HOW TO DECIDE THINGS
How many of you know the story of Odysseus? The Odyssey is a Greek epic poem where a hero named Odysseus is traveling all around the world on adventures. At one point in his journey, he goes through a strait, a passageway on the sea, where there are sirens—mythical creatures who lure men with irresistible seductive songs. The men who hear the songs jump off the boat to find the sirens and drown.
Odysseus has a novel solution to this problem. He wants to hear the song, but he doesn’t want to die, so he has his men plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast of the ship. He instructs them not to untie him no matter what he says or does.
Odysseus wants to try something new and brave no one else has done before. He wants to experience something amazing, but he knows he’s going to experience regret and doubt. He knows he’s going to want to change his mind, and he’s sure he will hear voices telling him to give up.
So he has himself tied to the mast. He commits so that giving up is not even an option. He cannot give in to regret, change his mind, or follow the voices he hears that are trying to draw him off his path.
This story is a lesson in commitment and decision-making. Most of us think the “right” decision is the one that won’t inspire any regret, self-doubt, or fear. So we keep thinking about things over and over, in circles, waiting for some kind of magical certainty to descend that promises we’ll never have a negative feeling about the decision.
But that certainty never arrives. Because no decision causes those feelings—your thoughts cause those feelings. And when you’re in the habit of thinking thoughts that cause regret, anxiety, and self-doubt, you’ll think them no matter what decision you make.
If you don’t learn to manage your mind, it doesn’t matter which decision you make, because you’ll still have those feelings (and keep thinking those thoughts). And then your brain will blame your decisions for them, when really, it’s your brain’s own fault!
So here’s the two-step process I teach for making a decision:
1. Figure out what you want.
2. Commit to your decision.
Here are my favorite questions to ask myself when I am trying to figure out what I actually want to do in order to make a decision:
• If I knew I could feel however I wanted, what would I choose?
• If I knew I wasn’t going to feel anxiety, guilt, shame, or regret, which option would I prefer?
• If I knew I could feel proud, happy, and confident with any decision I made, which would I choose?
• If I knew it didn’t really matter which I chose—that it wouldn’t impact my feelings or well-being—which one sounds more fun?
The truth is that, under all the fear and anxiety, you know what you want.
Once you decide what that is, commit. Your brain will definitely scream at you. You’re going to feel doubt, fear, and regret, for sure. Those feelings aren’t dangerous in and of themselves. It’s acting on them that is a problem. Those thoughts are the siren song that will dash you on the rocks if you listen to them.
So once you pick, don’t waiver, no matter what feelings you have, until those feelings are at least neutral (and preferably positive). Stick with it until you’ve managed your mind to be able to love the result of whatever decision you made. Don’t take regret, fear, and anxiety as signs of anything meaningful.
When you’re trying to evolve, when you are on an epic adventure like Odysseus was, your brain is always going to react to change with fear, regret, and anxiety. It’s normal. It’s not a reason to change course. It’s not a reason to untie yourself from the mast. You’re the heroine of your own journey, and what creates a heroic life is decision, commitment, and follow-through.