Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Standing-Sign-web

Don’t you just hate making decisions? Here’s what it often feels like. You’re going along living your life. Then, all of a sudden, bam, somebody plants a signpost right in your way and you can’t go on until you choose one direction or the other.

Here’s the secret. Plant your own signpost.

Dissatisfaction, opportunity, goals. This is where the great decisions come from, not from somebody else planting a signpost in your path.

Discovering your own big decisions, your mission, is the first of the seven steps carried out by any effective decision-maker. First think about your dissatisfactions. Are there subtle clues that things aren’t quite right? A few years ago a friend of mine found herself compulsively buying suitcases. She had plenty of suitcases, yet she found them strangely alluring, and kept buying more. Why was she doing this? She couldn’t figure it out. Three years later she got a divorce. Sometimes your subconscious tells you you’re dissatisfied.

Is there anything in your life that isn’t quite the way you want it to be? Maybe a job or a relationship? Then you have a decision to make. In fact, every day you don’t act you’re making a decision to leave things as they are. Make it an active decision. Think about something in your life that is not the way you want it to be. Start by asking yourself, “If my life were suddenly perfect right now, what would be different?” Now turn it into a decision. “What should I do about…..?” Be honest. We’ve all had disappointments.

Now think about the opportunities around you. Mentally look all around you. They may not be on the road you’re on. Complete these sentences, “I wish there were some way to …” “What I’d really like to see is…” Then go look for those opportunities. When you find one, make a decision about how to use it. “What should I do with…?” Seize the opportunity. It won’t always wait around for you.

Now, what about your long-term goals? Imagine yourself, as Jeff Bezos did, being 90 years old, looking back on your life. What will you regret not doing? (He decided to leave his cushy job and start Amazon.) What will they say at the eulogy at your funeral? If you suddenly had $100 million dollars, what would you do? Questions like this help you find your goals. When you finally think of a goal, turn it into a decision: What should I do to achieve…? Make sure the road you’re on will get you to the goal.

When you discover your decision, plant your own signpost. You may not find any other signposts, or you may find some that are merely distractions placed by other people. Remember the stereotype picture of someone making a decision? It’s somebody who has come to a fork in the road and stands there staring at the signpost, scratching his head.

It’s not like that at all. Here’s what really happens. You just keep walking down that road and you never come to a crossroads, because that great decision that will change your life isn’t right there in front of you. It might have fallen over from neglect and it’s lying in the bushes. You need to get off the road and look for it. Or maybe it’s on another road entirely. You’re on the wrong road. In that case, you need to get off that road and find those great decisions that will change your life.

By now, thinking about your dissatisfactions, opportunities and goals, or those of your organization, has probably triggered several potential major decisions. Pick at least one to work on. You’ve now completed the first and most important step. Carry these key decisions into the next steps. Here they are:

  1. Mission: Discover the decisions you need to make by thinking about dissatisfactions, opportunities and goals.
  2. End-time: Set a deadline at which time you’ll make and act on the decision, even if you don’t have all the information you want.
  3. Goals: Identify your full range of goals, considerations and constraints
  4. Alternatives: Identify your full range of options without judgment
  5. Visualization: Visualize the consequences of each viable option
  6. Insight: Choose the best alternative by comparing the most promising ones against each of the key goals
  7. Make it happen: Act on the decision, otherwise it will be a waste of time

Have you ever planted your own signpost? How did you discover your own great decisions?

MegaVim! What is it? How can I get it?

Happy business people laughing against white background

This sounds like some kind of crazy health product that you’d find advertised on late-night TV. Maybe it reminds you of Vitameatavegamin from “I Love Lucy.” MegaVim! Mega–lots (literally a million). Vim–vigor. Lots of vitality!

Actually, it’s an acronym to help you remember the seven steps that an effective decision maker uses. And, yes, these steps will give you extra energy in your life and business.

Here they are.

  1. Mission
  2. End-time
  3. Goals
  4. Alternatives
  5. Visualization
  6. Insight
  7. Make it happen!

Let’s look at these one at a time:

Step 1. Mission: Discover the decisions you need to make.

Find your great decisions rather than being jerked around by what other people think is important. Think about your dissatisfactions, opportunities and goals. Then write a decision question about what you will do about them.

Step 2. End-time: Set a deadline to act.

You especially need to do this when nobody else is bugging you for an answer. Otherwise you get stuck in the paralysis of analysis. “I can’t make a decision yet. I don’t have all the information.” And you probably won’t. Make a promise to yourself that at some date or time you will make a decision with whatever information you have. Use your deadline to decide how deeply you want to dig into each of the other steps.

