Have you ever had to make a tough decision?
This is a technique I have used to make difficult and important decisions for about 15 years now. This article belongs in the Sage Advice category, which I have not yet set up here on Off The Podium.
I won’t guarantee that this technique will work for everyone, however I have used it successfully many times when making important decisions about plans and changes regarding my career, education, and other aspects of both my professional and my personal life.
This is not a technique for making decisions that must be acted on immediately, under duress. This is a method for making momentous decisions that will impact your life and the lives of those around you significantly, for which you have a cushion of time – days, weeks, or months – to come to a decision.
I’m not sure what prompted my impulse to write this down now, actually. I’ve never written anything like this here before – it seems like a good time. Up until now I’ve only shared this technique with a few people, who had asked me personally for advice when they were wrestling with a big decision.
As far as I know this is my own method – although it seems so simple that I find it hard to believe that others don’t use this method as well. I just haven’t heard of it or read about anyone else taking credit for coming up with it.
Make your decision, keep it to yourself, and wait
Step 1: First, do your homework. You need data: gather all the information you can to make the best-informed decision you can. Speak to everyone you need to consider regarding this decision and solicit their opinions, if appropriate. Do all of this as far ahead of the deadline by which you must make your decision as possible.
Step 2: Then, without speaking to anyone about it, make the decision that seems best to you. Make an “internal decision”. Stop working the issues involved, just decide what you are going to do and put it aside. Try not to think about it any more.
Step 3: Don’t tell anyone.
This will work best if you make your internal decision at least a couple weeks (or preferably, even farther) ahead of the deadline by which you must inform others of your decision, apply, accept, reject, confirm, or otherwise move forward.
If you have made the right decision, your mind will settle down and you will be more at ease with what you have decided, even if it will mean disappointing others or creating a big change for yourself and those around you.
If you have not made the right decision, it won’t let you alone – you won’t be able to put it aside, and it will continue to loom, “preying on your mind”. In this case, go back to Step 1: make time to go over your data again, have important conversations – whatever you need to do – then continue with Step 2.
The beauty of following this method is that if you have made the wrong decision, you still have time to change your mind before you act on it.
Step 4: When the time arrives, act on your decision.
The theory behind the Internal Decision Method
The simple idea behind the internal decision method is that the conscious mind is only part of the human psyche, and the other (unconscious) parts of the psyche need to be given a chance to weigh on on your big decision.
By making your decision ahead of time and then allowing your “conscious” mind to rest from it, you give the other parts of yourself the opportunity to contribute to the process.
This process is akin to another age-old decision method known as “sleep on it”. The difference is that instead of delaying making a decision, and waiting until you have more data (the “sleep on it” method), when following the internal decision method you actually make the decision first, and then “sleep on it”.
Talking about the decision we have made is in fact acting on the decision, and does not allow the unconscious parts of our mind to contribute before we act. This is the reason for Step 3: a period of silence between making the decision and acting.
If you follow this method you will find that when the time comes to act, you will act with a greater sense of confidence and poise, especially if acting on your decision means facing confrontation.
Looking back on important situations in my own life when I used the internal decision method, I can honestly say that in every case I made a good decision I did not regret.