Deciding to be more decisive
Listen to your gut instinct when you need to take action, says lifestyle coach Anna Geary
LIFE is a numbers game: 24 hours in a day, 52 weeks in a year, your weight on a scales, how many followers you have on social media, how many emails you have in your inbox. The list goes on.
According to researchers, the average number of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000. Let’s just sit with that statistic for a moment — 35,000 decisions to make daily and yet many of us are guilty of procrastination or indecisiveness when it comes to making the simplest of choices.
In fact, we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone, according to researchers at Cornell University.
As our levels of responsibility increase, so does the mountain of choices we are faced with.
We have free-will to take control of many different aspects of life such as what to eat, what to wear, what to purchase, what we believe, what jobs and career choices we will pursue, how we vote, who to spend our time with, what we say and how we say it, whether or not we would like to have children, what we will name our children, who our children spend their time with, what they will eat, and so on. Each choice carries certain consequences, good and bad.
This ability to choose is an incredible and exciting power, but daunting for so many. In her bestselling book Flourish, psychologist Maureen Gaffney believes we are under pressure to put increasing time into decisions, even about trivial things. This creates worry — in case we make the wrong decision.
Gaffney believes too much choice can diminish wellbeing. When faced with a decision, hesitation is something that holds us back.
We often wait for more information, for more input from others, even for a ‘sign’, before we finally settle on a choice. This is sometimes called analysis paralysis and is also used as a tactic to delay decision-making. Set yourself a deadline by which you have to make the decision, share the deadline with other relevant people, so they will come looking for the answer when the time is up.
Sport taught me the art of using my gut instinct to make decisions. In the thick of the action you have to make immediate decisions. ‘Fire in the belly, but ice in the mind’, is a quote that stuck with me when playing camogie. Yes, you need passion in the belly, but the composure and calmness of thought when you are playing is as important.
In sport, you must be fully present and engaged in order to make the best decision in that given moment. You can’t think about your missed goal attempt a few minutes previously, or if you are going to be taken off at half time.You have to focus on the here and now.
Yes, it is good to have one eye on the future, but ultimately there is no point worrying about what might happen next if you need to decide right now.
A word of caution though on gut instinct. Although people talk about it as if it was a magical sense, gut instinct, or intuition, is actually a combination of past experience and your personal values. I trust my intuition — it has served me well. However, I am aware that it is based only on my perceptions, which may not always be 100% accurate. So, while it will guide me, I also need other facts to reinforce it.
It is therefore worth examining your gut feeling closely, especially if you have a very strong feeling for or against a course of action, to see if you can work out why, and whether, it’s justified.
There are a few decision-making tools you can use. The most common — and often the most effective — is the pros-and-cons list, which was popularised by Benjamin Franklin and is nearly 250 years old.
Chip Heath, author of Decisive:
How To Make Better Decisions, suggests that a simple yet highly effective way to think about a difficult decision is to consider what you would recommend to your best friend. Often, emotions can play too large a role in our decision making. If you are advising someone else, you don’t have the same emotional attachment to their decision and are therefore more rational and logical in your thought process. So next time, step out of your own situation and imagine you are advising someone else. Heath believes that when we step back and simulate someone else, it’s a clarifying move.