Step 3. Goals: Identify your full range of objectives.

What’s important to you? What are you trying to accomplish? What are you trying to avoid? List everything you can think of, without judgment. Then force yourself to add several more items.

Step 4. Alternatives: Identify your full range of options.

People often think of decisions being yes-no, go or no-go, but you almost always have more than two options. Here’s where you open your mind to divergent thinking. Imagine all the possibilities, without rejecting any of them just yet. Think of all you can, than think of some more. Immediately you’ll want to reject some of these. You’ll get a chance to do that later. Right now open your mind to the possibilities.

Step 5: Visualization: Visualize the consequences of each alternative.

You’ll see right away that some of the alternatives won’t meet your goals or will bump up against some constraints. Focus on the good ones and visualize the possible outcomes. This is where a lot of people give up. “How can I make a choice? I can’t predict the future.” That’s right. You can’t. But you can visualize possible alternative futures. That’s futures, plural. How likely is each one? What are the consequences of each alternative in each scenario? You may need to do financial forecasts or assess risks using Monte Carlo analysis. Or you may just do a subjective rating. This step could take minutes or months, depending on the time line you’ve set for yourself.

Step 6. Insight: Choose the best alternative.

Focus in on the most important goals and constraints and the most feasible and promising alternatives. Make a matrix to compare the alternatives against the goals. You always have multiple, conflicting goals and there are techniques for balancing them.

Step 7. Make it happen: Act on your decision.

You’ve wasted your decision if you don’t do anything with it. Accept that something has to be given up, that somebody won’t like it. You’ve already decided that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, so go for it.

Here’s a summary of the seven steps:

  1. Mission: Discover the decisions you need to make by thinking about dissatisfactions, opportunities and goals.
  2. End-time: Set a deadline at which time you’ll make and act on the decision, even if you don’t have all the information you want.
  3. Goals: Identify your full range of goals, considerations and constraints
  4. Alternatives: Identify your full range of options without judgment
  5. Visualization: Visualize the consequences of each viable option
  6. Insight: Choose the best alternative by comparing the most promising ones against each of the key goals
  7. Make it happen: Act on the decision, otherwise it will be a waste of time

I’ll be blogging about each of these in future posts.

Live deliberately. Take charge of your decisions, your life and your business.

Are you a decision-maker or just a choice-maker?

Female hand lifting the lid of a small cardboard box

You mean there’s a difference between making a decision and making a choice? Absolutely!

First of all, a decision-maker is a decision-seeker, always searching for the questions that need to be asked. I had a colleague who thought she was a great decision-maker since people were always coming into her office with choices to be made, and she gave them quick answers. She herself admitted that she was often a little too quick, that her approach tended to be “ready, fire, aim.” She would sometimes make decisions without all the facts, or would run off to solve non-problems, embarrassing the people who actually had everything under control.

But that was not why I saw her as less than a great decision-maker. It was that other people were defining the decisions to be made as well as the alternatives. It’s so easy to get caught up in the thicket of urgency, all those little decisions that are thrown at you every day and need answers right now. A great decision-maker examines problems, opportunities and goals and discovers the truly important decisions that need to be made. Those are the big questions that nobody is asking because we’re all inundated with the little ones. It’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that you are a powerful decision-maker when people are running into your office with petty problems and you are sending them out with advice.

Here’s another major difference between a decision-maker and a mere choice-maker. A choice-maker selects from the given alternatives. A decision-maker first asks, “What are we trying to accomplish?” All decisions are made in a context of needs and constraints, and the right choice for me might be the wrong choice for you. A decision-maker then asks,  “Are there other alternatives?” The obvious choices may not be the only, or even the best, options. A decision-maker visualizes the consequences of each alternative and balances the often-conflicting goals surrounding the choice. Only then does he or she make a choice.

Here are the seven steps of effective decision-making. Notice that making a choice is way down at number 6.

  1. Discover the decision to be made
  2. Set a deadline to decide and to act
  3. Identify the full range of goals and constraints
  4. Identify the full range of alternatives
  5. Visualize the consequences of each alternative
  6. Choose the best alternative
  7. Act on your decision

I’ll have to admit that my colleague was good at number 7.

I’ll be talking more about these steps in the posts to follow.

Take charge of your decisions and your life. Live intentionally.

How do you handle decisions? I’d love to hear from you.