My two oldest kids are now in their late twenties and old enough to make their own decisions. But whenever they face a big decision, they always ring home and ask my advice.
This week, it was my oldest son's turn. He's in a job in a sector that has been going through some uncertain times. He rang to say he'd been offered a job with a previous employer, at a nice salary, good conditions, and a reasonably stable future. What should he do? Go back and be secure. Or stick with his present employer and weather the storm?
Being so far away and not knowing the ins and outs, I held back on making any decisions for him. Instead, I do what I always do in these situations. I pass on 3 valuable tips that we teach on our Decision-Taking course at ManageTrainLearn.
Tip 1: When you have to make a big decision, forget your choices and think deeply about what matters in your life.
According to writer Azriela Jaffe, each of us takes around 612 decisions a day. That's about 4,900 decisions a week, and 254,000 a year.
The vast majority of these are routine decisions with no competing alternatives and we take them without thinking because our choice is obvious and it takes us where we want to go.
But every now and then, a biggy comes along where there are competing alternatives and the choice is anything but clear. That's when we have to stop chewing over the "should I/shouldn't I?" issues and go back to the "what really matters to me?" issues.
As Azriela Jaffe says, "Strategic thinking is looking at how your decisions today affect your tomorrows. When your decisions are in alignment with what's important to you, life becomes meaningful, productive, and delightful."
Tip 2: Take the big decisions with your heart and the little decisions with your head.
I've always given this advice to my kids and it seems to have worked OK so far. That's because the things that really matter to us most, our dreams, our ambitions, our understanding of what we're here for, don't live in our heads. They live in our hearts.
So when a big decision comes along, we need to do two things. First, we need to weigh things up in an analytical, informed manner and create a list of pros and cons on a sheet of paper. That's the bit the head does.
Next we need to listen to our hearts. The trouble is, the heart can be a deaf mute. It knows what's best for us but only speaks in quiet whispers or fleeting doubts and if we're not listening, we can miss what it's saying.
Albert Einstein knew how to listen to his heart. When he had to make a whopper of a decision, he would toss a coin, heads one decision and tails the other. As soon as the coin landed, he would look at the decision and ask himself how he felt. If he felt good, he would go with it. If bad, he would go the other way.
Tip 3: Don't decide until you're ready.
I know that my kids often sound me out on decisions well before the decision has to be made. It's often, "If I get offered this job, what do you think I should do?" or "If I fail my exams, what am I going to do next?".
It's natural to think about the forks in the road ahead but worrying about decisions when you don't actually have to choose is a waste of energy.
The best decisions are hot-iron decisions, not too soon, not too late, but well-timed and leading to clear decisive action.
Eric Aronson tells the following riddle, "If 5 birds are sitting on a wire, and one of them decides to fly away, how many are left?" The answer is 5. One bird's decision to fly away doesn't mean it did!
I expect that the next time my kids ring home, they'll get around to some choices in their lives that they want my views on.
I won't decide for them. But I will remind them to think about what matters most; to listen to their heart; and to wait for the right moment. That way, I know they'll make the right decisions.