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:
- Mission: Discover the decisions you need to make by thinking about dissatisfactions, opportunities and goals.
- 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.
- Goals: Identify your full range of goals, considerations and constraints
- Alternatives: Identify your full range of options without judgment
- Visualization: Visualize the consequences of each viable option
- Insight: Choose the best alternative by comparing the most promising ones against each of the key goals
- 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?