It’s not chance, fate, luck or anything else that determines your destiny.
It’s your decisions.
Your decisions determine everything about your life:
- What you do
- Where you live
- What you eat
- What you wear
- How you spend your time
- Who you spend time with
…and everything else.
The problem is that most people suck at making decisions. They make bad decisions because they don’t know how to make good decisions.
In this article I’m going to share with you:
- 21 Questions to ask before making any big decision
- 9 Mistakes things to avoid when making a decision
- How to avoid analysis paralysis
- The dangers of not making a decision
- The Top 10 decisions I’ve ever made
This is a HUGE article – but it is the ULTIMATE guide to decision making.
Let’s get started…
1. Is this the most important decision?
Some decisions aren’t that important:
- What to eat
- What to wear
- What to watch
Other decisions are life changing:
- What to do with your life
- Where to live
- What to study
- What kind of business to start/job to have
- Whether or not to get married
- Whether or not to have children
Decisions like these are important and should take a higher priority over anything else. Everything else should take a back seat. These are the kinds of things you should be focusing on.
So ask yourself: Is this really the most important decision?
2. What would a perfect decision achieve?
What is the ultimate goal, outcome, result you’re trying to achieve?
3. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
“Whenever I’m faced with a difficult decision, I ask myself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid of making a mistake, feeling rejected, looking foolish, or being alone? I know for sure that when you remove the fear, the answer you’ve been searching for comes into focus.” – Oprah Winfrey
Most people make decisions based in fear, lack and scarcity. They make decisions based not on what they want, but on what they think they can have.
They don’t go for the job they want, they go for the job they think they can have.
They don’t go for the girl they want, they go for the girl they think they can have.
They don’t go for the life they want, they go for the life they think they can have.
I recommend going for what you want, and not just for what you think you can have, because the truth is that you don’t know what you can have until you try.
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail and success was 100% guaranteed?
4. What would you do if you only had 6 months to live?
I love this question because it cuts through the crap like no other, and it forces you to be honest and real about what’s most important to you.
What would you do if you only had 6 months to live?
- What would you do?
- Where would you go?
- Who would you speak to?
- What would you say?
- What would you start doing?
- What would you stop doing?
- What changes would you make?
- What would you make an immediate priority?
The last time I asked myself “What would you do if you only had 6 months to live?” my answer was:
“Travel the World. See everything you’ve ever wanted to see, do everything you’ve ever wanted to do and experience everything you’ve ever wanted to experience. Stop dreaming about it, stop fantasizing about it, stop imagining it and just go do it. Maybe it’ll be the trip of a lifetime, maybe it’ll completely suck. Maybe it’ll live up to expectations, maybe it won’t. But at least you’ll know.”
Then I actually went and did it and I travelled the world from 2013-2016 and it turned out to be one of the best and smartest decisions I’ve ever made.
What would YOU do if you only had 6 months to live?
5. What one thing, if you were to take action on it, would produce the greatest difference in your life?
This is probably the greatest personal development question I’ve ever heard.
What one thing, if you were to take action on it, would produce the greatest difference in your life?
I’ve asked that question many times and some of my answers have been:
- Learning Martial Arts
- Learning Public Speaking
- Moving to Australia
- Traveling the world
- Completing my bucket list
- Drinking Ayahuasca
- Starting Life Lessons
How about you?
What one thing, if you were to take action on it, would produce the greatest difference in your life?
Maybe it’s changing careers. Maybe it’s starting your own business. Maybe it’s moving to another country. Maybe it’s traveling the world. Maybe it’s getting a mentor. Maybe it’s learning a new skill. Maybe it’s starting a new relationship. Maybe it’s facing a fear. Maybe it’s something so far outside of your comfort zone that it scares you.
- Is it something you should do?
- Is it somewhere you should go?
- Is it something you should learn?
- Is it a fear you need to face?
- Is it a problem you need to solve?
- Is it something you should start?
- Is it something you should stop?
6. What are the likely consequences of this decision?
What are the likely consequences of this decision 1, 3, 5+ years from now?
What is the likely outcome or result of making this decision?
7. Is this decision likely to pay off for the rest of your life?
Decisions to face your fears/go outside of your comfort zone and to build skills that will payoff for a lifetime are almost always the right decisions to make.
Here are 10 smart decisions I’ve made with a lifetime return on investment:
- Learning how to learn
- Learning Critical thinking/cognitive biases/logical fallacies
- Learning how to make decisions
- Learning how to solve problems
- Learning how to Influence and Persuade
- Learning how to negotiate
- Learning how to sell
- Learning Martial Arts
- Learning Public Speaking
8. Will it take you closer to where you want to be?
Is this a strategic decision that will take you a step closer to where you want to be?
