Being Decisive

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 9, 2009 · 17 comments

in Money & Career

deskSource: Life

Decisiveness is an essential aspect of manliness. No soldier wants to be under the command of an officer who stands flat-footed in the midst of crisis. No woman desires a beau who cannot decide what he wants in a relationship. No boss appreciates an employee who cannot make decisions on the fly. And no person respects the man who orders a burger and then spends the rest of the night talking about how he should have gotten fajitas.

The man the ladies want, the corporation promotes, and the world respects is the decisive man. The decisive man is calm and cool under pressure; he’s a take charge kind of guy; he has purpose and direction; he is the man with the plan. The indecisive man makes little or excruciatingly slow progress in his life because he is always standing shilly shally, unable to decide which way to go. He’s stuck in neutral while the decisive man cruises ahead toward his goals and his happiness.

The indecisive man is also the restless man. He labors under the delusion that not making a decision will allow him to remain safe in his current position. Yet he fails to understand that life is like standing in the midst of a river in which we are continually fighting the current. If you cease to paddle, you will simply be swept downstream. It is not possible to stand still. Instead of feeling in control, you will feel as though life is happening to you. If you try to live in the middle of your decisions, these unmade choices will subconsciously clutter up your brain, cause you to regress, and make you feel quite anxious.

A man doesn’t simply float along in life. He seizes the reigns and plots his course. He is the captain of his destiny.

Of course just making decisions isn’t enough. After all, the man who makes all poor decisions isn’t very successful or popular either. A man needs to be both skilled in decision making and in making the right decisions at the right time.

How to Make a Good Decision

We all have to make decisions every day, some easy-what shirt to wear-some excruciatingly difficult-what college should I go to? When we have a tough decision to make, we often put off making the choice as long as possible. We know that as soon as we step through one door, the other door will close, and we’ll never get to know what was behind it. That’s a frightening thing. But there are steps you can take to ameliorate your anxiety as you make a decision.

Get as much information as possible. Whenever you’re faced with a big decision, this is the first step you should always take. Don’t just sit and stew about it day after day, waiting somehow for the stars to align and for the answer to come to you. Instead, find out as much information as possible about all of the options you have before you. If you’re trying to choose a college, go visit the campus, read a college guidebook, talk to students that go there, etc. If you’re trying to choose what job offer to take, research as much as you can about your prospective employers. Talk to people in your field that have an outsider’s perspective on the firms. Read, go online, talk to people close to you for advice. In the midst of your research, you may have an “ah-ha” moment where the best choice becomes clear. If not, move on to the next step.

Make a list of pros and cons. This is an old standby method that can be really helpful at times. Just take a piece of paper, make some columns and list the pros and cons of each potential decision. The pro column for one might be much longer than the others. Even if it’s not that obvious, the process of really thinking through the positives and negatives can lead to your “a-ha” moment.

Imagine yourself down each road. Sometimes when we’re making a choice, we only imagine the results of that decision in the abstract. But this is going to be your life. So sit or lay down somewhere quiet and really try to imagine your life after making each of your possible choices. Think about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Which scenario gives you feel a sense of peace? Which one makes you happy just thinking about it? And which one leaves you feeling a little empty?

Think about past decisions. It’s often been said that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. This is as true for the world as it is for our personal lives. Sometimes we make the same screwy decisions over and over again.

Think about the bad decisions you made in the past; is there a common denominator? Did you bail out on what you’re really passionate about because you thought you wanted prestige, only to wish you had followed your dream? Then don’t make another decision based on your pride. Have you made bad choices based simply on your insecurity? Make sure that’s not behind the way you’re leaning now.

Making on the Fly Decisions

Of course you don’t always have time to sit down and study things out. Sometimes you have to make decisions on the fly. It’s harder to always make the right choice when you’re under pressure, but there are a couple of things you can do to bring that percentage up.

Be prepared. Have you ever watched a football game in which there is but seconds to go and it’s fourth down for the team that is but one touchdown behind? The pressure is on and the crowd of 80,000 spectators is going nuts. The ball is snapped and the quarterback zips a sweet pass to the receiver in the end zone, winning the game. The fan is apt to sit back and think, “Wow, that kids thinks well on his feet.” And maybe he does, but he knew what to do long before that high-pressure fourth down. His coach had presented him with a few plays that should be run in that situation. And he endlessly practiced them until he had them down cold. So when the time came, he could shut out the crowd and the stress and simply follow through with the plan.

