How To Be Decisive


patton-wwiiWhen you decide to make decisions, you decide to be exceptional.

Most people make no real decisions. Instead, they avoid them. They live lost in a fog, no clear destination in mind. They have no firm values. The only desires they know are those that have been programmed into them by the media, advertisers, and government. They travel in the well-worn ruts left by the throngs that have gone before.

If you desire something different, you will have to learn to be decisive, to say yes or no to the many options put before you daily. Like most things, this is simpler and more difficult than we normally believe.

When we consider what it means to be decisive, we too often picture a movie hero barking commands under pressure. We know he is decisive because he takes no time to consider. He knows instantly the best course of action. When he decides, others obey. No matter how dark things get, his choices are ultimately vindicated by an outcome even better than he could have expected.

But, life is not the movies.

In real life, the demand for decisiveness plays out in less dramatic circumstances and comes about not as the result of a momentary impulse, but as the public result of a long, private process.

Being decisive involves three elements of personal character that have to be cultivated over the long haul. If you have trouble being decisive, your deeper problem probably lies in in one of these areas.

First, being decisive requires a clear sense of where you are going. Decision-making is the way you move toward your destination in life. With no clear destination, you’ll be stuck floundering over what to do when a choice is demanded of you.

You don’t have to have every detail nailed down. It’s not necessary to know what color carpet you want in the TV room of your dream home. You do need to have a dream, a goal toward which your efforts are directed, and this goal has to be concrete enough in your mind that you can actually move in its direction. If you find yourself hesitating, not knowing what to do when faced with a decision, your vision of what you want likely is not concrete enough.

Even if you don’t have a clear vision of the kind of life you want to live, you need a clear vision of the kind of person you want to be. This means reflecting on your values and priorities. If you don’t know your priorities and values, you’ll be stuck waffling when facing a serious choice.

Second, being decisive requires the confidence to trust yourself. This one is tough, because the best way to gain the confidence to trust yourself is to make decisions and see their positive results. If you are stuck in this quandary, you need a friend.  There is no shame in talking through your options with a confidant, and leaning on your confidence in him when you decide.

Ideally, this would happen when you are young and your counselor would be your father. In a society as chaotic as ours, your father may not have been available. He may have been a fool. If either of these were the case for you, look for someone who gets the kind of results you’d like in your life, and run your thoughts by him.

Finally, being decisive requires the courage to stick by your choices until they have played out fully. As your ability to trust yourself grows, sticking with your decisions will get easier. If you don’t have confidence in your ability to make decisions well, you will be constantly tempted to abandon the choices you make out of fear of negative consequences or of missing out on something better.

When you are tempted to back out of a choice, recall the process you went through in making it. If your process was fair and reasonable, if you proceeded on the best information available and chose in line with your values and vision, stick by it. Only back out when better information comes along or you realize you’ve betrayed your goals.

Remember too, that life consists of small decisions. You can say yes to a decision without needing to say yes to the possible additional choices that yes may lead to. You can, for example, say yes to a date without having to say yes to marriage. You can say yes to a job interview without having to say yes to a career. It is easier to stick by decisions when you have a realistic understanding of their scope.

If you desire to be more decisive–and you should–don’t count on decisiveness to materialize in a high-pressure moment when you need it most. Instead, begin to cultivate those habits of heart and mind which lead to a decisive approach to life. Don’t wait. You have no time to lose. It takes a while to see the fruits of these habits once you decide to get to work.


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