The Decisions You Make, Make You

Research shows that the average person makes 35,000 decisions…a day! Assuming 7 hours of sleep each day that leaves 17 hours. That makes for a little over 2000 decisions an hour or one decision every two seconds. 

After seeing that research the first decision I made was to decide the researchers must be nuts. If we’re all making 35,000 decisions a day then we can’t be doing anything else. But then I made another decision to read a bit further. The article said decisions include things like deciding to read further in an article. Deciding to ignore a text notification while reading. Deciding to shift my position in the chair I was reading in. 

So whether we really make 35,000 decisions a day or not, it became clear to me that we make a whole lot more decisions than we are actually aware of. Some of those decisions have very little impact on our lives. Others have a major impact. And many, perhaps very many, we won’t understand their impact for years. 

I suspect many of the “outcomes” of our decisions we never tie back to a decision at all. But this much I’m certain of…the better the decisions we make the better the life we make as well. 

We make many huge decisions without ever considering the impact and consequences they could, or will, have on our lives. That’s because we often don’t realize how big some of our everyday decisions are.

For example, the decision about the people you allow into your life. You are the compilation of the five people you most frequently interact with. Yet for most of us we never even consider the influence other people have on our lives. We allow negative people, people who procrastinate, people who find a problem with every solution into our lives and then wonder why we struggle to be the person we want to be. 

If you want to be more successful then hang out with successful, positive and supportive people. 

I see salespeople all the time who when deciding to make one more sales call on a given day or knock off early they choose knocking off early. That’s a terrible choice in most every case. They limit their success, they limit their career and they limit their income. Salespeople who make that poor choice even a handful of times a month will need to work years to make up the lost income. But when deciding when their day will end they almost never consider the long-term consequences. 

The first step to making better decisions is realizing how many decisions you actually make. 

Little decisions, like deciding between a plain Hershey Bar or a Hershey Bar with Almonds won’t be life altering. But it’s likely that more decisions than you think will indeed have a long-term impact on your life. The most successful people consider the consequences of the consequences before making those decisions. 

You are potentially one choice away from a completely different life. There are two types of people in the world, those who believe their life is largely the sum of their choices and those who believe their life is chosen for them by the lottery of circumstances. 

If you don’t believe that then it’s likely you’re in the second group. If you’re interested in success that’s not the group you want to be in. 

Accept responsibility for your choices and you’ll be accepting responsibility for your life. 

A Guaranteed Wrong Decision

I was asked years ago to do a Goal Setting workshop for a group of High School Seniors. We were talking about short term goals and I asked how many of the students were planning on attending college in the fall. 

The answers were varied but one stood out. The student said they had not yet decided about attending college in the fall so they were taking a year off school and then they would decided. I replied “so you’ve decided to not attend this fall.” They again said that had not yet decided about college in the fall so they were taking a year to “review their options” and then decide. So I gave the same reply. I added that by not deciding they had decided. They would not be attending college in the fall. 

The young student was frustrated with my answer. They were certain that they had not yet made a decision. But in fact the decision had been made. 

You may be tempted to cut the student a little slack given their age of lack of experience with making big decisions. Except the inability to make decisions has little to do with age or experience. 

It has to do with confidence. It has to do with being okay with failing once in a while. It has to do with the willingness to suffer the consequences of make wrong decisions. It has to do with with having the discipline to try again. And maybe again and again. 

People who can’t make a decision, or more likely, won’t make a decision, fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision. It’s a decision to not change, to not take action, or it’s a decision to cling to a past mistake because you invested so much time in making the mistake. 

Not making a decision is guaranteed to be a wrong decision. I maintain actually making a decision that turns out to be wrong is often easier to fix than no decision because at least you’re now certain what doesn’t work. 

When you’re making a big decision and you’re not sure what to do then break the big decision into a series of smaller ones and do the next right thing to do. No matter how little that “right thing” is you’ll be creating momentum towards the big decision. You’ll be making progress and progress is always a good thing to make. 

If you think you truly can’t decide between a couple of options then simply flip a coin. I can promise you when that coin is in the air you’ll know exactly how you want it to land. Then, regardless of how the coin actually lands, you’ll know which option to choose. 

That may sound silly but it works amazingly well. But in order to find out for yourself you do have to decide to try it out. 

Listening to You

There’s a pretty good chance that everything you know to be true isn’t. “Knowing” things that you really don’t know will get you in as much trouble, or maybe more, then not knowing about them at all.

The good news is that there also is a pretty good chance that you know stuff that you don’t even know you know.

The stuff you know that you don’t know you know is sometimes called intuition or instinct. I think psychologists would say that it’s actually things you’ve learned that your conscious mind has forgotten but your subconscious mind hasn’t.

Leaders who lead in difficult times trust those instincts. They also know that they could be wrong about most anything so they verify what they “know” to be true. In order to do either of those you must work with a wide open mind.

