Decisions define your life. They shape who you are, what you do, and how you live. Where you go to college (or don’t), what career path you follow, who you spend time with, and so on.
I’m personally at one of those points in my life where I’ve got a number of decisions to make on what I’m doing next, so the subject is on my mind.
“The decisions you make are a choice of values that reflect your life in every way.”
— Alice Waters
Decisions can also be excruciatingly difficult things to make at times. Sometimes you just aren’t sure which path to take and there’s no obvious right choice. Unfortunately, no one really teaches you how to handle these situations.
Here are 5 rules that I’ve come up with over the years that have helped me make important decisions in my life.
1. Listen To Everyone, But Ignore Them
Everyone loves to tell you what to do. They’ll give advice for days and it certainly doesn’t hurt to listen to them, but you should probably ignore most of it. Especially when you realize that those often give advice hardly ever follow it themselves, which should give you pause.
When it comes down to it, these decisions will impact you and you alone and while everyone likes to think they know what they would do in your situation, it’s much easier to talk than to do.
“You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.”
— John Steinbeck
At the same time, when we get advice, we tend to only accept it if it fits what we were going to do in the first place. It’s good to keep an open mind and see things from other perspectives, but in the end it comes down to how you feel about a decision.
2. Follow Your Instincts
Sometimes things just feel right. As Steinbeck says above, you probably know what you want to do on some level already. That’s your instincts kicking in, telling you which way you should be going.
For one reason or another, we tend to ignore these urges because we don’t really understand them, but we shouldn’t. The entire idea of instinct is that it is an inclination to act a certain way, without experience to guide you.
You don’t have anything that helps you make sense of why a decision feels right, it simply does. In these situations, it’s best to follow that gut feeling and trust your instincts because it typically knows what is right for you before you even realize it.
3. Zig When Everyone Else Zags
This is a rule that I try to follow as much as I can. Don’t follow the herd and do what everyone else is doing. That is where the most competition is and the least innovation. Go where everyone is running away from. Break the rules, think different, and you’ll discover wonderful things that will make your life interesting.
“The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”
— Peter Diamandis
If you zig when every else zags, you’ll find yourself with unique opportunities that can result in big rewards. This is the difference between the safe path or the crazy one.
Crazy is where all the fun happens. It’s where all the actions is. Being rational and logical has it’s place, but sometimes you need the crazy, so don’t forget to take it into consideration.
4. Indecision is the Worst Decision
We’re spoiled for choice nowadays. There are tons of options at our finger tips, some would say too many. In these cases, you can’t just waffle back and forth between what you’re going to do without committing one way or the other. This is literally the worst place to be.
Imagine not truly committing to an idea or project or direction for 5 years — what do you get from that? Nothing. On the other hand, you could feasibly try out 2 or 3 different directions over that same period if you fully committed to each one.
It’s OK to take the time to make important decisions and you don’t want to make them when you’re mad or sad or confused, but you also can’t hide behind the decision making process. The truth is, not making a decision closes more options to us than making one does. So no matter what, make a decision and stick to it.
5. Don’t Regret Your Mistakes
The best part of every decision is that even if you make a wrong one, it will be OK. You may struggle a little more, you may have a setback, but you’ll learn one hell of a lesson along the way. Learning is more valuable than anything else, so don’t regret anything.
You learn from experience, so mistakes will happen, there’s no avoiding them. What we must remember is the experience of these mistakes is where our real learning will happen.
Part of this process is to take the time and reflect on your past. If you don’t look at past decisions there’s no way to ensure you don’t repeat your mistakes. Many people repeat these mistakes throughout life because they don’t reflect and see that they’re making them.
Every so often, take the time to look back over the past few years and understand how your decisions have turned out. Understand what worked and what didn’t because that will inform your decisions in the future.
Decisions are no simple thing, but there are ways to approach them that can make them a bit easier. Hopefully these rules do just that, so remember to take them into account for the next decision you make.
Image via flickr