Say Yes To Decisions
November 21, 2019
The jungle is thick. The sun is setting. And you're lost.
Suddenly, you hear a noise in the brush just ahead of you.
A man from the Yequana tribe reveals himself.
You call out, "I'm a bit lost! Can you help me find where I'm going?"
You pull out your map and point to your destination. "I'm trying to get here." You circle where you're headed with your finger.
The tribe member just stares at you.
You continue, "It looks like there are two ways to get to the basecamp. I can keep traveling through the jungle, but it’s tiring and may take a while in the dark. Or I can walk to the river and try to either float or swim back to basecamp. I need to get back as soon as possible. What is the best way?"
The tribe member looks you in the eyes and says...
What should I do?
I get asked two questions all the time. The first is: “How do I feel happier day-to-day?” The other question is about decision making: “Should I do this, or do that?”
Here's how the conversation usually goes; I'll use a common example that people tend to agonize over: “Should I leave my job in order to start a business?”
Client: I hate my job. I hate my boss. I want to start my own business.
Me: Great. So why don't you?
Client: What if I don't succeed fast enough in my own business? I won't have enough money for my family.
Me: Okay, so why not save up enough money first, and then start your business?
Client: I can't do another week of working for my terrible boss.
Me: Are you saying that you are going to quit?
Client: I want to. I'm just afraid of not having enough money.
And on and on the cycle goes.
Early in my coaching career, I spent a lot of time having this exact type of conversation with my clients. It was at times exhausting.
Often, after talking about a decision like this for an hour or more, my client would call back a day or two later to continue the conversation, and the cycle would continue. No answer was ever satisfactory.
The world of decision making
We endlessly make decisions all day, every day. Some are difficult, and some are easy. We decide what to wear in the morning, and what to eat. Throughout the day, we decide on solutions to problems we encounter: If the car is low on gas, we decide to fill it up at the gas station. If the refrigerator is empty, we decide to go grocery shopping and get more food.
Those are usually the easy decisions.
We also have more challenging decisions:
- What should I do to get ahead in my career?
- What house/car should I buy?
- What investment should I make?
- Who should I continue to be angry at, and who should I forgive?
- Who should I marry?
These decisions are not as fluid as the "easy" decisions. They cause us to stop, and to ponder. We may gain clarity from time to time, but we often come back to these questions again (and again) to second-guess ourselves.
For many of us, our personal definition of a “good decision” is usually one where we don’t second-guess ourselves. It’s where we can cleanly make a judgment call and move on--and not feel like we must mentally revisit it, wondering if we made the right choice.
Where there is a lot of emotion, there are tough decisions.
Making investments of time and money (like the start-your-own-business example above) carries a lot of emotion. We feel as if there are grave consequences if we decide wrong.
For this reason, people get hyper-logical about their decision making. They'll use Excel spreadsheets, weighted analysis, or some trick to reach clear thinking (i.e., “the 5 why's”: ask why you should make a certain decision five times).
But despite our capacity to use logic, our brains are not logical. We are emotional creatures. Logic and analysis may give us a clear path that we "should" take, but they won’t make us feel good about taking it.
The Yequana people say "Yes" to decisions.
The emotion we attach to making a "right" decision clouds our judgment. How do we really know what is “right” for us? Isn't it possible that in one moment we feel as though something is right for us, only later to discover that it was actually wrong?
“Right” and “wrong,” “good” and “bad,” and “best” and “worst” are stories of the mind that we use to estimate the emotional success of an outcome that we think we can control.
When the Yequana people of Venezuela say "Yes," it means: "Yes, go. Make a decision. How do you know which one is better than the other? The trip through the jungle may take longer, but maybe you'll stumble upon something that becomes the most memorable part of your trip. Then you won't care if it took longer. If you take the river, that might be faster, but maybe you'll hurt yourself on the rocks as you swim. But, maybe because you got hurt on the rocks, you'll seek out a medicine man and make a new friend who opens you up to a whole new world of indigenous medicine. Yes, go and have experiences, however they may come."
There is no guarantee that either path before you will get you to where you want to go. But what is guaranteed is that you can’t get it “right” or “wrong”.
So which way should you go?
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