- Maybe it’s a decision to move to a bigger city with more job and career options
- Maybe it’s a decision to start studying something aligned to your career goals
- Maybe it’s a decision to get a mentor or to join a mastermind group
9. If this decision turns out to be a mistake can you live with it?
Personally, I don’t want to have children and so I’ve made the decision not to.
I’m 37 years old and I don’t feel that I’ve missed out. In fact, to be honest, I’m glad I don’t have kids. There are just too many things I still want to do in life – including travelling the world again, and having kids would make that very difficult.
If this decision turns out to be a mistake I’m willing to live with it.
10. Will you regret it if you don’t?
Is this something you’re likely to regret later in life if you don’t do it?
If you’re afraid to do something because it’s outside of your comfort zone, but you know that you’ll regret it forever if you don’t, follow Nike’s advice: “Just do it.”
11. What would be worse: failing or not trying?
What would be worse:
- Trying and failing?
- Or letting fear get the better of you and not even trying in the first place?
If the pain of regret would be worse than the pain of failing – I say do it.
12. What does your intuition say?
I always listen to my intuition and it almost never steers me wrong.
Sometimes we perceive things on a deeper more intuitive level than the mind, and the only thing we know is ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘here’, ‘there’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘go’, ‘stop’, ‘wait’, ‘move’ etc.
We don’t know how we know – we just know that we know.
Sometimes that’s the only thing provided, and that’s enough.
Always listen to your intuition and don’t go against it or you’ll regret it.
If your intuition says YES – DO IT.
I love this question.
“What would Jesus do?” is a famous question asked by Christians worldwide and it asks us to think about things from the perspective of someone we look up to, admire and trust as having good judgement.
You might not be a Christian, but the principle is still the same.
Ask yourself: What would your hero or role model do if they were in your shoes?
What would Jesus do?
What would Buddha do?
What would Gandhi do?
What would Einstein do?
What would Elon Musk do?
What would Steve Jobs do?
What would Oprah do?
What would (insert your hero or role model) do?
14. If someone put a gun to your head… what would you do?
If someone put a gun to your head and gave you 5 seconds to make your mind up…
What would you do?
Deep down most of us already know:
- What we should do
- What we’re actually going to do (even if it’s a bad idea)
However, most of us try to act dumb and pretend we don’t know what we should do, or what we’re going to do, especially if it involves doing something we don’t want to do, such as going outside of our comfort zones and facing our fears.
15. Are you sure these are your only options?
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the only options you have are limited to the ones advertised, marketed, promoted, and presented to you.
You have infinitely more options than:
- McDonalds/Burger King
- Xbox vs Playstation
Sometimes all of the options presented to you suck, and you need to either look around for better options or get creative and create your own options.
- What other options exist?
- What other options could you create for yourself?
16. Are you able to look at the situation objectively?
Are you able to look at the situation objectively or are you too close to it?
Are you really open-minded to all possibilities?
Or are you secretly attached to one of the options?
If you can’t look at the situation objectively because you’re too attached or close to it, your judgement cannot be trusted and you should ask someone you trust who has no attachment to the outcome and doesn’t care either way, what they think you should do.
You don’t have to necessarily do what they say, but having a new perspective with some new ideas and insights will be helpful.
17. Do you have enough information?
One of the main reasons people suffer from analysis paralysis and why decision making is often far more difficult and stressful than it needs to be, is simply because they don’t yet have enough information to make an informed decision either way.
Two or more options are never equally attractive, but they can be equally vague and mysterious. So if one option isn’t clearly more attractive than the others, take it as a sign that you just don’t yet have enough information yet to make an informed decision either way.
Most people are stressing out trying to make decisions with less than 5% of the available information, when they should be spending their time trying to gather the other 95%.
The reason experts generally (not always) make better decisions than beginners, is because they’re more educated and knowledgeable on the subject matter. They know where each of the different options lead and the likely consequences of each.
The way out of analysis paralysis is to:
- Do your homework and get educated
- Clarify and demystify each of the different options
- Find out what you don’t know and fill in the blanks
- Ask lots of questions
Remember: Information is power. The more educated and knowledgeable you are on each of the different options and the likely consequences and results of each, the easier and more obvious the right decision will be.
18. Are you factoring in realistic probabilities?
When IBM developed its supercomputer Deep Blue to beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 it wasn’t programmed to just make any move, it was programmed only to make decisions that had the highest probabilities of success.
