Remember that tip Indiana Jones got near the end of the Last Crusade movie, when he had to decide which goblet was the Holy Grail? The consequences of his choice were pretty simple: immortality, or immediate death.
Not every decision we make in life will be so dramatic, thankfully. But if you look back on your days and weeks, you’ll see how almost everything in your life has come about through a series of small and not-so-small decisions. You chose when to get out of bed this morning, what to wear, what and to eat, and dozens of other things that have had an impact on your day, because they affect how you look, how you feel, how others see you and so on. Seemingly inconsequential choices add up, creating your life: how healthy, happy, prosperous, and balanced you are.
It all feels a little overwhelming, doesn’t it? And I haven’t even talked about the big stuff yet: like deciding to start your own business, get financing, or enter into partnerships (business or romantic). How can you know you’re making the right decisions? What if you don’t choose wisely?
There are never any guarantees–sorry. What I can tell you is that it becomes a lot easier to make decisions you feel good about, when you follow these guidelines:
- Get clear on your values. What is truly important to you? Not because it’s the cause of the month, but because you’re really passionate about it. If being kind to animals is one of your values, it helps you decide which products to buy, foods to eat and businesses to support. It can help you decide which suppliers to use for your business, and may help you choose the products and services you offer.
- Set Goals. When you know what you want to accomplish in the big picture, goal-setting gives you a compass and makes it easy to say yes or no to decisions. This is true when deciding what to eat for lunch, if your goal is to slim down to a healthy weight, and it’s also true if you’re trying to decide whether or not to pursue a business opportunity, as I was recently. Be clear about your big picture of success and revisit it often.
- Picture it. Once you know your goals, get a clear visual image in your head of what they look like. Then cut out images from magazines, or get photos of the things and experiences you want. Put these photos in strategic places: are you saving up for a trip to Italy? Put a beautiful photo of Tuscany beside your credit card in your wallet, and every time you go to make an unnecessary purchase you’ll be reminded to ask yourself if making that choice will take you farther away from your ultimate goal.
- Weigh the pros and cons. Obvious advice, yes. But people often neglect this step. Do yourself a favour and take the time to make a list, even if it’s just a quick one in your head. What will life look like if you do or don’t do this? What are the risks? What are the potential benefits – are they worth the risk? what’s the worst that could happen? If the pros heavily outweigh the cons and you’re still afraid to say yes, tune into your intuition. Should you feel the fear and do it anyway, or is your gut saying no for a reason? Your ego may simply be fighting against your best interests.
- Talk to people you trust. It’s important to pick people who are good listeners, who don’t have a lot of hang-ups or issues that could colour their judgment. Ideally, they will be an impartial observer who can ask you the right questions and help you come to your own conclusions.
- Be quiet. Calming yourself with meditation techniques, or simply going for a long walk can help clear your mind, putting you in a much better state for making a decision.
- Sleep on it. Ask yourself the question you’re facing before you fall asleep, and let your sub-conscious mind work it out. When you wake up, have a pen and paper ready to write down any thoughts that come to you immediately.
- Muscle-testing. There are various ways of using your body as a gauge for making decisions. For example, Jack Canfield will calm himself, ask himself the question he’s facing, and if he feels himself shifting forward it means yes, if he shifts backwards it means no. This is a system he’s devised himself through trial and error. A common method is to pinch the tips of your thumb and index finger together as hard as you can to make a solid ring, and use the index finger of your other hand to pry them apart while you concentrate on one option–for example, teaming up with a new partner–and then get do the same exercise again while concentrating on the other option–going solo. The theory is, your fingers will be harder to pry apart when you’re considering the option you’re best aligned with.
It’s been my experience that all the answers are inside of us, but we need to be still enough to hear them. And when you’re clear about your values and goals, decisions become incredibly easy to make. We all need a little help from time to time though, and I hope these techniques will serve you well.