I believe in living a life of no regrets. That means taking action to do the things you want to do without worrying about what everyone else thinks or does. Living life by your own yardstick and not holding yourself back.
Doing that requires making conscious decisions followed by taking action.
But for many of us, it’s not so easy.
When a decision isn’t a decision
My friend Dan Brooks, Emeritus Professor of ASU, is an expert in decision-making. He defines decisions as “the irrevocable commitment of resources”.
Said another way, if you haven’t taken action, then it wasn’t a decision.
Like saying, “I’ve decided to go on a diet” or “I’ve decided to quit my job”. In Professor Brooks’ world, it’s just a bunch of words until you start eating differently or hand in your resignation letter.
So it goes like this:
Step 1: Consider
Step 2: Decide & Act
Where many of us fall down is that we think of “decide” and “act” as two separate steps. So it looks more like this:
Step 1: Consider
Step 2: Decide
Step 3: Act
Then we take it a step further to create a space between deciding and acting. That’s the alluring period where we achievers like to revisit, review and pressure test the decision to make sure it’s right. After all, hasn’t caution paid off handsomely for most of our high-achieving careers?
Step 1: Consider
Step 2: Decide ↔ Revisit
Step 3: Act
The trouble is it’s tempting to stay in this deciding stage because it’s the step before making an irrevocable commitment. We’re extending the length of time where we still have a choice.
It can happen to the best of us
I came across an example of just this just the other day. My parents had just put a down payment on an apartment in a retirement community and called to tell me the big news.
About halfway through the conversation, I realized my mother was still debating whether it was a good idea. Was it too expensive? Did they really need it? Was this the right time?
“Why are you even wondering about this, Mom? I thought it was a done deal.”
Turns out the down payment is still fully refundable for another 30 days. No irrevocable action has taken place!
That’s when I realized my mother was doing exactly what I tend to do after “making a decision”: continue to evaluate, worry and even obsess about all the “what ifs” until I reverse my decision or things move forward because it’s too late to change my mind.
The irony is, when I pull back it’s because I fear I’ll regret having said or done the thing, mostly because how others might judge me. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who judges anybody because the only person you really have to answer to is yourself.
Two kinds of decision-makers
I’ve come to see that there are two kinds of decision-makers in the world.
Type 1 are those who make a decision and move on. My father is one of these fortunate (or do I mean talented?) people who acts without worrying or obsessing.
Type 2 are the people who make a decision but then revisit it dozens of times. Sometimes it leads to changing your mind and that can lead to regret. Other times, you stay the course and follow through but only after wasting a lot of time and emotional energy.
Up until recently, I’ve been firmly in the second camp and apparently so is my mother.
Why being a Type 2 decision-maker is bad for you
If you’re also a Type 2 decision-maker, you’re in great company. But it’s hardly a badge of honor because it makes life so much harder.
From a personal standpoint, it’s exhausting. The emotional wear and tear can really drain you of precious time and energy when you could be enjoying your life.
From a career perspective, being a Type 2 decision-maker can be a showstopper. As a leader, you’re expected to make good decisions and act on them. If you can’t do that, your career will end up going sideways.
And whether it’s at work or at home, the 80/20 rule still holds true. Most of the time you’ll be better off getting it 80% right and saving time rather than getting it perfect but spending loads of time agonizing about it.
As American General George S. Patton said, “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” While I’d prefer the word vigorously instead of violently, the General was certainly someone to “decide and move on”.
Don’t worry if you’re a Type 2 decision-maker too. You can change and next week I’ll tell you how.
Now I’d love to hear from you.
What was one thing you recently found difficult to decide and take action on? And why did you find it so difficult?
Leave a comment and let me know.