By Justin Wright
Being decisive is a seemingly lost art in the modern world of distractions. Since our attention spans are so limited, it has become easier than ever to procrastinate and push our responsibilities to another day or another time. If we can’t make up our mind, it’s easy to shift focus to some new task and come back to our thoughts later. The problem is that we often never return to these thoughts.
Making decisions is a critical step in our personal growth and development. There is no room for hesitation when it comes to setting and accomplishing goals. If we want to be truly successful in whatever endeavors we are pursuing, we must make a choice. We must choose our path and pursue our dreams with conviction. Far too many people wait, hesitate, and let life make decisions for them. Take control, and do not leave your future in the hands of fate!
The river of life
In his classic book Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins discusses what he calls the Niagara Syndrome.(1) Our lives are like a river, and most people jump in without any real sense of direction or destination in mind. They allow the river to passively carry them along until they start to hear the sounds of the coming waterfall. By the time they take action, it is already too late and they tumble over the falls with great pain and hardship.
We have discussed in the past that life is indeed like a river; the current is always flowing and we are either moving with it or against it. There is no such thing as simply “staying in place” in life. We are either making forward progress or regressing to a lesser state. So how do we navigate life’s river? How do we ensure that we are prepared long before we reach the waterfall?
The power lies in our decisions. Robbins goes on to describe just how quickly we can take control: “You must know that you can make a new decision right now that will immediately change your life.” Is it really that simple? The short answer is yes; navigating our life successfully can indeed start with a single decision!
Decisions shape our identity
One of the most successful ways to set and accomplish goals is to base them around your desired identity. What type of person do you want to be in the future? What qualities does that person have? What have they accomplished? What do people think about them? Once you understand who you want to be, it becomes much easier to focus on how you will become that person.
Note that the first step in achieving this identity is definitively deciding that we want to become a better person. We must make up our mind, we must choose who we want to become. There is no room for hesitation here. Growth and development require consistency, and consistency begins with our decisions. If we are always changing the destination then we can never make measurable progress.
While it is important to know who we want to become, it can be just as important to know what we want to avoid. We can be equally decisive when it comes to things we don’t want, character traits we want to shy away from, or paths we don’t want to take. You cannot go through life just letting things happen to you. Take control and decide who you don’t want to be now, so you can focus your energy on becoming the best version of yourself in the future.
Fear of failure
Making decisions is hard. Every time we choose, there is an inherent risk. What if we make the wrong choice, what if we make a mistake? Failure is inevitable! In making a choice, we will likely choose poorly many times before we end up on the right path. What often separates successful people from those who have yet to achieve success is the number of failures they have each experienced. While one would assume that successful people have failed fewer times, the reality is that their failures are precisely what led to their success. By failing quickly and often, they were able to correct course and move closer to the right path.
The fear of failure is so strong in many people that it becomes paralyzing. They are unable to make any decisions for fear of being wrong. The important thing to understand is that decision-making is a practiced skill just like anything else. According to Robbins, “The way to make better decisions is to make more of them.” While this advice may seem obvious, ask yourself how often you put yourself in the driver’s seat. How often do you actually force yourself to choose?
If failure is a prerequisite for success, and if we learn to make better decisions by making them more often, then what we must do becomes clear. The more often we can put ourselves at a crossroads, the faster we will arrive at our ideal destination. Embrace the challenge that comes with choosing. Embrace the risk, because there can be no great reward without the presence of risk. Overcome the fear of failure through deliberate practice.
The red pill or the blue pill
In the movie The Matrix, there is a famous scene where Morpheus offers the protagonist, Neo, a choice of two pills.
“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” — Morpheus, The Matrix
Neo chooses the red pill because he is no longer satisfied with the illusion of his current life. He wants to dig deeper and find out more about who he really is. Look at your life right now. How many opportunities do you have to take the red pill? How many things are you currently unsatisfied with?
Our time is precious, far too precious to waste it by doing things that cripple us from becoming our best selves. If you want to achieve something, then make up your mind. Decide right now that you will pursue your goals with all of your effort and energy. No one has ever accomplished anything meaningful by kind-of, sort-of, maybe committing.
You will struggle, you will fail, you will make the wrong choice more often than not. These failures will provide lessons, and every time you make a decision you will gain valuable information. You will gain a better understanding of how to succeed the next time around, and you will continue to strengthen your decision-making muscles. The more often you take a stand and decide, the easier it becomes to continue doing so in the future. The next time that waterfall approaches, you will be better prepared for the fall.
(1) Robbins, Tony. (1991). Awaken the Giant Within, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.