How to get better at making big decisions

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When confronted with difficult decisions a key tactic many people employ is to ask what their idol, or great figures throughout history, might do. As a culture, we’ve cultivated a myth of natural genius where self made men and women easily face up to the challenges, fearlessly take down foes and break records. But is this an imperfect system? It deflects the decision making away from you, and on to an unrelated person – when it’s your interests that really matter. It’s time to stop asking what Einstein would do, and starting working towards decisions more strategically.

Fortune favours the daring

Whether you’re deciding what university to go to or what career to pursue, the options can be overwhelming. Which one is suited for you? Will you be happy? Is this putting you on the ‘right’ path? These decisions can be clouded by conflicting motivations, the opinions of people around you, and the fear of getting it ‘wrong’. One of the great problems with making major life decisions is you won’t really know what something is like until you try it. There comes a point where you just have to make an informed call and leap into the unknown.

The key to helping navigating uncertainties is a courageous mindset. But when faced by uncertainty, you can reduce risk by completing a clear analysis of your options and look at the variables working for and against you before committing.

Bravery to go against the grain

Making decisions is about learning to embrace conflict – whether it’s conflict between your own competing passions, or conflict between your opinion and those of people close to you. Maybe you can’t decide between a course in science or arts. Maybe you want to be a sports agent, but your parents think it’s a crazy idea.

What’s important is ensuring that you’re making the best possible decision for you – not your parents, friends or employer. That might mean learning the power of saying ‘no’ like Bill Gates. We must respect our limited time and energy by turning down things that aren’t right for us. Otherwise we lose ourselves across a multitude of options while achieving nothing, Gates claims.

Break the rules like a pro

When making a decision, it’s important to take into account all industries and sectors are constantly evolving through innovation. As a result, we must keep ourselves informed of new frontiers in order to to better understand how our decisions, whether they be career choice or investment opportunity, fit within a broader context of shifting trends.

Modern day thinker Daniel Dennett argues that you need to ‘know the tradition before you subvert it’. He recommends gathering objective information about an industry through a method called ‘jumping out of the system’ or ‘joosting’.

How does this work in practice? Say you want to make the world a better place by working for charity.  A noble goal, but charities are not homogenous and neither are the paths to changing the world. Perhaps the sector needs finance skills in order to conduct donation delivery effectively. Or even communications skills to help reach more donors. Perhaps your path to make the world a better place might be even be through Wall Street, in order to keep the charities of the world well funded.

Take your own path

Making bold decisions requires acceptance that it may take some trial and error before you get where you want to be. In fact, taking an indirect route in life, and trying many experiences, is a valuable part of learning and self development. Everyone knows Steve Jobs for his innovative design of Apple products. But few know that early on he studied calligraphy, not knowing whether it would be any use to him professionally. Later it gave him a creative toolkit to give the apple computers a unique beautiful typography that added to its iconic sleek aesthetic.

Deakin University Professor Nicole Rinehart points out that we will all face challenges on the road to success, so we must be kind to ourselves and remember what we’re good at as we carve our career paths. Besides, careers aren’t like they once were. No one works in the same job for 40 years anymore. Take the rise of ‘sidepreneurism’, which involves people generating incomes running side projects while studying or working day jobs. Multiple careers are becoming the norm, adopting new technology as it emerges is essential. So get out there, try, fail, embrace change, experiment and enjoy the ride and the learning that you experience along the way. It will all add value in the end.