The Secret to Great Decision Making Is Forgetting
I don't know about you, but I make a myriad of decisions every day. Most of them are small, like whether to hit the snooze button again or get out of bed and, once I'm out of bed, which breakfast option will work best for the day ahead.
It's pretty easy to make these small decisions, because they don't have much riding on them. It doesn't matter much whether I ate toast or eggs this morning. However, when it comes to bigger decisions, it's easy to become paralyzed, especially when there doesn't seem to be a good option or when there is a lot riding on whatever is being decided. (See also: How to Improve Your Decision-Making Skills)
It's especially hard to make any decision — let alone a great one — when you don't have a very good history of choices. If you feel like you're almost certain to make another bad decision, it will be even harder to choose anything at all.
As it turns out, making peace with these past decisions is a powerful factor in helping you make great decisions now and in the future. Since almost everyone has chosen poorly at one time or another, we can all improve our ability to make great decisions by learning to deal with our past mistakes.
Good Decisions Require Confident Decision-Makers
Lydia Ko played in her first professional golf tournament at age 12. She has had a lot of success in the sport, despite her young age. In fact, she's had so much success that she hasn't suffered from much of the self-doubt that often plagues athletes, even very talented ones.
Sports psychologist Jason Yuill Proctor ties her self-confidence to her ability to make the right decisions when she plays. "With golf, [the mental side of the game] is huge.. When people aren't confident, it can have a huge impact in their decision-making."
Athletes like Ko develop not only the skills specific to their sports, but the confidence to choose which skills are appropriate at what time. However, confidence isn't just a factor of good decisions in the world of sport. In all walks of life, the more confident a person feels, the better decisions she is going to make. (See also: How to Be Fearless)
Confidence and Past Decisions
There are a lucky few of us who haven't made a bad decision or who have seen seemingly bad decisions turn out better in the end. These people often choose easily, without hesitation, because they don't have reason to second-guess themselves.
For the rest of us, though, confidence about our decision-making process will be much harder. Improving the process will mean having confidence in ourselves and our decision-making capacity even though we haven't chosen well in the past. Fortunately, we can build that specific type of confidence by learning to accept our past decisions, good or bad. (See also: Habits You Must Break to Become More Confident)
Making Peace With Past Decisions
While it's easy to say that we ought to live with no regrets, it's a lot harder to actually live that way. Even when we think we've made peace with something, it can come back to haunt us later, proving that our peace either wasn't real or was really short-lived.
Coming to peace with past decisions means releasing ourselves from their grip. This is a process that is different for everyone. If your past decisions caused great pain to your and/or others, you may need to pursue counseling.
No matter your past decisions, though, the following steps can help you get out from under their burden.
1. Accept What You Have Done
Don't live in denial just because the choices you've made cause you pain. Acknowledge to yourself and to anyone else affected by your poor choice the fact that it was a bad decision. Hold this for a while, without trying to fix it. This doesn't mean stewing in regret, but allows you the time to understand the decision you made, why you made it, and what the alternatives really were. (See also: Ways You're Lying to Yourself About Your Money)
2. Grieve What You've Lost
When you make a bad decision, you usually call it "bad" because you lost something or missed out on something good. When you have suffered loss because of your own choices, it can be difficult to let yourself grieve. However, entering into those difficult feelings and walking through the entire process of grief is the only path toward future healing.
3. Find Something Good in the Situation
Even the worst choices have something good in them. If nothing else, those choices you made and now regret have made you into the person you are today. That's a person who wants to move on, who wants to make better decisions in the future, and who is committed to doing the hard internal work that can make those things happen.
4. Focus on the Decision at Hand
When you have told yourself the truth, felt all there is to feel, and looked at how your bad decisions in the past allow you to be who you are today, it's time to move on. Think about the important decision at hand, and think only about that. This can require some time and effort, but it pays off. When you focus on one thing at a time, you harness all the power of your self to accomplish that thing. If you want to make a good decision and have worked through any past decisions that are sapping your confidence, then it's time to focus on what's in front of you right now, so that you can make the best decision possible there.
In the end, accepting those times in the past when you have decided poorly is a great way to build the confidence necessary to make good choices now and in the future. As you work through these things, keep in mind that this is a process. You won't accept all of your bad decisions overnight. However, the more you work through them, the more you will build your confidence and be free to make good decisions today.
How do you let go of bad decisions? How do you maintain confidence in your decision-making ability?