How to Decide


In a previous post, I wrote about impediments to making a decision, based on the work of Theodore Isaac Rubin, M.D. Rubin is the author of over 30 books, including Overcoming Indecisiveness; The Eight Stages of Effective Decision Making. He’s a psychiatrist has served as president of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis and has helped thousands of people overcome serious issues. He presents a great blueprint for making decisions, big and small which will be a big help if you’re faced with a career decision.

One of the first things that will help, according to Rubin, Is to lose your fear that there is only one “right” and many other “wrong” options. Just about any option can work, he writes, if you can commit to it and take positive action on it. In other words, success or failure isn’t built into the option itself; it depends on your execution.  There may be better options based on different priorities, but almost any solution you will consider will have a defined list of pros and cons that you can judge.

Having a defined list of priorities is the key to confident decision making. Your list of priorities might be global (family, health, quality of life) or specific to a decision (no more than a 30-minute commute each day; requires no more than 25% overnight business travel.) Knowing what your values and priorities are helps you evaluate each option carefully and objectively. Agreeing to priorities in advance with the people who matter (your partner or spouse, people who depend on you) will help you stay calm during the evaluation process and give you a common language to discuss or justify a decision.

Having confidence in your choice is key to success, Rubin says. “Loyalty to the decision is really loyalty to yourself.” When you choose an option and stick with it, you validate it in your own and others’ eyed; when you don’t decide on an option, you invalidate all the options.

So here are the eight steps to making a decision:

  1. List and observe all the reasonable options available to you. Don’t be afraid to list options that seem scary or unlikely. Your evaluation process may uncover ways to make them work (or less scary.)
  2. Allow a free flow of feelings and thoughts about the options. Which ones scare you? Which ones feel right, if they could work? Don’t dismiss any feelings as wrong; just write down your responses to each option.
  3. Observe the list of feelings, thoughts and possible drawbacks to each option. Are there any that stand out as positive and possible?
  4. Relate your options to your values and priorities (either global or specific to this decision.) Which one seems to support your values and does not violate any of your agreed upon priorities?
  5. Choose. Pick one option and discard the others. Go back to the original definition of a real decision by Dr. Rubin: “a free, unconditional, total, and personal commitment to a choice or an option.” This must be your choice, made under your own power and by your values, and you must commit to it unconditionally for it to work.
  6. Register the decision. This does not mean, according to Rubin, that you take time to evaluate how you feel about it. That would be taking a step back. By registering it, he means that you put yourself on record as having made it. “I am enrolling in the MBA program this fall.” This is also the final step of discarding your emotional attachment to any of the other options. This stage lets you say goodbye to any “woulda, coulda, shoulda” feelings that may linger.
  7. Invest in the decision. Start focusing your energy on moving forward. If you made a decision based on something other than your personal values, this is the stage that will give you trouble. If you still want it all and can’t give up on the discarded options’ benefits, you’ll know it here. Investment means you can take the next and final step.
  8. Take optimistic action. “Action” means tangible steps toward making the decision successful. If you never take action, the option will die on its own. “Optimistic action” means that you have invested energy and have confidence that you will be successful. Remember, it’s your execution that determines your success.

The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.  (Ben Stein)

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