“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
To do or not to do? An untaken decision often nags us at the back of our minds, even if we are engaged in other tasks throughout the day. Many of us tend to avoid making critical decisions until we’re left with no choice or we run out of time to think. It might be because we fear that our decisions could lead to failure, and we don’t want to make the wrong choices. Or, because the choices we are presented with seem equally beneficial or equally difficult and we get paralyzed into indecision.
What can help us snap out of such decision-making inertia and move towards the right choices? Here are two useful techniques:
- Think long-term. Dr Edward Banfield, political scientist and researcher, describes the ‘long-term perspective’ attitude in his book ‘The Unheavenly City’ – where he studied why some people became more successful and financially independent compared to others. The defining factor for this success, according to his study, was the ability to think long-term.
According to him, most successful people are intensely future-oriented. They think about the future most of the time, rather than thinking only of the next few hours or even minutes. Many of us tend to focus on the foreseeable, short-term benefits of a certain choice, in the process ignoring the long-term effects. However, when making important decisions, it’s beneficial to consider one’s vision for the future and see how the choices would affect those prospects.
- Eliminate decision fatigue. A study was conducted on the decision-making pattern of a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist, and a social worker. The study, spread over the course of a year, reviewed more than 1100 decisions to suggest that the pattern of the board’s decision was based on the timing of the hearing. It revealed that prisoners received parole nearly 70% of the times, if they appeared during early mornings as compared to 10% of the time if they appeared later during the day.
This pattern is ascribed to ‘decision fatigue’ – the more decisions we make frequently or through the day, the more the mental energy needed for it gets depleted. An average adult takes nearly 35,000 conscious decisions a day. Trailblazers like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have reduced their decision fatigue by limiting their outfit and breakfast options to one or two things. Analyzing your routine to pre-set some options (for instance breakfast options, commute choices, etc) helps in freeing up time and mental space for other decisions. A related tip: make important decisions earlier in the day, before your mental energy resources get consumed by other tasks.
Making an important decision can be compared to holding a glass of water. You hold onto it for a few minutes, and nothing happens; you hold onto it for a couple of hours, your arm aches and if you hold onto it for a day, your arm feels numb and paralyzed. The longer you hold onto it, the heavier it gets. Take that decision and put your glass down!