you can under the circumstances and it still doesn’t work out, you have to accept the fact and live with the consequences. Whenever you make a choice that turns out to be wrong, be honest with yourself, learn from it, use the lesson to make better decisions in the future and move on. Don’t dwell on it. Determine where you went wrong and avoid the same mistake in the future. Some of the greatest lessons you can learn are from your own mistakes. When your decisions are based on your opinions, you have the flexibility to change them to fit your preferences. When you are depressed or have severe anxiety, it is wise to delay important and major decisions. Avoid making decisions when you are angry, frustrated or emotionally charged since you may have to suffer the consequences. A low self-esteem, dependency on others and the need to be accepted and liked can block you from making effective decisions.
Remember that you are only capable of choosing as wisely and rationally as you can under any circumstances depending on the knowledge and information you have, your state of mind, your preconditioning, and your thinking skills. Learn to trust your ability to make choices. The more you are prepared and willing to make decisions, the easier and more natural the process becomes. A larger percentage of your choices will align themselves with your values and will to be right for you. Successful decision-making experience builds self-confidence which in turn facilitates the process. Realism and knowing oneself is the key to wise decision-making. It is through your decisions and choices that you shape and determine your destiny.
Make a decision right now that can steer you in a new and positive direction of growth and happiness. What will be your new decision to make the most of your life?
Excerpt from my book: Become your best