Decision-making can be stressful.
Just decorating my flat this week, I’ve have had to make so many decisions. I noticed how even simple choices can end up taking so much energy.
Then there’s the decision of where to live next. In the city or the country. Sell or rent. With family or with friends. Write this book or that blog. Work abroad or work from home. Launch a new business program or take a step back and rest more.
Sometimes you’re faced with even bigger decisions. Should you marry this guy or that girl? Should you have children? Should you quit your job? Is it time to move on from your relationship or keep working through the challenges? Take a risk with surgery or live with the pain?
I’m going to share with you some rather radical and powerful principles that’ll help you make decisions with a smile, not a frown.
I hope it helps!
No such thing as a right or wrong decision
You may be desperate to make the ‘right’ decision.
But then you’re under pressure.
And you’ll fear of making the wrong decision.
For most people, fear is the biggest challenge when it comes to decision-making.
It’s fear that cripples. Fear that ends up causing you to either not make a decision, or end up making decisions that lead to more suffering in your life.
Consider this viewpoint: All decisions are neither right or wrong - they just lead to different outcomes.
It’s not about making the right decision. It’s about how you manage the decisions you make. Whatever you decide, you can always deal with it. You just get a different experience to learn from, in life.
It’s not a life or death decision! And even if you are faced with such a decision, the reality is you are going to die at some point anyway. Just go with a decision, following some of the principles in this post, and you’ll be fine.
Without Fear, Decisions are Easy
If there’s no fear, decisions become easier….there’s no blame and guilt...you can always make something out of whatever decision you make.
The color of my flat...doesn’t really matter! To be honest, I just decided to paint everything white so I can spend more time meditating...relaxing...writing...sleeping!
If it doesn’t look good, I can always change it. It’s not the end of the world.
Where should you live? Wherever you decide, you’ll figure out how to handle it.
What should you study? Follow your passion. And if you don’t know your passion, pick anything...you may end up meeting someone or discovering something that leads you to your next adventure.
Which croissant should you go for? That’s easy - almond. Hmmmm.
Thinking Win-Win Kills The Fear
For example, if I write a rubbish blog post and you all stop reading my blog and I end up not making any income from mindfulness...that’s ok, I can retire and do something else. That could be a nice change! Maybe I’d discover a newfound passion for teaching people how to sleep better or do walking tours of nature in the city...who knows! Actually, that sounds quite cool, I might do that anyway!
And if I do write great posts and get popular, that’s great too, I can help lots of people spreading more mindfulness, compassion and wisdom in the world. Go Shamash! Go you! Go us!
Most decisions can be seen in this win-win way, and then the decision feels great.
If you’re struggling with this one, leave a comment below and we can have a go at helping you out.
Most decisions don’t really matter in the end
At 18, I made the decision to study Chemical Engineering. But after trying the job out in a summer vacation, I hated it! It was so boring, and I didn’t feel it was making much of a positive difference in the world.
But, because I was studying in London, I had to travel on the underground. And on the underground, I saw a poster about an evening philosophy class, which I signed up to. I wasn’t enjoying my studies, and wanted to try something completely different.
That led me to my first experience of mindfulness, almost exactly 20 years ago! And I’ve been hooked ever since!
So, my seemingly ‘wrong’ decision to study Engineering actually led me to help find my life’s passion. So...you never know.
Even though you may feel you’ve made the wrong decision with your job, your studies, your partner - it may lead to something awesome.
The Buddha’s Tips on Making Wise Decisions
According to Buddhist Monk Ajahn Brahm, the Buddha taught that you need to consider the following four factors to ensure you’re making the right decision:
- Your decision is not just out of personal desire.
- Your decision is not just out of personal aversion, or for revenge.
- Your decision is made having all the necessary information.
- Your decision is not out of fear.
So, if you’re faced with a tricky decision, it may be a good idea to go through those four factors. Then you can relax knowing even the Buddha would be chuffed by your choice!
For example, let’s say your child really wants to change her school to another one that’s much further away to travel and more expensive. You’re about to say yes...but then you check:
- First of all, are you saying yes, just because you always want to give whatever your child wants, as that makes you feel good in the short term?
- Secondly, are you saying yes because you can’t face the backlash from your child?
- Thirdly, are you saying yes without finding out the exact reason why she wants to leave her existing school?
- Finally, are you saying yes because you’re scared about what would happen if she didn’t get what she wanted?
Going through this, you may realise that you don’t have enough information, and then discover your child is not happy due to a bully in the school, and you decide to deal with that first of all...then, it turns out she’s much happier where she is.
Your Decision is Not About You Or Me...
When it comes to decisions, usually they don’t just involve you and your desires and needs. It involves others too.
Let’s say you're a couple and need to make a decision. If you just concentrate on your own desires, and not your partners, your relationship will be frustrating for your partner.
If you just concentrate on your partner’s desires and not your own - yes, you’re making what seems like a noble sacrifice, but in the long-term, that may be frustrating for you.
The ideal would be for you both to consider both of you. So it’s not about me or you...it’s about us.
What would be the best decision for you both? Consider that.
In this way, you’re also stepping out of the realm of trying to fulfill your personal desire, which the Buddha warns against...and he seems like a wise
The Third Option Technique
Another cool strategy that I’ve found works well, is to seek a third option.
For example, I used to be a full time teacher, but after 10 years in the job, I wanted to switch to being a meditation teacher.
But I couldn’t decide. Shall I keep teaching in schools, or shall I teach meditation full-time.
Then, I asked myself, ‘Is there a third option?’
The answer was yes! Go part-time. So for a couple of year, I worked part-time as a teacher and part-time as a mindfulness teacher. This was excellent, and gave me time to transition from one line of work to another.
So if you’re in a dilemma - ask yourself, ‘Is there a third option?’
Flick a Coin and Feel Technique
Another great strategy is flick a coin… with a difference.
Here’s how it works:
- Consider your two options, and say heads is option A and tails is option B
- Flick a coin and see what the outcome is
- Now notice how you feel. If the coin tells you to go with option A and you feel excited or happy or relieved about that, go for it.
- If you feel unhappy about the option the coin tells you to go for, maybe you truly want to go for the other option. So go for that!
In this technique, the coin helps to reveal what you truly want to do.
Put in the Information and Let Go Technique
If you’re facing a complex decision, rather that doing loads of complex analysis, try this approach.
- Read and study all the information. So you brain has all the knowledge necessary to make the decision.
- Forget about it. Go for a walk for a day. Do lots of mindfulness. Do something completely different.
- With a bit of luck, your subconscious will go through all the information and the right answer will pop into your head.
You may have experienced this already. You’re having a shower or wandering in the park, and end up having a brilliant solution to a problem you’re going through.
So trust your intuition, and try letting go of the decision and trust the answer will effortlessly come to you when you let go and relax.
The challenge is to stop worrying about the decisions, and just waiting. By engaging in an alternative hobby or activity, this becomes easier. Try that.
Conclusion: Life’s not about WHAT, it's about HOW
What decision you make ultimately doesn’t really matter. Relax.
What really matters is how you meet the outcome. Your attitude. Your approach. Your willingness to learn from it. How you face up to the challenge rather than shy away from the difficulties.
Whatever your decision, let’s remember to make this decision everyday, to the whole world, including ourselves:
“Radiate boundless love towards the entire world…” - The Buddha - Karaniya Metta Sutta