At the end of last month, I started to write this post about something many of my clients struggle with: making decisions. I hoped to highlight questions that can make deciding easier.
Then the world erupted with reactions to the death of George Floyd under the knee of a policeman. My grief and disgust stopped me from continuing because writing anything was trivial in light of all that did and is transpiring. My thoughts were focused on the issues behind what happened and the worldwide upheaval in the societal status quo.
A few weeks later, I realized it is timely.
Walk with me here.
Coaching is about understanding and collaborating with people in their quest for a better life, whatever that means to them. It’s highlighting their strengths and identifying changes that minimize the effects of self-rationalized limiting beliefs and maximizing the actions that their journey requires, within what they can control. Good coaching is about contrasting what we believe is true with what is also true.
It’s a cycle of visualizing, identifying, trying, adjusting, shifting, reviewing, and achieving. It requires being positive, demonstrating support, and believing in the value and abilities of each person.
It’s wisdom in action.
Inherent in the coaching cycle, and in every minute of daily life, are choices. Every choice, no matter how minor it seems at the moment, shifts your trajectory to a different destination.
Looking back, we can see the consequences of our choices, even when they were not apparent at the time. Choosing to take the 9:14 a.m. train instead of the 8:55 a.m. arrival led you to meeting your spouse. Spending the ”extra” time on a work project caused your appreciative coworker to recommend you for a promotion.
Deciding between choices – whether it’s picking an ice cream flavor or buying a home – is easy for some people. Others might get “frozen in fear” regardless of the importance of any decision. Analysis paralysis is real, with potentially serious implications.
There are also the situational aspects of choices – some are just harder to make than others due to the number of factors involved or the gravity of a no-win situation.
Some people are decisive by nature. If it’s not a yes, then it’s a no. Purple not green. Hire not fire. This not that. They don’t stress over their choices and don’t second guess themselves when challenged.
Remember the adage If you’re not leading, you’re following? Decisive people are often seen as leaders because they make choices quickly, long before others have finished examining their options. But the speed of a decision doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better; it often evokes the “law of unintended consequences” that might have been avoided if the decision-maker had been more thoughtful and careful.
At the other end of the spectrum are those that seem to struggle with everything. Eggs or pancakes? Pancakes, eggs, or granola? Granola, pancakes, eggs, or grilled cheese?
From what to wear to what to eat, and from whom we associate with to how we create our income, the number of choices we make daily is surprising. According to social psychologist Sheena Iyengar, individuals are presented with over 70 choices per day and that’s not including the big ones like what kind of car to buy or deciding where we want to live.
When the task of choosing becomes overwhelming, it’s helpful to remember the general steps in the process:
· Why do you have to decide?
· What’s the importance of the decision?
· What are the options?
· What factors need consideration?
· Are your inevitable assumptions and beliefs true?
· Are your options congruent with who you want to be?
· What’s driving you: emotions or data?
· Who does the outcome affect?
· What are the consequences?
· Can you live with the result of your decision?
While all these factors matter, some of the questions are more important than others, depending on the circumstance.
Eggs instead of pancakes becomes a very important choice if you have diabetes. Choosing to fire instead of hire can have big consequences if not carefully thought out.
Recognize and respect that having choices at all is a privilege.
George Floyd died as the direct result of the policeman’s minute-by-minute decision to compress his neck until he died. One can only wonder what the outcome would have been if the policeman had thought more about the importance of his decisions, to question if he was driven solely by emotion and beliefs to the exclusion of understanding the consequences and if his choice was in line with who he is and wanted to be.
Question your assumptions, and examine your reactions. Think about and visualize the consequences of your choices. Reduce the regret that can come from a snap decision based solely on emotion.
Be aware and respect that the good you enjoy in your life is often, usually, on loan to you, made possible for you, by someone who may not have the same opportunities you do.
Talk WITH (not to) people who do not agree with you. Apply their experiences, beliefs, and assumptions to your own. Coaches, therapists, and friends that will be truthful can provide the balance you need to make a good decision, with consequences you can accept.
Somewhere between the person who makes snap decisions and the person who vacillates between every choice is a wise person who understands the question, knows their options, and chooses the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
Regardless of whether you go for broccoli or potatoes, yellow or orange, or Dodge or Ford, or narrow down the options for huge decisions that can change the course of lives, the biggest decision is really choosing who you want to be.
Do the best you can with what you have.