IBM did the same thing in 2014 when it programmed its Supercomputer Watson to beat Jeopardy Champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. Watson wasn’t programmed to take random wild guesses, it was programmed to choose only the most likely and probable answers.
This is exactly the same strategy you should use to succeed. Instead of gambling or guessing, be smart and start to factor realistic probabilities into your decision making.
Yes, anything ‘could’ or ‘might’ happen if you make that decision but:
What is most likely to happen?
What will probably happen?
What kinds of foods are most likely to good for you and your long term health?
What kind of business or career are you most likely to find happiness and success in?
What decisions are most likely to pay off for you 1, 3, 5, 10+ years from now?
You cannot guarantee success, but you can definitely make decisions that will make it a lot more likely, and obviously some decisions/actions/habits have a much higher probability of success than others.
19. Can you eliminate some options?
Don’t be afraid to eliminate options either. Be ruthless.
Remember: You’re not trying to keep as many different options on the table as possible. You’re trying to make a decision.
The more options you have, the more likely you are to suffer from analysis paralysis.
The fewer options you have, the less you have to think about, and the easier it will be to make a final decision.
“You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” – Barack Obama
20. Is your mind already made up?
Be honest: Is your mind already made up?
I bet it is.
Most of the time when people ask us for advice, it’s obvious they’ve already made their mind up and they simply want us to validate and approve of their decision. That’s why they’ll ignore the advice you give them and argue against it, if you don’t tell them what they want to hear, because they’re not truly impartial or open-minded.
Before asking other people what they think you should do be honest with yourself:
- Is your mind already made up?
- Do you already know what you’re going to do no matter what anyone else says?
- Are you really open to each of the different options or are you secretly attached to one particular option?
If you’re unsure try this…
Ask someone to flip a coin to help you decide:
Heads: Option A
Tails: Option B
As the coin is flipping, do you secretly want it to land on either heads or tails?
Will you be disappointed or relieved if it lands one way and not the other?
If the answer is “YES” – you’re not impartial and your mind is already made up.
21. If not now, when?
Sometimes we know what the right decision is, but we just don’t know if the timing is right.
My question is:
If not now – when?
- You cannot move to the right place too soon
- You cannot learn the right skills too soon
- You cannot start on your dream too soon
21 questions to ask yourself before making any big decision:
- Is this the most important decision?
- What would a perfect decision achieve?
- What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
- What would you do if you only had 6 months to live?
- What one thing, if you were to take action on it, would produce the greatest difference in your life?
- What are the likely consequences of this decision?
- Is this decision likely to pay off for the rest of your life?
- Will it take you closer to where you want to be?
- If this decision turns out to be a mistake can you live with it?
- Will you regret it if you don’t?
- What would be worse: failing or not trying?
- What does your intuition say?
- What would Jesus/Buddha/Einstein do?
- If someone put a gun to your head what would you do?
- Are you sure these are your only options?
- Can you look at the situation objectively?
- Do you have enough information?
- Are you factoring in realistic probabilities?
- Can you eliminate some options?
- Is your mind already made up?
- If not now… when?
There are also a number of decision making don’ts you should watch out for…
Decision making don’ts
1. Don’t rush into making an important decision
If something is important to you, especially if it has long term consequences – don’t rush into it. Take your time, do your homework, and get educated.
You don’t need to rush into making any important decisions before you feel ready, and if you do it’s likely to be a poor one.
2. Don’t let anyone give you a false deadline to make a decision
Don’t let anyone give you a false deadline to make a decision, or manipulate or pressure you into making a decision before you feel ready.
You don’t need to make a decision just because someone else wants you to.
You can act and decide when you feel ready – not when other people want you to.
3. Don’t make decisions when you’re feeling tired or emotional
Don’t make decisions at the end of the day or when you’re feeling tired or emotional, because they’re likely to be poor ones because you’re not thinking straight.
Decisions that may seem incredibly difficult when your energy is low and you’re feeling tired at the end of the day, might seem incredibly easy and obvious when you’re well rested after a good night’s sleep or after doing some meditation.
If you’re having difficulty making a decision and nothing is making any sense, sometimes the best option is to go for a walk, get some fresh air, or do some exercise. Sometimes you need to get some space from a problem because if you’re too close to it the answer can be elusive. You might find that by getting some space from the problem, the answer just comes to you from out of nowhere.
PS: Don’t make decisions when you’re drunk, stoned, or even high on coffee. I see people making all kinds of rash decisions during their coffee high which leads them to see things in an overly positive light, which may not be a true reflection of the way things really are.
