No matter how hard some of us might try, there’s no avoiding decisions in life. The good news is that most of the ones we make on a day-to-day basis are trivial.
“Should I put provolone or pepper jack cheese on this turkey sandwich?”
“Wait a minute. Do I really want turkey, or should I go with ham instead?”
“Do I really need to do laundry, or can I get away with wearing this white shirt for another day?”
If you’re curious, the right answers are pepper jack, turkey, and keep wearing the white shirt. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. What I’m getting at is that those decisions don’t really matter. Sure they might seem pretty big in the moment, but the residual impact in the big picture is rather small.
There are literally hundreds of other decisions we make on a routine basis – most we don’t even realize we’re making anymore. You chose to get on the internet and read this article. You chose to sleep in an extra hour this morning. You chose to put a little Kahlua in your coffee instead of cream.
You can say that almost everything we do is based on a decision we’ve made at some point or another.
Then there’s the really hard decisions.
- Is college a good choice for me?
- Which one should I go to?
- How do I know if Pitt is better than Penn State?
- What do I major in?
- Is this really the right job for me?
- Should I marry this person?
These are the real life-changers. The ones that tend to keep us up at night. If you’re neurotic and anxious like me, you’ll probably lose a fair amount of sleep debating what’s best for you.
And after a decision’s made, how could you possibly know if you’ve made the right one?
Let me be the first to tell you that I’ve wasted far too much of my time worrying about these kinds of things. As someone who’s made drastic improvements in his life, I can also tell you that there’s a much easier way to live and make decisions.
What I’m about to give you is a crash course on decision making that will change your life for the better. The hard decisions won’t seem so daunting and you’ll know on the spot if it was the right choice for you.
Let’s get into it.
Step 1 – Define what success means for you.
If we want to make upcoming decisions easier, first we’ve got to do a little self-exploration. Putting the time in now to dig deep and learn about yourself means less work and stress when it’s crunch time.
Let’s begin with the problem: most of us spend our entire lives going after things we never wanted to begin with. Just think about all the doctors, engineers, and lawyers in the world striving to make their parents proud. Now think about how miserable most of them are. They didn’t do it for themselves, they did it for someone else. That’s a recipe for a very sad panda.
The first step here is to define what success means to you. Think of this as true north for your decision-making compass. If you have a solid destination, then the road to get there becomes much more clear.
Remember that success isn’t found in fancy job titles, large paychecks, and more stuff, despite what everybody has led us to believe.
We’ve all got unique paths to walk in life, and it’s time we start walkin’. Don’t change the person you are just to fit society’s bill.
Now, what does success really mean to you? Think about the things you enjoy doing the most. What makes you smile, what part of your current job brings you happiness, if any, and what are the pieces you truly care about?
For me, I hated my last job. However, there were a few things I loved. My boss for one. Also, being a leader, coaching other people, teaching and giving presentations, and solving problems.
Plus I really love my family, my girlfriend, my friends, and the mentors I’ve acquired in my life.
Success for me means spending more time with the ones I love while sharing my knowledge and skillset with as many people as possible. My previous job wasn’t getting me there, and that’s actually why I’m here with you today.
Now it’s your turn. Get ridiculously honest with yourself about what you want out of life and where you see yourself in 5-10 years. Take some time to brainstorm and then physically write down your definition of success.
When you’re done, congratulate yourself for taking the first step in calibrating your compass.
Step 2 – Define your guiding values
If this compass we’re working on is supposed to help you make decisions, then it’s going to need a little more meat to it.
Think of it as a two-step compass. The first step is making sure the decision aligns with your definition of success. Will the outcome take you in the direction you’ve defined for yourself? Will it help you spend more time with loved ones, helping others, etc? If it doesn’t, then you should already know it’s not the best choice for you.
But what if both decisions point you in that direction? You might think you’re up the river without a paddle. And that’s where the second piece of the compass comes in – your values.
Think about this scenario for a minute. Let’s say you love your job and your life goal is climbing the corporate ladder. You’re at work and your boss tells you there’s a position opening up that would promote you from an individual contributor to a team leader. There’s one problem though, a coworker of yours is also a candidate.
Believe it or not, there’s a decision to be made here. Do you 1. throw your coworker under the bus to make yourself look better, or 2. do you put in the extra work to show why you deserve the job?
Both scenarios get you to your ultimate goal of the promotion. So what do you do?
You let your values guide you.
If being a cheating asshole is one of your top values, then you’d go with option #1. If honesty and integrity are more your thing, then you’d probably go with #2.
First things first, we’ve got to understand what values are, then go through the process of defining them.
In short, values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior. They are one’s judgement of what’s important in life. A quick Google search will tell you that.
Now I’ve got an exercise for you to go through to help define your unique values. The list below contains almost 150 different values. It’s not every value ever thought of, but it certainly is extensive. If you feel a value of yours is something not on this list, by all means use that instead.
|Being the best||Fidelity||Reliability|
|Economy||Making a difference||Trustworthiness|
Start by identifying 8-10 of your top values. Don’t worry about order, simply jot them down.
Once you have that list, then work on narrowing it down to about 4-5. As a tip while trimming the herd, try comparing different values against each other. If having fun is more important to you than competitiveness, then choose having fun. Pretty self-explanatory.
Now, the reason I had you narrow those down is to focus on what’s truly important to you. I find that, for me, it works best having 4 “guiding values” when it comes to the big decisions in my life.
Once you’ve got your values defined, put them to the test. Make sure they align with your definition of success. Think about them long and hard. Sure, you can always change them later (and many of us change our values as we grow), but it’s important to know who you really are in the now.
Without understanding our values, we’re walking blindly through life or living someone else’s destiny.
Step 3 – Let your goals and values guide you to where you want to go
Your life is much less about the circumstances you’re in and more about the results of the decisions you make. Now that you know your definition of success and guiding values, your two-step compass is complete.
When a tough decision comes up in life, your new modus operandi should be that compass. Analyze the choices in front of you, and first make sure whatever you choose points you in your direction of success. Then make sure it’s in the best interest of your values.
All that’s left for you to do now is to let your compass guide you. Every major decision that you face in life should be compared to your goals and values. Will the result get you one step closer, and does it align with the type of person you are?
If the answer to anyone of them is a resounding “no”, then you should rethink your decision. Ideally, we’d like every decision to be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, not all of them will be. Using this process will at least make those decisions easier and drastically reduce the amount of regret you might feel after making them.
As a bonus, I tracked down a YouTube video by Alan Watts on making decisions. Watch it and let its message sink in. Know that as long as you have a compass and use it, there really aren’t any wrong decisions you can make in life.
I’m rooting for you every step of the way.