One of the most important skills to develop on the road to becoming highly successful is the ability to become proficient at making decisions. Interestingly, this is not a skill that is taught, let alone focused upon, in formal academic settings or in professional continuing education courses.
So how does one become proficient at decision making? The same way you become proficient at anything else – practice, practice and more practice! Like working out to develop specific sets of muscles, you can strengthen your decision-making muscles by doing the same thing – using them!
Webster’s Dictionary defines decide as to determine or resolve; also to determine with resolve. Its root word – “decidere” – means literally to “cut off” as in alternatives or options.
There’s a story of an ancient general that illustrates this point. He took his soldiers by ship to conquer an enemy land. Upon landing and climbing up a mountain to survey the situation, they saw an innumerable host of enemy troops. His soldiers began to be fearful, thinking about the risk of being overwhelmed by the enemy. The general could see they were wavering and wanted to go back. Quickly, he made a decision and sent word to burn all of his ships in the harbor. Now there was no turning back. All paths of retreat had been cut off. His men would either go forward and conquer or go forward and die, but go forward they must. Do you think they had more motivation to succeed? Was there an increase in their commitment to their cause?
There is an inherent power in decision making – the power to completely change your life or anything about it. How long does it take to MAKE a significant change? Really, it takes just a moment. Making a change can be done in an instant! What takes all the time is getting ready to make a change. It doesn’t matter what the issue nor how entrenched the habit. Most people expend more effort “getting ready” to decide. That takes a prolonged amount of time because it’s based on “I’ll try” or making sure they’ve identified the loopholes- and created some wiggle room. Although what takes a long time is preparing to change, once retreat is cut off, once a committed decision is made – it’s done – that’s it!
There is a HUGE difference between a committed, determined decision and a wavering wish. Rewind your life’s video to a time when you were absolutely committed to having, doing, or being something – as opposed to being willing to accept something – IF it all worked out. Reflect on that and remember. WHAT was different then?
I KNOW your life would be positively different if each day you woke up and your dreams and goals didn’t vanish with your sleep! A committed decision helps you focus, tap into resources and energy, and SET IN MOTION those things you need to achieve your dreams. Like a snowball rolling downhill, a committed decision will gather critical mass and momentum.
To achieve things you have never before achieved, you MUST make a decision to do things you have never before done.
There is a story that illustrates the power of just such a determined decision. In the early 1900’s there was a small country schoolhouse in Kansas that was heated by an old pot-bellied stove. A little boy had the job of coming early each day to start the fire and warm the room before the teacher and classmates arrived. One day there was an accident when the stove exploded and the young boy received major burns over half of his body. In a semi-conscious state he heard the doctor tell his mother he would surely die – and it was for the best. He didn’t want to die and made up his mind he WOULD survive – and he did!
When the mortal danger had past and he had stabilized, he heard the doctor tell his mother it would have been better if he died since the fire destroyed so much flesh in his lower body. He was doomed to be a lifetime cripple with no use of his lower limbs. He made up his mind again – he would NOT be a cripple – he WOULD walk! BUT, from the waist down he had no motor ability as his thin legs just dangled lifelessly – like cooked spaghetti. Being confined to a bed or a wheelchair, his mother would wheel him out into the yard each day so he could enjoy the outdoors.
One day, alone in the yard, he made a decision, from which there was no turning back. He threw himself out of the wheel chair and pulled himself across the grass, dragging his lifeless legs behind him. Clawing his way to the picket fence he raised himself up where, stake by stake, he dragged himself along the fence, resolved that he would walk. He did this EVERY day until he wore a path around the yard next to the fence. Through daily massages, iron-willed persistence and a resolute determined decision, he developed the ability to stand, then to walk jerkily, and then to walk by himself. Then, he began running a little.
It’s important here to note – and this is a KEY for you and me – while he was undoubtedly aware of it, he didn’t “see” his burnt body, his destroyed muscles, or how odd he must have looked. The focus of his vision was on learning to stand, walking and running like everyone else.
He began walking to school, then run to school, and then would run for the sheer joy of running! Can you imagine his exhilaration? How would YOU have felt? Several years later, at Madison Square Garden, this young man who was not expected to survive, who would never walk and surely never hope to run – this determined young man, Dr. Glenn Cunningham – ran the world’s fastest mile! He then went on to represent the US in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics! ALL because he dared to dream and made a determined, committed decision to just do it!
Probably, most of us will not experience a catastrophe like that fire. But what will you do when you experience sudden unexpected obstacles, disappointments, or major setbacks in your life? Will you “SEE” as clearly as young Glenn Cunningham – looking past the challenges and focusing your vision on a determined committed decision, from which there is no retreat and only going forward to succeed? Will you look “out there” and find a champion within?
Over the years, studies of highly successful people have shown a common trait. Once they have the needed information, they tend to make decisions quickly and change them slowly, if at all. On the other hand, unsuccessful people make decisions slowly and change them quickly – often at the first sign of trouble or challenge. By “exercising” their decision-making muscles, successful people gain more confidence in themselves and their decision-making process, gaining a real winner’s edge. It’s been said that successful people don’t always make the right decisions, but they always make their decisions right.
The former head of Porsche’s global operations was reported to have stated that, “A poor decision brilliantly executed is more powerful than a brilliant decision never executed.” Have you rationalized not making a particular decision by telling yourself you’re still “gathering the data” and overly valued the “paralysis of analysis” as a good thing? Are there decisions you know you need to make, ones that would make a positive significant difference in your career or your personal life, but you’re avoiding? Remember, to achieve things you have never before achieved, you MUST make a decision to do things you have never before done. Decision making is an art. Making a decision – a determined, committed decision – has power, the power to truly change your life. What a wavering wish won’t, a determined decision does. Decision making – that’s the winner’s edge.
Here are two action steps you can take to begin mastering the art and harnessing the power of decisions.
First, become consciously aware of your thought processes and note how many opportunities arise each day to make decisions and “watch” how you respond. Practice decision making and let the increased confidence that arises because you’re “taking control” of your destiny be reinforcing to this process.
Next, make a list of the major decisions you’re “avoiding” dealing with. You know the ones. Ask yourself what will happen if you continue to avoid them. Then ask yourself what will happen if you take charge of them. “Practice” deciding by selecting one to work with (that may seem a “tough” decision) and identify what’s the first step required for you to move it forward. Then commit to taking that step and watch what happens!
Until next time, here’s to your success.
Larry H. Gassin