4. Don’t make lose/lose decisions
Don’t make lose/lose decisions where both alternatives suck and you end up losing no matter what you do.
McDonalds or KFC?
Work at this minimum wage job or that minimum wage job?
How about neither?
If all your options suck, it’s time to find or create new ones.
5. Don’t make decisions based in fear
Don’t let fear guide or motivate your decisions and dictate what you will and won’t do, and don’t let anyone else use fear mongering, manipulation or scare tactics to try and scare or threaten you into making a decision:
“Do this or else”
“Act now or you’ll miss out”
“Do this or that will happen”
6. Don’t make decisions based on what other people want you to do
Don’t let anyone manipulate or pressure you into making a decision that suits them but doesn’t suit you:
“Buy now or later?”
“Come now or later?”
“Sign now or later?”
7. Don’t let other people make your decisions for you
Don’t let anyone tell you:
- What to do
- What to think
- What to believe
- What to decide
- What the facts are
- What something means
- Which option is best for you
- What you should choose
..or anything else!
Do your own homework, research and thinking and make up your own mind!
Listen to your intuition and instincts, not other people.
8. Don’t make decisions you’re likely to regret
If you know you’re likely to regret:
- Saying that
- Doing that
- Eating that
- Going there
Don’t do it.
Don’t act dumb. Don’t pretend not to know. Don’t play the role of a victim.
As Buddha said we are the cause of our own suffering, and if you want to stop suffering – stop doing what causes suffering.
9. Be careful about making decisions from which there is no turning back
Be very careful before making any decision with permanent consequences that you cannot come back from.
- Having children
- Telling your boss to go fuck themselves
- Telling someone what you REALLY think of them
- Committing a major crime
- Committing suicide
Decision making don’ts:
- Don’t rush into making an important decision
- Don’t let anyone give you a false deadline to make a decision
- Don’t make decisions when you’re feeling tired or emotional
- Don’t make lose/lose decisions
- Don’t make decisions based in fear
- Don’t make decisions based in what other people want you to do
- Don’t let other people make your decisions for you
- Don’t make decisions you’re likely to regret
- Be careful about making decisions from which there is no turning back
PS: Not making a decision is a decision in itself
A lot of people today feel overwhelmed with a seemingly infinite number of choices and options that they suffer from analysis paralysis and don’t do anything.
But don’t let information overload or the fear of making the wrong decision fool you into doing nothing and making no decision, because what you don’t do, can cost you.
Warren Buffett, the world’s richest investor, says that his biggest mistakes are some of the investments he didn’t make, the companies he didn’t buy, the mistakes he made by omission.
There are also consequences to:
- The decisions you don’t make
- The actions you don’t take
- The lessons you don’t learn
- Not doing your job
- Not paying your taxes
- Not keeping your promises
- Not doing what you said you would do
- Not speaking up
- Not reaching an agreement
- Not taking advantage of opportunity
- Ignoring your health
- Not getting a check-up
- Not seeing a doctor or a dentist
- Not looking both ways before you cross the street
- Turning a blind eye to your problems
Remember: Not making a decision, or even making the decision to postpone a decision, is a decision in itself.
Review the decisions you’ve already made and committed to
I think it’s also important to review the decisions you’ve already made and committed to. Just because you once made a decision, that doesn’t mean you need to commit to forever especially if it isn’t paying off and working out the way you thought it would.
At the end of 2012 I quit my job in recruitment. I was over it. I’d had enough.
However, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with myself.
I had $125, 000 in savings so I decided to take a couple of months off just to think…
- What should I do next?
- Get another job?
- Start my own business?
- Work in another industry?
Of all the options I could think of, the one that appealed to me the most, was starting my own business. I didn’t want to have to work for someone else again if I could help it. I wanted to be my own boss. Go my own way. Do my own thing.
But although starting my own business seemed like a good idea, I didn’t know what kind of business I should start, or if I should go it alone or go into partnership with someone else.
I began thinking about it and after discussing it with a friend who had recently quit his job as a Project Manager at IBM, we decided to go into business together to start our joint passion: An MMA gym.
Martial Arts had been one of my greatest passions of my life for the last 10 years and I was super excited by the idea of starting my own MMA gym. So was my friend. So we decided to pursue it.
I also had another close friend who I wanted to bring into the business. I thought he would be a great addition to our team and would bring a lot to the table.
After speaking with him about it for a few hours, he said that he would think about it, and then after a few days he came back to me and said that he was on-board which made me very happy. This was it! The 3 amigos! Starting our very first business together: An MMA gym! I couldn’t have been happier!