You obviously can’t know exactly what choices you’ll be faced with in your life. But you can prepare as best as possible for what to do in a variety of situations. At work, keep up on the details of the deals that are coming down the line and the pros and cons of each. With your relationships, think about where you want things to go and hypothetically work through what you would say if your girlfriend asks you for a greater commitment. Learn valuable skills that will come in handy in case of an emergency. Practice the skills that are important in your life so that if you’re suddenly faced with a big decision, you won’t have to think about it much; your training will just kick in automatically.

Go with your gut. Several scientific studies have shown that a correct gut feeling can hit us before our brains can even rationally process what is going on. In a recent article in the New York Times  about the hunches soldiers get that help them avoid danger, Dr. Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, said:

“Not long ago people thought of emotions as old stuff, as just feelings — feelings that had little to do with rational decision making, or that got in the way of it. Now that position has reversed. We understand emotions as practical action programs that work to solve a problem, often before we’re conscious of it. These processes are at work continually, in pilots, leaders of expeditions, parents, all of us.”

So trust your gut. But make sure it’s an informed gut. The article also pointed out that the most accurate hunches came to the soldiers with the most experience and training. So do your research and if both choices seem equally good, go with your gut.

Also, while listening to your gut seems simple, it’s actually something you can get better at with practice. We’re often so busy and stressed, that our hunch signals can’t even get through. You have to learn to quiet your mind and hone in on what you inner-compass feels like.

How to Avoid Regret

Of course even a great decision can be wrecked by the disease of regret. It eats at us, and we can’t take our minds off of what might have been behind the other doors. Did we make the right choice? What if we made the wrong choice!?

Regret usually sets in after the honeymoon period of a made decision passes. You take a new job and then after a few weeks you have a soul-crushing day, and your mind can’t help but think about what it would have been like to be in graduate school. You break-up with a woman and then it’s Friday night, and you’re lonely and miss her.

At moments like these, you need manly resolution. You need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Here are some tips on how to avoid looking back once you’ve made a choice:

Consult your journal. You are keeping a journal, aren’t you? They’re essential for moments when regret starts to grip your mind. When you make a decision, write down how you came to that decision and all the reasons you made that decision in your journal. Then, later on when you’re starting to have some doubts, you can look back and remember why you made that choice in the first place. Has anything fundamental changed that should legitimately cause you to reevaluate your decision? If not, just keep letting your past self reassure your present self that you’re on the right track.

Remember, just because something gets hard, doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. If a choice was right to begin with, it’s usually still right when the going gets tough.

Repeat this: Whichever decision you made is the right decision. I heard that advice from a wise old man when I was facing one of the most serious and hard decisions of my life. And it gave me great comfort. No matter which road you choose, there are going to be things you’re grateful for and things you regret. It wouldn’t have been any different if you had made a different choice. So just settle that fact and in your mind and fully own the choice you made.

Are there decisions in your life that you’ve been putting off? Man up and tackle them today!

Next time: How to mathematically deduce the best decision.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julian August 9, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Great article. When a decision is made it should be undertaking with boldness or not done at all. Timid undertaking looks just as bad as being indecisive.

2 Matt August 10, 2009 at 7:16 am

On listening to your gut, you’ve heard that we only use 10–15% of our brains? Well your emotions are the other 85–90% talking. Imagine a person who is many times smarter than you, knows everything you know and plenty of things you forgot, and cares only about doing what is best for you. This person is your emotions.

The only cons are that your gut will not explain itself to you—it will only give you the answer—and that it only works for you. It is an extremely good compass for figuring out the best path for you, but once other people get involved, it may not be your best tool for doing the right thing (it often is anyway though!).

3 Josh K August 10, 2009 at 8:45 am

Though I enjoyed the article and a lot of good points were made, I have to question the aspects dealing with emotion. As the good book says, ‘the heart is treacherous…who can know it?’ Although our instincts or ‘gut’ can be useful at times, it can’t always be relied on as a reliable and trustworthy resource. A far better resource are mature and experianced friends; ones who you can count on to tell you the truth. It’s egocentric, not to mention selfish, to think ones can go thru life without the help and support of others, doing what they FEEL is right. And it’s a mark of a real man to humbly acknowledge their limitations (that they don’t know everything), and modestly ask for help and / or advise. This doesn’t mean that you allow others to make your decisions for you. But you seriously reflect on what others share with you and use it to help make your own decision.