When you’re unsure of anything it’s good leadership practice to seek out advice from those you trust. Listen to them. When you’re sure of something it’s a good idea to listen to opposing viewpoints too, if only to determine if others are as sure as you. This is when an open mind is particularly important.

Great leaders have open minds, they seek out advice and then act. They may or may not follow the advice of others. They listen to everyone and everyone includes themselves.

Don’t forget, your instincts could be spot on. Just because you don’t remember learning something doesn’t mean your entire brain has forgotten it too.

Listen to yourself. Trust your instincts and trust your gut. Your experience will not mislead you, your experience has no motive of its own. Using your personal experience to make decisions shows that you can learn from your successes AND your mistakes.

So go ahead and seek the guidance of others but seek your own guidance too. When you listen to you it’s possible you’re listening to the one person who can help you the most.

You most likely know more than you think you do, but remember, no one knows it all.

Tough Decisions

There are many characteristics that make a leader. One of the most important is good judgment, especially when making tough decisions. Poor decision making can make small problems big and cause big problems to become fatal.

The tendency of weak leaders is to put off decisions as long as possible. Sometimes it’s actually possible to put off a decision forever. Except it’s not really possible.

What weaker leaders don’t seem to understand is that not making a decision IS a decision. It’s a decision not to decide and that particular decision is almost always a bad decision.

Other leaders, even good leaders, want to wait to make a decision until they have as much information as possible to make a correct decision. That’s good thinking…except when it isn’t.

The very best leaders are prepared to make decisions even when they don’t have all the information they wish they had. They are prepared to make decisions even when the information they use to make those decisions changes every day.

They use past experience as reference points and their “gut instincts” to make the best decision possible at the time the decision needs to be made. They don’t only do that with small or easy decisions. In fact oftentimes they have to make the tough decisions, even the toughest decisions, without all the information they wish they had.

But Authentic Leaders make the decision anyway.

Authentic Leaders know that it’s easier to fix a wrong decision than it is to fix no decision. A real decision causes action to be taken and that action can be adjusted as many times as a fast changing situation may require. No decision is a decision to not take action and that inertia becomes more difficult to overcome the longer it persists.

It takes a ton more fuel to get a plane in the air than it does to keep it there. Changing course also requires far less energy than taking off. So it is with decisions too. Once you’ve made a real decision you’re in motion and motion begets motion.

Authentic Leaders make tough decisions. Many of them don’t enjoy having to do that but they make those decisions anyway. They know some of their decisions will be wrong but most of them, especially the big ones, will be right.

Don’t delay when it comes to making a decision. The moment you have enough information to make a decision make it. If you don’t have enough information to make a decision and a decision must still be made then make the decision.

Somewhere inside all of us is the ability to make good decisions. Authentic Leaders reach within themselves and bring that ability to the surface. That “reach” begins with a willingness to risk being wrong. It includes an understanding that a wrong decision gives a leader more control over a situation than no decision at all.

Don’t try to hide behind a “no decision,” take a risk of being wrong and make a tough decision, who knows, you may be right.

Change the Trajectory of Your Life

A little kid walks into a candy store with his dad and was amazed by the variety of treats to choose from.

 

“What should I choose? What should I choose? What should I choose?” He asked himself.

 

“Come on son, we don’t have all day,” his dad said.

 

“These are my favorites. No wait, these are my favorites.” He walked along the aisles, picking up bags and putting them back. He just couldn’t make up his mind.

 

“Come on son, make up your mind, we have to go,” his impatient dad said.

 

Frantically, the boy ran around the store, his eyes moving from one shelf to another, but all of the options looked so good and he couldn’t make a decision.

 

Eventually, the dad had enough, grabbed his son by the hand and they walked out of the store empty-handed. The young boy had tears in his eyes. He wanted them all, but ended up with nothing because he couldn’t choose just one.

 

At some point or another we have all been that little kid. The world we live in is that candy store and sadly, some people never do decide.

 

There are a ton of decisions to be made but if we don’t make a decision about our career, education, relationships, investments, church or other important issues, we end up empty-handed. 

 

Sometimes we worry about making the wrong choice so we just decide to delay the decision. Well, that delay is a decision. It’s a decision to not decide and that is almost always the wrong decision.

 

You are perhaps only one decision away from changing the entire trajectory of your life. If you’re not where you want to be it’s likely because of decisions you’ve made in the past or perhaps you’re where you are because of decisions you didn’t make. 

 

If you’ve hesitated to make that decision then that’s on you. It’s your life, you should be deciding as much as possible who and what is in it. 

 

Deciding isn’t all that hard. Making a decision however can be very challenging. What’s the difference you ask…well deciding is choosing to do something. Making a decision is actually doing it. 

 

No matter what you decide it’s not really a decision until you take action to make it happen. Good intentions are not a decision. 

 

Making a decision requires discipline. Discipline is best described as wanting something more tomorrow than the something you want today. Think of it like this: you want to weigh less tomorrow but you have ice cream in the freezer today. If your desire to weigh less is greater than your desire for ice cream then you’ll avoid the freezer. If not, well then enjoy the ice cream. 

