Training for Life Decisions

Mentors: Steve Irwin, Steve Jobs, Nell Wulfhart, Ronald Reagan

Daily decisions

Hamburger or cheeseburger? Stripes or solid? Mahogany, walnut or oak? These seemingly trivial decisions can clutter your life and steal your time. In business they can delay projects, destroy confidence, and create significant cost overruns. When building a new home, indecision and last minute changes can cost many thousands of dollars and weeks or months of delays. In the end, some decisions don’t really matter that much. Yet we often agonize over them.

A key characteristic of successful people is the ability to make decisions efficiently. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, had at least one closet full of matching clothes. So did Steve Jobs. What to buy or what to wear was not a repeat daily issue for either of them. This simplistic practice served to build Steve Irwin’s worldwide platform and trademark. In the case of Steve Jobs, he saved time which freed him up for similar decision making strategies in simplifying business and product development. His time was cut short, yet he accomplished so much.

The ranchers’ advantage

In bringing on new employees who need minimal supervision, I have had the most consistent success with those who had grown up as ranchers and farmers. They tend to have solid decision making practices. They are consistently efficient at getting to work on time, usually twenty minutes early. This early arrival meant that they had taken all factors of delay into consideration and planned accordingly. They are experienced at making decisions while keeping the end goal in mind. They seem to be able to fix anything, even with limited resources. Imagine being alone on horseback miles from home and finding a calf stuck in a fence and no mobile phone coverage and limited tools. They can quickly assess all their options and test out the most feasible. If it doesn’t work, they adapt and modify until they get it right. It is something they are accustomed to. Their only complaint in the workplace seems to be when they are surrounded by other employees who seem lazy, but in actuality are just too afraid to make decisions and fail to take action.

In today’s world, outside the small proportion of ranchers in society, our decision making experience from early childhood can be roughly divided into three main scenarios:

  1. From the youngest age we are given complete freedom and responsibility for all our decisions. In the best case scenario this can create great confidence and decision making capacity. But at the other end of the spectrum, repeated failure at decision making can lead to a lack of confidence, fear and significant decision anxiety.
  2. We are always told what to do, of course for our own benefit. That protects us when young, but at some point we feel bound down and lash out for freedom. It is common for our lack of experience in decision making to manifest poor decisions, sometimes with no other purpose than to express rebellion.
  3. We are given simple decisions that give us practice. This is the pattern of the training one receives on a ranch. A four-year-old is directed to pick between two pair of boots. In addition to style and color, he will take into consideration the purpose of the boots in day to day activities. This prepares one for more and more complex decisions throughout a lifetime.

Whatever our background and training, it’s never too late to learn to make decisions and overcome decision anxiety. Decision coach Nell Wulfhart recommends practicing with small decisions to learn how to make bigger and even complicated decisions. She says, “Give yourself 30 seconds to decide what you’ll have for dinner, what movie to watch, or whether you want to go out tonight. Follow through on that decision. Repeat. Then work up to bigger things.” Nell Wulfhart, 4 Steps That’ll Help You Cut Through the BS and Make a Hard Decision Faster

Life decisions

A century and a half ago our country was composed of mostly entrepreneurs and most of them were involved in agriculture. Neither men nor women needed the gym, because they were working, whether outside or inside. They learned to make decisions, business decisions and life decisions. Their very survival depended on it.

Yet we think of life decisions today as being tougher than ever. I they are actually easier than before, but we are less practiced and not as motivated by immediate dire consequences of failing to take action. The problem today is that we are not as well practiced. We don’t sense the same urgency.

They didn’t need formal training in making decisions, it was an integral part of life. Now we must consciously learn decision making skills. Decisions can become absolutely overwhelming: education, career, dating,marriage… For many, making decisions seems to be the hardest aspect of life. One symptom in our society is the number of people for whom the calendar has passed them by, still living at home into their thirties with no apparent plan for the future.

While fear can hold you back, it can be channeled to be a powerful reality that can motivate you to overcome.That is when the fear of failure overcomes the fear of the responsibility that comes with success. This is a tipping point, when the fear of moving forward can be triggered by the awful fear of standing still and decaying. Learning to embrace fear is strengthened by training with those smaller decisions. If you suffer from decision anxiety, find those small decisions and act on them.

While still practicing small decisions, start working on life decisions. Discover your purposes in life and take action. Listen to your spirit. Joseph Smith Jr. said that “Faith is the moving cause of all action.” It’s easy to get distracted from hard things: distractions offer temporary comfort and block our vision and blur our focus. Yes, decision making can be overwhelming and agonizing. It never gets easier, but with practice you get better at it.

Determine the scope of a pending decision. This is necessarily hard work, but is quite logical. Watch for distractions, including insecurities.

  1. Start with a clean slate. Clear your mind of distractions to focus on the task at hand. Find time alone in meditation or performing an activity that blocks out distractions and clears your mind and spirit. When Ronald Reagan was president he said that unless it was an urgent situation, he never wanted to make a major decision without first going horseback riding. He also had a hobby of splitting rails to manage stress and clear his mind. Find out what clears your mind and set aside a specified amount of time for the activity. This is a time for cleansing the soul and freeing yourself to recognize yourself and what you’re about, away from the clutter and noise of the world. The goal is to make decisions that are congruent with who you really are.
  2. Research your options. Read, study, experience, ask people who may know more than you. This can include gaining experience by actually participating in a field or activity, such as shadowing volunteering or taking on a job related to your potential interest.
  3. Weigh your options. Write out lists of pros and cons and make comparisons and try to place honest values on them. Ask for feedback
  4. Seek advisers and tap into them for new perspectives and new information. Almost automatically people want to give you advice. With rarely an exception people are willing to stand in line to give you advice.

Whether you feel like your mind is an empty box, you just need validation or you are anywhere in between, you need people. But be cautious. Always ask, either them or yourself, what motivated them to give specific advice. Often their enthusiasm is more about them than it is about you finding your way. They may be targeting you to excuse their own lack of fulfillment. Statements like these are danger signs:

  • “You have to take this path…”
  • “Let me tell you exactly what to do”
  • “Let me tell you where you are wrong”
  • “You’ll never make it”
  • “Keep your head down”
  • “Follow the power curve”

Take in what they say and process it, but remember that you are still you. If “your gut” or something inside you tells you something different, trust yourself. Their experience comes from a space and time that may only partially overlap your world. It may come from a different dimension than the one that you live in.

Advice, no matter how good, bad, or judgmental can speak to you, illuminating a passion and opening a path.

Bottom line

Ultimately, decision making skills are vital to finding and fulfilling your purposes.