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Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to Make Decisions

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Making decisions can be tough. I sometimes fantasize about writing to advice columnists for the really difficulty decisions because getting input from other people is one way to gain clarity about decisions. In the end, however, I have to take responsibility for the decision I make regardless of whom I consult.

How many decisions did you make in a day?

We probably can’t remember all of them. The fact is we are making decisions all the time. It can be a fairly simple process such as making a selection and choosing one thing over another. Shall I have my eggs scrambled, or over easy? Shall I wear black or blue today? Shall I drive to the gym or walk? Most likely we also change our minds frequently in the course of a day when it comes to these simple decisions. Nope, I’ve changed my mind; I’m going to drive to the gym after all.

When it comes to tougher decisions, the ones that are life changing, they loom larger and seem to be more difficult to make. Shall I stay married, or shall I get a divorce? Shall I sell this property, or should I hold onto it until the market improves? Should I stay with this job and be secure, or should I venture out into a new are and do something I really want to do?

What is it about these decisions that make them so difficult?

Part of the challenge comes with considering the consequences of one choice over the other and we begin to entertain the answer to what if? Thinking about all the possible alternatives can be exhausting - who wants to make a decision after all that mental strain? Then there is the haunting worry of making the correct choice in the end.

One of the most unproductive mental exercises I engage in when I’m trying to make a decision is that of imagining the worst case scenario for each possible outcome in the decision. It is as if some voice in me imagines that if I let myself get all stewed up and thoroughly investigate the worst case outcomes it will truly help me make the decision.

Decision making can also be appropriately slow and challenging when we are in the research phase. In other words, we are still gathering information about the possible choices and we are not yet clear on the direction to follow. In this phase we might be busily integrating information by asking friends for opinions, reading and trying on different scenarios. There comes a time, though, when hiding out in research and opinion gathering can act as a block to making a choice and moving ahead.

Tell me, what should I do?

When I lived in Hollywood, California, one of the things that amazed me is the abundance of psychic’s with neon lit store fronts on the major boulevards. I have nothing against psychics; it was just an interesting confirmation for me that we very much want more information to be able to successfully navigate through life. Even when we seem to have made up our minds about something, or the signs are clearly in support, there nevertheless can be that lingering need for validation from someone or something.


Perhaps because we do not want to choose wrongly.

At a conference I was standing in line at a buffet to get food. The lady in front of me go to the salad dressing where she discovered, blue cheese, honey mustard, thousand islands, Hawaiian islands, French, house, Italian, herb, curried, light, creamy, spicy and a few others. She sighed and said “Oh how I hate it when there are so many choices. It is so much simpler when someone else chooses for me, or when there are only two items to select from.” Having many choices can be overwhelming. And having to decide between two equally important issues can be equally as stressful.

There are so many influencing factors when it comes to how and why we make the choices we make. Our upbringing, our culture, our environment and so much more have a lot to do with how we make decisions. So deep does the conditioning run that we may not even be aware that the world’s opinion is controlling our thinking.

What can help?

Knowing what you want makes a decision swift and easy to make. But who always knows what they want? Actually, sometimes it’s not that we don’t know, it’s that we do know, but struggle with the pressure from friends and family to be, do and act in certain ways that conform to expected norms.

“I’ll have the blue cheese dressing, thank you.”

“No dear, you should have the light dressing.”

So many people are careful to conform to what friends and family want that they lose their sense of self. When a person makes a choice to fit in, or based on fear of not fitting in, or based on what other people’s expectations are, that really can’t be counted as making a decision at all. It’s as if you are not giving yourself credit for being able to decide something.

Why would we want to do what everybody else has done? Unless that is exactly what we want to do?

The Sunday School teacher asked, “How many of you want to go to Heaven?” All the children raised their hands, but Henry didn’t. “Not me,” he said when asked why he hadn’t raised his hand, “Not if these guys are going to end up there.”

Making a choice based on your own inner conviction may require going against the group mind tendency and that takes some resiliency. It means you’re going to have to not be swayed by the prevailing thoughts of the nation, or of your family, or of your religion, and so on. Take a look at the strip malls of our country and notice that they are all exactly the same. The same super stores display the same wares with the same sales at the same time in every city across the country. The most interesting people, in my opinion, are those who think for themselves and don’t take what is served to them and who don’t feel insecure about not going with the crowd.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a simple, methodical, practical, spiritual method to making decisions, one that worked under all circumstances?

I believe such a method already exists. I believe there is a Power in Life that is greater than we are individually and that we are using it all the time in our thinking. Whether we use that power to go with the group or head off into new territories, it responds to us in exactly the same way. In my opinion, the common mistake has been all along to think that there are many choices to be made, many decisions to resolve, but there are not. There is only one important decision to make: will I turn to the world for my inspiration and decisions or will I turn within to that Power? In other words, will I let people, places, events and popularity factor into my choices, or will I develop a keen and clear relationship with this inner Power and turn to It for directions?

That’s Not All There Is To It

Once we make the decision to consult with the inner Power, we have taken the first step towards solving every puzzle in life, and resolving every choice, and mastering this thing called life. Now that is not all there is to it, unfortunately. Once we have made the determination to turn with in, we have to know how exactly to do it. How do we consult that Power? Well it takes time and practice to become acquainted with this Power, especially if you’ve not had any relationship with It. You can build a relationship with it, by striking up a conversation. You do that in your own silent self-talk.

The first thing to do is to begin to include phrases in your self-talk that remind you of the decision you have made. Everyone has self-talk in abundance, so why not actively introduce phrases such as “There is a Power within me that knows and I am becoming aware of It.” When you find yourself questioning your ability and needing to re-think your choices, be sure to say to yourself frequently “The Power within me is resolute and strong and clear and wise.” When you find yourself confused and mystified as to what to do and where to go, start saying silently “There is a Power greater than I am within me and it guides me, inspires me, and causes me to see clearly, to act quickly and choose wisely.”

That’s exactly how you begin and that’s exactly what you do when you are faced with a decision, remind yourself through your self-talk that you’ll be making your choice from the influence of that Power within you.

The next step is the sweetest and the best.

Just wait.

It can be the sweetest and best step if you have patience enough to trust waiting. For some people it seems like the most difficult step. But here is how I think of it. Have you ever invited a good friend to come visit that you have not waited for? No! We have to wait for the arrival of our gust. Once the invitation is made, you know your friend is coming and you go about your work preparing for the arrival in good faith that he or she will soon stand at your doorstep.

You don’t stand at the door and check every five minutes. You are effectively freed up to do other things, to go about living your life, to wash the dishes, read a book or whatever pleases you. Think of your self-talk as the invitation you have issued to a honored guest.

And then…

The last leg of the journey is to develop sensitivity to what comes through to you. You’ve made the decision to trust the inner Power, you’ve included reinforcing self-talk and you’ve gone about your life while you wait. Now add to this an air of gentle expectancy. I say this because so many times in my life other people have noticed that what I was waiting for had been right under my nose. I became too preoccupied with waiting and stopped noticing what was happening around me.

Once I have done my inner work, I try to be mindful to pay attention to everything in my life as possible avenues of my answer.

There is a Power greater than I am, and greater than you are that is everywhere, that we experience within our own being, that we can trust to inspire us to see clearly and act wisely.

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