Day to day life is filled with choices. One study of decision making by researchers at New York’s Cornell University found that we make 226 decisions each day – and that’s just involving food! Some of the time, all of these choices seem to wash over us, causing us little or no consternation. Yet at other times, having to make a decision can feel overwhelming. I remember when I bought my first house. I must have looked at around 20 or more possible homes, each time weighing up the practical pros and cons of each one, ensuring it was within the parameters of budget, location and practicality. Until, of course, I stepped foot inside the porch of what is now my home and made the decision to buy it within seconds – it just felt right. That’s because decisions are made in two very distinct ways: by gathering and evaluating information – facts, practicalities or rules, for example – and on instinct.
But what happens when making a choice feels neither instinctive nor clear, even after we’ve assessed all the information available? Choosing to move on from something, to take a new job, to begin or end a relationship – the big decisions – can sometimes be so consuming, confusing and fearful that we end up making none at all. When it comes to the big stuff, how can we teach ourselves to make our decisions with confidence?
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For most of us, when our faith in our own decision-making ebbs, our go-to strategy is to gather opinions: we call upon others for their thoughts and advice and we sit these alongside a prediction of how things might be in the future. The trouble is, while some or all of these opinions may be valid/true/have our best interests at heart, this can add to the range of choices we’re faced with – sometimes leading us further away from making a decision that is right for us. Then there’s our fear of judgment. If we worry too much about what other people think, we waver even when we are sure of the decision we want to make. We use other people’s opinions as a shield – taking the power away from ourselves in order to avoid being seen as making the ‘wrong’ choice. Unsurprisingly, if making a decision is feeling overwhelming and confusing, we are far less likely to come to a decision that is truly aligned with what we want.
“A very important thing in decision making is not to come up with the decision but to ask the right questions,” says Eckart Tolle, author of The Power of Now. “This can bring about what you need, in order to arrive at a decision.” Tolle explains that by shifting our perception from the outcome, we can instead see a choice as an invitation to pause and reflect. Asking ourselves the right questions can help us to become clear of our own values and to notice what is real now, rather than what might (or might not) happen in the future. In doing so, we learn to trust our own inner guidance. Here are some simple techniques to help you pause and reflect…
8 ways to improve your mindful decision making
Taking a deep breath tells your sympathetic nervous system that there is nothing to fight with or run away from, which will provide instant calm. If you are feeling really anxious about something, stop and take three deep breaths before considering your options again.
Meditation is time and space just for you. When you sit down and close your eyes to meditate, you are pressing pause on all that surrounds you. Just for a few minutes, all decisions, all responsibilities, all challenges can be put on hold. This moment of quiet can help to put all the heaviness and confusion surrounding a big decision into better perspective. This allows you to really connect with what is right for you and let that inner clarity govern your decision making once you come to consider your choices again.
We often seek advice on what is best for us outside of ourselves by asking friends, family members, work colleagues and anyone else who’ll listen. We seek counsel from everyone else, apart from ourselves. Journalling is one effective way of uncovering and listening to your own advice. Ask yourself the same questions you’re asking others on the page. Answer those questions as if it’s a conversation.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. It’s about bringing your awareness to how you feel now, on purpose and without judgement, rather than predicting how you might feel in the future as a result of the decision. It will help you to realise what is real, actionable and doable for you in the reality of right now, rather than imagining all the infinite possibilities of what might happen in the future. This awareness will help you to find clarity in your decision making.
Consider your personal values
Be clear on your own values. What do you want from your life and what is important to you? Spend some time reflecting on your values and use this as a tool to inform your decisions, goals and actions.
There is no wrong decision
You may well have heard the powerful speech given by Steve Jobs at a Stanford University event. He talked about how the worst thing that ever happened to him (getting fired from Apple) lead to him starting Pixar and then being ultimately re-employed by Apple. The worst thing that ever happened to him turned into one of the best achievements of his life. If something doesn’t work out, know that it may be leading you to somewhere good, and that you have the power to choose again.
There is an inner voice we all hear – our intuition. We often make decisions with our head and not with our heart. If you’re confused, unsure or overwhelmed by a decision, prioritise listening to yourself.
Choose to stay where you are
If it’s not the right time to make a decision, leave it be and come back to it another time. Choosing to stay where you are is a decision in itself, as long as it’s an active choice.
Ultimately, the power to make the decision that is right for you lies within your mind. The next time you are stressing over a decision, take a moment and try one (or all) of these techniques until you are calm and ready to make your choice. The more you practise this, the more confident you will become in the decisions you make for yourself.
About Joanna Hulin
Joanna Hulin is a meditation and mindfulness coach based in Cornwall, UK. Read more from Joanna and connect at www.horizoninspired.co.uk