Beware False Decisions!

21 Oct

Decision-Maker

In July of 2009 I was driving home from Rockville, Maryland and I was seriously stressed out. I was wrestling with a very big decision; should I leave my current job? It’s a question that a lot of us will ask. In my case, I had just seen an interesting job post and I was already sensing that it was time for me to move on. A lot of questions bounced around. Should I even be looking for a new job right now? What would the commute be like? Would I jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire? Would the culture be any better? Would I have more or less opportunity? Should I pivot a bit and go for a smaller agency in which I could have more influence? And since I really didn’t know the answer to any of these questions and I started feeling really stressed out.

After about an hour of this agonizing thinking, something very profound occurred to me. I was not actually making a decision. In that moment, there was actually no job offer to accept. I hadn’t even applied! Here I was stressing out about a decision that literally did not exist. It was all a fantasy…and it was a fantasy that was stressing me out! 

The only decisions I actually had to make were about my immediate next actions. Not any potential issues way down the road. In that moment I realized that all of this stuff about my career….these deep internal questions…had suddenly emerged in the guise of a decision. That is what was stressing me out. What seemed like a decision was actually just a trigger telling me that I needed to take action. When I realized this, it was very clear what I needed to do….apply for the job, talk to my boss, buy a book on decision making. Suddenly, within about 15 seconds, I had three practical steps that I could take. No stress. No decision. Just action.

Now, obviously at some point down the road I had to make that decision, but when I did, I had all the information I needed. My priorities were clear and the right choice was actually pretty clear. So, my advice is that anytime you ask yourself, “should I…” and that questions feels stressful, it’s probably because you’ve set up a false decision. It’s quite possible that you’ve fallen into the trap of believing, “I should have control over something that I can’t control.” It’s no wonder that we stress ourselves out.

Eliminate all of the potential decisions and focus on the next immediate action. That’s all you can do anyway. No matter how much you stress out about it, no amount of stress, deliberation, or agonizing will give you control over the future. So the only decision that actually matters is…what can I do right now?

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