A colleague came to me recently with a problem. He was frustrated and defeated. “I feel sick because I can’t CHOOSE!”. My buddy constantly struggled with making decisions in a timely fashion. He couldn’t pull the trigger after debating several options.
“How long has this been a problem?” I asked. He quickly unraveled; the inability to choose cost him countless opportunities in love, business, and friendship. His entire life was one big question mark. “How can I learn to decide faster ?”
I suggested a passage from The Hagakure (book of Samurai guiding principles) for him. This book lays out a principle of making decisions in the span of 7 breaths.
Just the thought of making a decision within 7 breaths (about 30 seconds) can cause anxiety for some. It requires incredible knowledge of oneself. It requires commitment. It takes focus, determination, and self-control. Even after a decision is made, you still need resolve to stick with it. Saying to yourself “I’m going to stop smoking, find a new job, and go to therapy!” means nothing without the drive to stand by your decision and follow through.
We struggle with decisions because we often don’t know ourselves well enough to pick what’s really best for us. Even worse yet: the lack of confidence in our inner voice stops us from sticking with the decisions we finally make.
If you struggle with being indecisive or if you feel powerless in wake of a decision, I suggest the following exercise for you.
7 Breath Decisions:
This is supposed to be done over the span of 3 days. It is best if preceded by a writing exercise [like this one!] which will bring focus and clarity to your goals.
- “I can and will make a decision in the span of 7 breaths”. Start your day by looking into the mirror, no matter how silly you feel and say that phrase. Confidently! Repeat it until you actually believe it.
- Make your decision in 7 breaths. From small decisions (“where do you want to go to lunch?”) to larger ones (“is it time to look for a new job?”). If you feel anxiety – remind yourself: this is just an EXERCISE, think of it as an experiment. Nothing has to be permanent. You CAN survive 3 days of this! DO NOT reverse any decisions unless there is a threat of harming yourself or others. Stick with it and don’t think about the choice after you’ve made it. Force yourself to move forward.
- Keep a single consistent log of your choices. For some people, a notepad works, for others, writing on their phone is better. Pick what you’re most likely to stick with. Write about the type of decision, what made it difficult, what lead to your choice, and your feelings after choosing. Do this as soon after each choice as possible.
- Once the experiment is over, reflect back. What types of decisions were the hardest for you? Why? What decisions were easy? What were your results? How much time did you save by avoiding the agony, anxiety, and fear of “choosing” ? Were there any decisions you regretted? Do you notice a pattern?
I was also struggling with a big decision. Going back to work or pushing through to graduate school. I couldn’t make the choice within 7 breaths, I’ll admit. But I realized I was no closer to pulling the trigger after agonizing for weeks. Sometimes the hardest choices are ones that require sacrifice, but just remember – choices CAN and should change as your needs, skills, and goals evolve. Deciding what’s best now doesn’t mean it defines your ultimate forever. For me, making the choice to work now means I can save for my future and prioritize graduate school when I’m ready!
Wishing you all clarity and decisiveness,