Making Imperfect Decisions (even when they feel uncomfortable or overwhelming)
All I can think about right now are colour choices. I’m in the beginning phases of a website makeover and I’ve completely fixated on updating my brand colours. What ones do I like? What colours make a person feel grounded? What colours have the lowest carbon footprint (yes, that’s a thing), and which ones are best for accessibility? Every idea I have seems to contradict one of these questions, and I’m trapped in weird logic patterns that are overwhelming me at every turn.
So, naturally, I decided to write about it.
In the future I’ll write about the process of updating a website, but for today I want to talk about making choices when there is no right answer.
This is hard for me. I’ve written before about how your inner Protector can show up in different ways, and this is certainly where my Bystander shows up. My inner Bystander wants me to keep researching until I find the perfect choice. I keep looking for more and more information as a way to protect myself from failure and making a mistake (and ultimately being judged for it).
Let me give you an example. When I found out I was pregnant, the third thing I did after booking a midwife and telling my family was to start researching diapers. No joke. I knew I wanted to use cloth diapers and I wanted them to be THE BEST. I wanted diapers that were easy to use, wouldn’t leak, were good for the environment, maybe they would sing lullabies to my baby…you know, the works. I made a spreadsheet. I do think I made a great decision (Lil’Helper, in case you were wondering), but not after accepting a few shortcomings. I couldn’t find diapers that were actually manufactured in North America unless I compromised the style. These diapers were pretty much the most expensive ones out there. And they certainly didn’t solve any worries I had about becoming a mom. I had to realize that the diapers I chose didn’t define me as a person or as a mother.
If you have a Bystander tendency, you might see yourself clearly in the feeling of paralysis that can come along with these kinds of decisions. But even if you don’t, you’ve probably had a similar experience. You’ve had to make a decision based on incomplete information, or you’ve had to make some compromises in order to actually make a decision. For some people it can be an understatement to call this feeling “uncomfortable”. There are tons of book about making decisions, and I’m certainly no decision expert, but I’ll share a few of the insights that have helped me through situations like I’ve described.
Are you in a trap of false urgency?
One of my mantras for the year is to slow things down. Often we get trapped into thinking we need to make a decision right away when that simply isn’t true. I’m not suggesting you put it off forever and don’t explore the root of any procrastination you may be feeling, but sometimes just waiting a few days can lead to big breakthroughs. False urgency can be your Protector, but it can also be the way we’ve been conditioned as consumers. Ask yourself, “can I slow this down?”
Write It Down
It’s easy to get into a situation where the decision remains in your head. You’re thinking through all the variables, but you can’t grasp on to an answer. Try writing your ideas down and see if that helps. Mind maps are great for this, but even just a brain dump or some journalling can be insightful. (Or, you know, write an article about it!)
Yup, I said it. After you’ve written it down, you may see some gaps where you do actually need more information. Talk to a few people who have been through this before. Do some targeted research. Get a clearer picture of what you’re trying to decide. Use this with caution and maybe set yourself a time limit because your Bystander can really take over here, but know that sometimes the inability to make a decision is actually not self-doubt and purely needing to know a little bit more.
Look at Your Values
When you need to make compromises because you can’t find an answer that checks every box, it’s time to review your values. There might not be a perfect decision, but there will be an answer that’s best for you. And it also might be a decision that’s good for right now, knowing you can revisit it later. By looking at your values you’ll be able to make a decision you’re most likely to be content with.
Explore Harm vs. Good
You may be trying to maximize the upside with your decision, but you can also look at it from the other side and see how you can prevent harm. Maybe the best decision is actually the one that does the least harm, to yourself and to others. This may be financial, it may be time or energy, environmental, or something else.
Let me give you two more quick examples so you can see where I’m coming from with this:
· When I bought a new car there were going to have to be compromises. I wanted it to be the best environmental decision I could make, but it also had to get me from A to B and be affordable.
· My preference would be to not use social media at all, but it has been amazing for getting to know people in my local community, plus a few of my clients require me to be on it. I post my articles, but I refuse to pay any money to advertise.
Now it’s time for me to take my own advice on this. I need to get my website ideas into a mind map so I can start to connect the thoughts. I have already slowed things down with my web designer, and I’ve reached out to get a little bit more information on a few things. I need to weigh the harm (carbon footprint and inaccessibility on the outside, time and financial investment personally) with the good (confidence in my brand, leading by example, a website that meets my values). Finally, I really need to list my priorities in order of my values. With that, I need to look at which parts go in phase one and which parts can be put off until I have more time and money to dedicate to this project.
Wish me luck!
Looking for an alternative to the mainstream business advice you read online? Stephanie gives you permission to do business on your own terms. No nonsense, thorough, and immediately useful, her wisdom cuts to the chase of what you really need to succeed. To get articles and behind-the-scenes business insights delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to her weekly Field Notes here.