Over the coming weeks and months, we met with trainers, got quotes for equipment, mats, branding, and started to look around for a suitable location. It was a full time project and very time consuming but I loved it.
But as the weeks and months went by, I started to feel uneasy because we weren’t making any real progress on finding a good location and we just weren’t getting anywhere.
I felt that everything depended on me, and if I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done.
The first partner was fully committed, but quite frankly, completely useless. He didn’t know what he was doing, and he couldn’t be relied upon to get anything done. He needed to be micromanaged every step of the way.
The second partner was excellent, but not committed. I could tell that he wasn’t really into the idea and that he didn’t really believe in it. It seemed like he needed me to talk him back into the idea every week or so and he even said to me on several occasions “If you weren’t involved in this, and it was just the other partner, I wouldn’t do it, so if you were to pull out, I wouldn’t continue, I would pull out too.”
Finally, one day, after months and months of trying to make it work (9 months) and talking to both of my partners about my concerns, I decided to step back and reassess the situation.
After thinking long and hard about it for several days, I decided to be brutally honest and tell myself the truth: “This isn’t working out the way I thought it would, and if it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. This is not going to work and these are not the right partners. Pull out now.”
So I did.
I decided to go back to the drawing board and ask myself some different questions:
“What would be the best use of my money?”
“What would be the best use of my time?”
“What would be the best decision I could make for my future?”
“What one thing, if I were to take action on it, would produce the greatest difference in my life?”
“What would I do if I had 6 months to live?”
And very soon after the answer came…
“Travel the World. See everything you’ve ever wanted to see, do everything you’ve ever wanted to do, and experience everything you’ve ever wanted to experience. Stop dreaming about it, stop fantasizing about it, stop imagining it, and just go do it. Maybe it’ll be the trip of a lifetime, maybe it’ll completely suck. But you’ll never regret it, and always be glad you did!”
I immediately knew that this was the right thing to do and I decided to do it.
I met with the partner who was excellent but half-hearted about the idea and told him that we weren’t going ahead. He seemed happy and relieved. I told him that I would instead be leaving the country and traveling the world. He was shocked and surprised.
Looking back this was definitely the right decision to make and it turned out to be one of the smartest and best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s changed me forever for the better. I often cringe when I think I nearly launched that MMA gym instead of travelling the world and experienced everything I have over the past 3 years.
If I’d kept asking myself questions which had built in assumptions such as:
“Where should I launch this gym?”
“When should I launch this gym?”
“What name should the gym have?”
“What would be the best way to launch this gym?”
“How do I succeed despite these difficulties?”
I would have never have come up with the idea to travel around the world and complete my bucket list.
It was only by going back to the very beginning and looking at the situation with fresh eyes and an open mind, and being open to all possibilities and not just to the one that I had already committed to, that an even better, vastly superior idea came to mind.
Take my advice: Review the decisions you’ve already committed to and don’t just continue to go down the wrong path if a decision you made isn’t working out the way you thought it would.
Listen: Whatever you’re doing you began for a reason, but if it’s just not paying off and working out the way you thought it would, it’s better to cut your losses, reassess the situation, take what lessons you can, move on, and try something else.
There is no point in continuing to go down the wrong path persisting in your error, putting good money after bad, making the mistake even bigger than it is, trying to subconsciously justify a prior bad decision.
This is known in psychology as the sunk cost bias and it is frequently seen in casinos, gambling, and the stock market where someone has lost a lot of money, but they refuse to give up or to stop gambling. Instead they continue to gamble and risk even more in an attempt to regain what they have lost, with the mentality that “I have to win my money back”, but instead they end up losing even more, and they dig themselves into an even deeper hole.
You can’t do anything about the time, money and effort you’ve already wasted, but you can do something to ensure that you don’t waste even one more second or dollar.
“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” – Warren Buffett
The Top 10 decisions I’ve ever made
Finally, I’d like to share with you some of the best decisions I’ve ever made that have been total game changers in my life.
I’m glad I made them and I wish that I’d made them even earlier.
- Reading Tony Robbins book: Awaken the Giant within when I was 21 and making personal development/self-improvement into a lifelong habit
- Learning Martial Arts: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Boxing, Muay-Thai, Wrestling and Kung Fu when I was 21
- Reading The Power of Now when I was 24
- Moving to Australia from New Zealand when I was 25
- Learning NLP and PUA when I was 26
- Reading I AM THAT and Be as you are when I was 30
- Travelling the world when I was 33
- Drinking Ayahuasca when I was 34
- Learning Critical thinking/cognitive biases/logical fallacies when I was 34
- Starting Life Lessons on May 1st 2017 when I was 37
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