The main point that you were making, on being decisive, are on target…no one respect a man who is wishy washy, unsure and afraid to make a decision. Not the boss, not the wife and kids ( or the girlfriend if unmarried) and most of all not yourself. It takes courage, backbone, to make a decision and stand by it. It also takes a measure of strength to later admit that one made a mistake and apologize. Perhaps this is why some are indecisive – they’re unable to ‘man up’ and admit to their mistakes.

4 Keith August 10, 2009 at 8:51 am

Matt: Please stop propogating falsehoods.

As to the article, I regret very infrequently. After I have made a pro/con chart and made an informed decision, I typically look back and say “given what I knew and my experience at the time, I could not have made a better choice”. However, the one thing that I see as distinctly lacking here is the one to GET ADVICE. Turn to your father, your man friends, and your life partner before making any sufficiently large decision. Many times different people can contribute their wisdom to your problem and will be delighted for the chance.

Also, when all things are equal, pick whichever is harder. More times than not the most rewarding path is the path most frought with obstacles.

5 Umbratikus August 10, 2009 at 10:08 am

One thing that helps me make good decisions is having an overarching goal or vision, whether in my job, my family, my relationships, I have an endpoint I am trying to get to, or an “ideal state” I would like to reach. Stephen Covey’s second of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the End in Mind.” Knowing what you want your destination to look like can help you see your choices more clearly, and which choice helps move you closer to your vision.

6 John August 10, 2009 at 10:23 am

Getting as much information is possible is defintely the best advice. Most often when people rush to decisions is when they have regret. I won’t regret any decision I made where I was well prepared. After all, you can’t predict the future, you can only make the best decision based on the information at hand at the time.

7 Albert August 10, 2009 at 10:40 am

I wholeheartedly agree with Keith. Here’s a tip: a wise course of action is generally what a wise person would do. So ask one.

Here’s the thing about emotions: they’re only as dependable as how well they have been formed, and even a good man with a well-cultivated character is not infallible. So it’s best to ask wise counselors if circumstances permit. If you don’t have time, well, then there’s not much you can do at that point anyway.

8 Brett August 10, 2009 at 11:08 am

@Josh K.-I didn’t say that you should go through life without the support of others. I clearly argued that the the very first step in making a decision is seeking the advice of those close to you. See the “Get as Much Information as Possible” section. But if you’re making an “on the fly” decision, you obviously can’t say, “time out!” I want to call my dad and friends!


9 jlbraun August 11, 2009 at 1:33 am

I will throw in an axiom that I learned from my father:

“If you are stuck between two choices after all possible reflection and analysis, that means either one of them will be the correct choice. Pick one, and don’t look back.”

10 Jay August 12, 2009 at 6:55 pm

jlbraun’s father borrowed that wisdom from Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

11 Alex Chebykin August 13, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I watched the Parallel Universes in The Universe series on the discovery channel. This program talked about all manner of possible parallel universes (total of 4 different varieties, I think). What fascinated me about it is a reason why I am mentioning it today as it perfectly relates to the topic of decisiveness. One kind of parallel universes was inherently similar to our own and given the virtually infinite number of them, every possible possible outcome would have happened.

So, do not fret about your decisions, but think they are one of a kind, because within the infinity of multiverses, the other you is already doing what you thought to do.

12 Omar August 13, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Great article man. I allow to many options to stop me from making a decision. I’ve made improvements but its something I need to continue to work on. I

13 Simon January 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Good article,

Routines & habits are good for decision making because generally speaking alot of the decision making is part of an every day programme. Though good decision making is a skill & a type of programme. Healthy decision making breeds confidence & i agree with alot of the leadership qualities where people like people who make decisions as apposed to this 1 or that 1.

14 10ndaYii September 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Si amigo . . . That’s why mina have an Error List !

15 Kathy March 21, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Great article indeed! Glad I found it via Alan’s blog at Look forward to reading more from you. Thanks!

16 Jennifer April 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm

You say women want this in a man. But I would assume men want this in a woman! No woman OR man likes fickleness.

I believe fickleness is on par with flakiness when it comes to red flags in a woman.

Is it not so?

17 Dax January 26, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I really liked the article, it helped me a lot to make my one immediate decision, will bookmark this link till I have practiced this art.

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