We have to make choices in life all the time. Some are much more significant than others. When I discuss this with friends, colleagues and clients, I often find that the sheer effort of thinking about some decisions means that people simply don’t make decisions.They suggest that the situation will work itself out, or something will happen. This is interesting because, in the words of William James:
“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that in itself is a choice”
I’m not sure many people would go along with this line of thinking – however, if you have ever been in this situation I’ll guarantee that you didn’t stop thinking about the decision, you consciously chose to ignore it, or wait. I think it is unlikely that the conversation with yourself in your head simply ceased to exist.
What happens when you choose not to choose
How many times have you heard people say that because they didn’t make a choice, that the outcome that ensued is somehow not their fault. It is much easier to rationalise when other people can be blamed, or when ‘fault’ can be absolved because we didn’t contribute to it.
What you don’t see is the amount of unproductive effort that goes into the subsequent “I told you so conversations”, or the finger pointing that gets you precisely nowhere. When was the last time you heard someone accept responsibility for the contribution to the situation that they made because they decided not to choose?
Why is this a problem that successful people don’t have?
Let me just highlight three possible reasons (noting there are many others):
- They reduce their options – deciding between two options leads to much better clarity of thought than if you they are deciding between five options. This is why commercial tendering processes are about successive elimination of ‘offers’ in order to narrow down options to those best aligned with what they want or need.
- Not all choices are equal – another way of phrasing this is to say “they don’t sweat the small stuff”. The more they prevaricate over the nonessential choices, the less time, energy and mental capacity they have to devote to the ‘big stuff’. Successful people are often renowned for wearing the same style clothes and eating the same food each day – simply so that they don’t have to waste effort on unnecessary choices.
- They take responsibility for their choices – when they delegate decision, they don’t blame the subordinates for any issues that this creates, provided nothing underhand or inappropriate was involved. They acknowledge that there was always a chance that something unforeseen might happen and they made the call. Instead of playing the blame game, they work the problem.
It doesn’t happen in the real world
It does. I love the scene from Apollo 13, where Ken Mattingley is trying to figure out how to restart the command module computer, plus life support, plus everything else needed to get the astronauts home alive given a chronic power shortage. He had to throw away the carefully constructed manual and go right back to the fundamentals, only focusing on what was truly necessary to succeed. This is a great analogy for life. When we strip our choices back to only focus on those that are truly essential, it is amazing what can be accomplished. Most of us are fortunate that we don’t have to do this in a life or death situation.
If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if not you’ll find an excuse (Jim Rohn)
I think that pretty much sums it up.
Why should I be concerned?
Think of your brain power in the same way, there is a finite capacity to your attention. Prevarication consumes cognitive resources that you could more productively spend in other ways. Wrestling with excuses consumes cognitive resources. Complaining about decisions we ducked consumes resources.
None of these drains on our mental capacity are positive. If you have an important decision to make, do you want to make it with less that 100% of your mental faculties, because you had a hangover from previous choices you decided not to make, or because you are overwhelmed by trivial choices that deplete your ability to think?
“Either you run the day, or the day runs you” (Jim Rohm again)
Choosing not to choose is a choice in itself, but is also one that indicates you have probably decided that the day runs you.
Think about your excuses – what do you need to learn from them? What do you need to do differently? Do you need to start taking more responsibility for the choices you do make? If you feel you need to do something, remember – if you change nothing, nothing will change. The choice is yours….
Give Westwood Coaching a call if you need some help reflecting on some of the choices you are making. We can either #Startsomething or #Changesomething together.