How to Overcome the Ten Biggest Mistakes in Decision Making

By LeAnn Thieman

Steven, an anesthesiologist on call with the local hospital, recently admitted, “I’m really stressed out. I didn’t realize how much time I would be spending away from home.” Because he had chosen his educational path in high school, he felt “stuck” with it. Then he realized he could make a positive change in not only his career, but also in his life. Thoughtfully and carefully, he used some decision-making steps to change his schedule, work for a smaller medical office, and even pick up some volunteer hours at a community center. Steven never felt better or more positive about his life!

Making decisions about our careers, our families, and our lives is not always easy. Following these ten tips will help you avoid the common mistakes people make, while also making better personal and professional decisions:

Not taking enough time: Sometimes we make decisions impulsively, under times of stress when the adrenaline is pumping. These are not the best circumstances to make any decision, big or small. You’ve likely been in situations like that. You’re in a meeting, and someone calls for help on a project. Instinctively, you raise your hand, and you are it. You are involved, and you said “yes” again before really thinking it through. Other times, decisions are made too quickly because of misspoken words. Too often, in the heat of the moment, angry or hurtful words are said in haste, without forethought, and lives are changed forever. By simply taking more time to think about the pros and cons of your decision and weigh out the consequences, you can help stop yourself from making a mistake.

Lacking peace: Bad decisions are made in stressful, chaotic situations. Good decisions are made in a place of peace, when you can take the time, space, and solitude to make healthy choices. Even small, ordinary decisions should be made this way. Try taking deep breaths in a quiet environment to evaluate the facts before you decide. When a decision is big, maybe even life changing, get out of Dodge, so to speak. Find a quiet place for an overnight stay, unaffected by the stress and turmoil. It is there, in a neutral place of peace, a good decision can be made.

Wallowing in chaos: Another mistake people make is wallowing in the chaos of everyday life or listening to too many other people. If it’s a choice that affects you, it’s critical to listen to your own inner voice, which cannot be heard in the chaos. You can call this voice intuition, conscience, a divine spirit, or higher consciousness – whatever fits your belief system. That small voice is your built-in guide. It must be listened to, respected, and followed. To find that voice, get out of the chaos. Find quiet. Be still and listen. Then follow that inner voice.

Not considering priorities: Occasionally we make decisions that are not consistent with our priorities. We give lip service to one thing, claiming it is a priority in our lives, yet we make decisions that detract us from the very thing we say is the most important to us. However, if we make a list or just think about the priorities that are most important, we can make better choices for ourselves and loved ones.

Failing to heed what’s best for you: Too often we decide things without thought to our needs and wants. The same qualities that call us to be responsible team members are the same qualities that allow us to shortchange ourselves. Think of what is best for you. That may not fall in line with what is best for your friend, or your husband, or your boss, but you must listen to what is right for you.

Neglecting your values: Sometimes we make decisions that are not in alignment with our values. The world would be a better place if we all followed the “Rotary Four-Way Test” in our business and professional lives: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? After considering these elements, make your choice.

Ignoring what’s right: Too often we make decisions that are not right today, but we think they will be in the end. Perhaps we twist the numbers just a bit, inflate the resume a little, or step on someone on our way up, believing it will be worth it in the end. That never works, especially in the end. It takes a lot of courage to make the deep down, in- your-gut-you-know-it’s-right decision today. Listen to that inner voice and trust that the rest will be taken care of.

Avoiding the truth: Critical to good decision-making is telling the truth. Many times we will say things to please others or avoid saying something that will hurt. It’s important to ensure every word that comes out of your mouth is true, whether the statement is big or small. If the project takes two weeks, don’t say one week. If it costs $200, don’t say $190. Honesty is indeed the best policy. Will Rogers was right when he said, “Tell the truth. It’s a lot easier to remember.”

Forgetting how to say “no”: To make good decisions, there are times we need to just say “no.” This is hard for many of us to do since we think we need to be all things to all people. The truth is that we don’t have to give a reason for why we can’t help. All we have to do is say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t.  I have another commitment.” That commitment can be taking care of our families, our priorities, or us. When it’s hard, remember that it is only when you step back that others can step forward. Every time you say “yes,” it deprives another person of an opportunity. When you decline, it gives them a chance to serve, to learn, and to grow.

Procrastinating: Sometimes making a decision is difficult, so we postpone it. By failing to make a decision, you are making a choice. No decision is a decision. Once you’ve made a decision, own it. Doing so is the key to living with your choice. Avoid using the words “have to.” It’s said that we don’t “have to” do anything but die and pay taxes. Instead say, “I choose to.” Owning up to your decisions and life choices is empowering. Remember, where you are today is based on decisions you made in the past; where you will be tomorrow is based on decisions you make today. Take time and use wisdom to make those decisions good ones.

Avoiding these mistakes and making better decisions every day makes us better people. As better people, we are recognized and offered better opportunities, which in the end brings better rewards.

LeAnn Thieman CSP, is a speaker, a coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, Second Dose, and an expert in healthcare recruitment and retention. For more information, call 1-877-844-3626.

[From the June/July 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]