The Art of Effortless Decision Making

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By Leo Babauta

So many of us spend a ton of time and energy stuck in indecision — the stress and delays that come with this are quite incredible.

One of the things I’m proud of about myself is my ability to make decisions quite effortlessly. This isn’t to brag — there are costs to that sometimes, and it took me awhile to develop this kind of trust in myself. But overall, it’s something I think has served me really well as a leader and entrepreneur.

So how did I come to turn this big stressor into an easeful thing in my life? Well, you can probably guess that practice is a big part of it. But a couple of mindset shifts have also been important.

I’m going to talk about those mindset shifts, how to practice, and how I make decisions in this article. But first, I’ll talk about what gets in the way.

What Gets Us Stuck in Indecision (and the Cost)

Indecision costs us dearly — we spend a lot of time stuck in indecision, going back and forth, questioning our decisions, asking others for their opinion, avoiding thinking about the decision, and so on. It costs us a lot in stress. It delays projects. It makes us feel guilty because we keep putting things off.

It’s usually more costly to avoid deciding than it is to take decisive action and be wrong sometimes.

“More is lost by indecision than wrong decision. Indecision is the thief of opportunity. It will steal you blind.” — Cicero

So what gets us stuck in indecision? Usually fear.

We fear making the “wrong” decision, because we worry that it will make us look bad, that we’ll be judged, that it will not give us the validation we seek from others. We get stuck because of fear, and so we put it off rather than letting ourselves deal with the fear.

What the Art of Effortless Decision-Making Looks Like

Imagine we could make decisions and take action without all the fear. I’m not saying we could be completely free of fear, but I’m asking you to imagine what decision-making would look like without fear.

Without fear of doing something wrong and getting judged … you’d simply make decisions based on the best info you have, and on your gut. You’d choose from the heart, rather than getting caught up in overthinking. You might make mistakes, but you’d learn from them, and make adjustments.

It’s so much simpler this way — simply choose from the heart. Trust. Take action. And clean up any messes that get made if things don’t work out as you’d hoped.

Fear does come up, of course. And you simply deal with the fear, with breath and love. It doesn’t have to be a blocker.

Sometimes a decision is a big one, and the consequences could be pretty costly. In those cases, you might give it more thought, sit with the uncertainty for a bit, do some research, ask the opinions of others, and then breathe … and choose from the heart. And be nimble in dealing with the outcome. This is where the trust comes in — you learn to trust that you can deal with anything that arises.

The Mindset Shifts

You can see in what  I’ve just shared that there are some mindset approaches that are helpful. The three shifts I recommend include:

1. Choose from the heart vs. overthinking. When we get caught up in thinking, it’s because we think we can solve the uncertainty by thinking it through. While thinking can be helpful, it will rarely cut through indecision when fear takes over. A different approach is simply to choose from the heart — ask yourself what your heart wants in this situation. For example: do I want to write a blog post or go work out — there’s no right answer! I can think for a long time and not come up with the answer. Choosing from the heart is trusting that it’s OK to actually want what you want.

2. Trust vs. wasting brain cycles. I’ve seen people spend so many brain cycles thinking things through, and then deciding … only to worry that their decision isn’t the right one. They make a decision, and then think about it some more. What if we could free ourselves from so much thinking, worry, and rethinking … by just trusting ourselves?

3. Learning vs. getting it “right.” A lot of the time we get stuck in indecision because we want to make the right decision, but that’s not very helpful, because you can’t know what the right decision is. In fact, there might not be a right decision. What if instead we could see it as a learning process, where we try things out and see how that goes? Learn from the process. This learning approach frees us up from having to get it right, and allows for it to be a more empowered process.

You can see from these shifts in mindset that decision-making becomes more relaxed, less tight, more trusting. Effortless, almost.

How to Practice 

So how do we practice these shifts, and this effortless approach?

I wouldn’t recommend starting with super tough decisions, like whether to leave your current job or not. Practice with the easy day-to-day stuff to start with, until you develop more and more trust in yourself.

So things like: what should I work on next? How should I reply to this person’s email? Do I want a veggie burger or a lentil salad? Do I want to say yes to this invitation or not? Do I want to take on the clutter in my garage?

With each of these decisions, notice if you get caught up in overthinking, and see if you can practice choosing from the heart. Notice if you start to doubt your choice, and see if you can practice trusting your choice. Notice if you’re worried about whether you made the right decision, and see if you can practice looking at it as a learning process instead.

Ask yourself if you can make these decision more effortless. And see what you can discover through this kind of practice.

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