The Art Of Making Good Decisions


Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends who are struggling to make the right decision. “I want to write a book but I don’t know where to start.” “I’d love to quit my job, but what would I do?” “I’ve always wanted to travel but can’t find the time.” And in a way, they’re all saying the same thing: they’re scared.

Thirty years from now, you won’t remember what cereal you chose at the grocery store. On your death bed, you won’t care which vacation cruise package you picked. You won’t recall whether you chose to see the romantic comedy or the action adventure (unless, of course, it’s another Die Hardmovie — those are great).

None of these things will have mattered. What will matter is that you acted, that you made a contribution, that you decided to do something. Or that you didn’t. And that’s the point.

The fact is, most decisions aren’t life-changers. The universe doesn’t care what you have for breakfast, but chances are you will eat something. So get on with it. Certainly, you’d be better off eating eggs than Pop Tarts (unless, of course, we’re talking brown sugar Pop Tarts — those things are divine). So it’s not that all decisions are equal. They aren’t. It’s just that most of the time, you need to decide to do something.

You can, of course, make a bad decision (like choosing to not see Die Hard, for example). But often, the decision isn’t between this or that; it’s between acting or not. And this is the very thing most of us are afraid of doing. Making a choice. We waste time writing up plans and setting goals that never get done. We worry about doing the wrong thing and obsess over inconsequential details.

And sadly, we end up squandering the most important moments of our lives.

Better than planning.

I’m not anti-planning. I just know that for me and plenty of people I talk to, a lot of that stuff is stalling. Hiding. Another way to stay stuck. So what’s the solution? What’s the answer to this paralysis we sometimes feel?

Just start.

Life is a journey, not a business plan.

Quit trying to control things. I know, it sounds sort of grand, doesn’t it? But do you want to plan your life away or live it? Let go and live the story.

Where you’re going doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Just go. More often than not, you just need to move in a direction, not the direction. Stop worrying too much about which way to go and just get going. As you build momentum, you can learn to steer. This is the way life works.

A friend of mine calls this “the bicycle principle.” What he means by this is that it’s easier to make changes in life once you’re moving. Just as with riding a bike, you can steer more easily the faster you’re going. And conversely, if you’re not moving and you try to steer, you’ll probably fall down. Isn’t it interesting that failure is what happens not when we move too quickly, but too slowly? So just start pedaling and see where you end up.

Where you are is nowhere near as final as it seems.

What to do next?

Your job is to take chances, not have all the answers. If this challenges the very fibers of your being — try any (or all) of the following:

  • Go for a jog or a bike ride to nowhere in particular. Just start moving in hopes of leaving the familiar. Turn down every random street or path you can find until you get lost. Don’t worry about how you’ll get back. Then, see where you end up. You’ll make it back alive — I promise — and you just might be surprised where this takes you. Remember what it felt like to wonder where you were going? Do you recall the resistance to just get moving in the first place? Make an effort to get lost more often. It’ll make you better at overcoming that initial stall you experience every time you have to make a decision, big or small.
  • Sit outside without any technology for a full hour. Let yourself get bored and see where the boredom takes you. Can you hear the birds chirping? The wind blowing? Yourself breathing? Pay attention to the cars or kids or sounds of insects in the background. Count the noises you recognize and imagine where they are coming from. Bonus points for journaling about this and sharing it. Try to do this once a week, then every other day, then every day. One of the reasons we struggle to make better decisions is because we keep getting distracted with new things. Distraction is antithetical to decisiveness. Giving yourself a break from the noise will help you tune into the choices you need to make.
  • Do something that scares you. Apply for a job. Tell someone you love them. Ask your neighbor on a date. Laugh out loud in a public place. Deliver a speech to a stranger. Climb a tree. Call someone you have a grudge against and apologize. And when you do this, pay attention to the release of fear you feel. Remember that feeling the next time you feel intimidated by a big goal or a risky situation. Remember that you didn’t die. And try to trust the process in the future.

Some of these things may seem silly, but the more you do them, the more in control you’ll feel. And the truth is we can’t plan life, but we can participate in it. The things that once seems so uncontrollable are more in your grasp than you realize. Just remember:

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the direction.

If you don’t know what to do with your life — what book to write, what song to sing, what job to choose, which person to ask out — try picking something. It’s not a fail-proof solution, but it ain’t a bad place to start. Because the truth is once you start moving, you can always change direction.

Good luck.