“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” – Victor Frankl
Everyone makes thousands of decisions each day
It’s absolutely unavoidable. The first is usually to either get out of bed or hit the snooze (even staying in bed all day is a choice you have to make). The last is something like – one more episode of this show, one more email, one more scroll through Facebook, or go to bed at a decent hour and be rested for that 8am meeting? Those two decisions are the bread sandwiching a thousand other decisions that encompass what we’ll call “Your Day.” One more cup of coffee? Eat a sandwich? Suspend that underperforming employee? Call your mother? Start a business and get on the road to financial independence?
Thousands of decisions, micro and macro, make up who you are. I’m not a believer in fate, or predetermination. Everything good or bad that happens to us or those around us, is firmly rooted in Frankl’s Space. I’m not saying that I’m a “Self Made Man” – far from it – and I’m not a subscriber to the Rugged American Individualism mythos. We all get lucky and we all had help, but it was typically the decisions we made that put us into position to get lucky or get help. We weren’t randomly at the right place at the right time. We decided to be at that place at that time.
We also decided to accept the help. One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made was to let my guard down enough to allow a mentor into my life. Now I have many mentors that I rely on daily. I keep them all around me and learn from them constantly.
The two most common ways I make decisions
A.) I trust my instincts. I know that I have good instincts when it comes down to it. They’ve been honed over time, not by success, but by lots of failures big and small. I like to think that I’m the kind of person who rarely makes the same mistake twice, or at least in the same way. Instincts are important in life and business – they literally keep us alive, or at least keep things running smoothly until you can really step back and look at things.
B.) I gather as much information as I feel I need and walk away from the decision. This can probably be infuriating at times to my employees, co-workers, peers, friends, family – am I missing anyone? I try to be very upfront about my methods, because it often doesn’t involve a lot of external processing, which can leave people feeling shut out. I consider every piece of input I receive and I’ll return to ask more questions if needed, but I don’t necessarily feel the need to make every decision a process whereby a lot of other people are involved.
These two methods work for me when I’m making a decision that is mine to make. I’m in charge of the condiments I put on my hot dog. I’m in charge of the program I manage at work. Those decisions are mine, and I use the process most efficient and comfortable to me. I’m on a few boards and committees also, and in those cases I defer to whatever process has been agreed upon by the group, consensus, Robert’s Rules, pushups contest, etc.
It’s not what we do, it’s how we do it
How we spend our time in Frankl’s Space decides everything. What mindset we bring into that space can often be the driver behind the decisions we make. If you let yourself feel pressured to make a big decision in the moment, you might make an emotional one. It might feel right at the time – I think it always feels good to be decisive – and the results might be fine. Or maybe you’ll realize that you should have slept on it, and come back and used your logical brain. “Measure twice, cut once” might be a good way to describe this style.
I’ve met people who are all impulse, and I’ve met those who are all deliberation. We’re all on the spectrum somewhere. There’s no right or wrong way to make decisions. I do think it’s important for us to consider HOW we make decisions, and why we do it the way we do. The only way to get better at something is to study and practice – and that means taking a look at how we utilize our core values when we’re in Frankl’s Space. Our values should be the lens by which we see the world, and every decision we make ought to be a distillation of our core values and guiding principles.
So don’t beat yourself up over decisions that turn out bad. Figure out why you made that decision. Most likely you made it because while you were in Frankl’s Space you didn’t give yourself enough time to look at the issue, bounce questions off of others, and most importantly you didn’t give yourself enough time to apply your values to the situation. This seems like a lot of process and deliberation, but once you get into the practice of applying your values to every decision, it becomes second nature. Really examining how we apply our values to decisions we make – and becoming better at it – is the key to Frankl’s notion of growth and freedom. We grow and become freer in all aspects of our lives because we train ourselves to make every decision a values based one. This is the path to real fulfilment and personal accomplishment. No matter where you go in life or where you end up, if you’re driven by your core values then you’ll be successful. And it’ll be by your standards, not society’s.