 

Good decisions come from discipline. Bad decisions frequently come from a lack of discipline.


When you’re ready to change the trajectory of your life you’ll find the discipline you need to do it. Don’t just decide to do something, make the decision to actually do it. 


Do This….When You Don’t Know What to Do

Most people, maybe all people, certainly me, experience times in their life where they don’t know what to do. That doesn’t make them weak people. That doesn’t make them dumb people. It also doesn’t make them less likely to succeed…. unless they do nothing because they don’t know what to do. 

 

Hopefully you have someone in your life that you can bounce ideas and problems off of. It could be a coach or a mentor. Possibly a close friend or family member. The importance of having someone in your life that you trust enough to share anything with cannot be overstated. If you don’t have that person or even better, people, then you need to find one. 

 

But sometimes, even with help, your next move can be hard to determine. You’re not sure what to do next. 

 

Because that’s happened to me from time to time I’ve received lots of advice on the subject. One time when I had to choose between two options and deciding seemed hopeless, one of my mentors told me to flip a coin. I said that the decision was too important for something as frivolous as flipping a coin. 

 

He told me that it wasn’t at all frivolous because when that coin was in the air I’d know exactly which way I wanted it to land. I still wanted to dismiss his suggestion but somehow I knew he was right…and he was. So I flipped the coin and said if it was heads I’d do this and if it was tails I’d do that. It came up tails and I didn’t want that so I decided that it was such a big decision I should do two-outta-three. It was then that I knew exactly which way I wanted to go. 

 

As clever as that was I still find it a little ridiculous to make a major life decision on a coin flip. So I sometimes use advice from Benjamin Franklin. 

 

When the very wise Ben Franklin was asked for advice he would tell people he couldn’t decide for them but he did share his own decision making “tool.” He advised people to take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side of the paper he said to list the reasons for doing something and on the other side of the paper list the reasons for not doing it. 

 

Then he said, and this is the key advice, he said to NOT count the things on either side, he said to weigh them instead. Seeing the reasons on paper made them more concrete and real. You could have 12 reasons on the “do not” side verses 2 on the “do” side but if the 2 outweighed, or mattered more, than the 12, you knew your decision was to “do.” 

 

When I share how to use Ben’s tool today I let people know it’s okay to take several days to list your reasons on that paper. As you ruminate over a decision keep that paper nearby and track your reasons for and against, you’ll have your answer in relatively short order.

 

But sometimes even when using that tool the “weight” of the decision is equal and you just won’t know what to do. 

 

So do this.

 

Do the next right thing. You may not know completely what to do or what not to do but somewhere in you the knowledge of the next right thing to do exists. Doing the next right thing may not get you to where you need to be but it will get you closer. 

 

I can tell you from personal experience that doing the next right thing is a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve often convinced myself that I didn’t know the next right thing to do because I just didn’t want to do it. I wanted to do the easier thing. 

 

Right leads to success. Easy leads to…well it doesn’t lead to success, at least not real, lasting success. 


The knowledge of the next right thing to do lives inside of you. The only question is do you have the courage that is often required to do it. 

You’re Not Always Right

One of the top two or three characteristics of great leaders is excellent judgment. Their decisions are right far more often than they are wrong. Those decisions produce favorable outcomes for their organizations and their people. Not only are they right far more than they are wrong, almost all of their biggest decisions, the crucial ones, are spot on.

 

Almost.

 

No one can be right all the time. 

 

I love confidence in a leader so long as that confidence is tempered with an understanding that being right often and being right always are not the same thing. I’m guessing a little bit here because I’ve never been right so often that I’ve become overconfident in my judgment. But I’ve seen several instances where a leader has been right so often that they apparently forget what it was like to be wrong. 

 

That leads some to believe they can no longer be wrong. That’s an extraordinarily dangerous way of thinking. 

 

As a leader it is imperative that you never forget what it feels like to be wrong. When you lose that feeling it can lead to sloppy decision making. You no longer take the time required to gather the facts necessary to make good decisions. You can begin to assume too many things. You fall into the often fatal trap of thinking that your future is merely an extension of your recent past. You conclude that because “all” of your past decisions were correct that all your decisions are and will continue to be correct. 

 

You stop listening to the people who helped you make those good decisions in the past and decide to be your own counsel. That decision often leads to more wrong decisions but by this time you’re on your own. You have no one left to tell you how wrong you are. That downward spiral is difficult to stop. The good news is that it’s not impossible to stop. You must push yourself back to the basics of sound decision making and never leave that foundation again. No matter how many great decisions you make. 

 

The best leaders are confident and bold in their decision making but never to the point of assuming that they can’t be wrong. They know that they can be as wrong as anyone else. They put great effort into doing every bit of the due diligence required to supply their excellent judgment with the facts required to make great decisions. 


As it turns out one of the best ways to be sure you’re right is to at least consider the possibility that you could be wrong. Decide that you too can be wrong about most anything and you’ll be on your way to being right a whole lot more often.