Article by Karima Mariama-Arthur
Every day, we face challenging situations we must confront. These situations require us to make certain choices, and those choices aren’t always easy.
However, our decisions are the foundations of our lives. If you want to create a life you love, it makes sense to try to make the best decisions possible, even when they’re hard.
Unfortunately, we aren’t born with the strategies we need to make good decisions. That said, we can learn them and improve our executions of them over time with lots of practice.
But before we can get to those strategies, we should stop for a moment and consider: What does it really mean to decide? Consider the etymology of the word: from the Latin “decidere,” which in turn comes from the prefix “de-” (meaning “off”) and the verb “caedere” (meaning “to cut”). Literally speaking, “to decide” means “to cut off.” A decision, then, can best be understood as the process of “cutting off” any other possibility. In this light, wavering after you’ve made a decision doesn’t make much sense: The whole point is to do away with the alternatives and commit to one course of action.
If you often find yourself wavering and want to become better at decision-making, follow these key steps:
1. Clarify Your Purpose and Identify Your Desired Outcomes
Clarifying the purpose of your decision is the first step in the right direction. Knowing your why energizes your thinking and encourages you to take purposeful action that leads to results. Keeping your why firmly in mind also helps you combat procrastination and confront distractions when they arise.
That said, just knowing your purpose isn’t enough on its own. You must also identify the what — the precise outcomes you desire from your decision. What’s the difference between your why and your what? Think of it like this: The purpose (why) behind deciding to lose weight might be improved health and increased self-esteem, while the precise outcomes you wish to achieve (the what) could be losing 50 pounds and lowering your cholesterol levels by 20 points.
Overall, the point of this step is to become laser focused and fuel your motivation to stay the course of whatever decision you make.
2. Create a Solid Strategy and the Tactics to Execute It
There’s no use clarifying your purpose and identifying your outcomes if you are not prepared to advanced toward your goal. You need both a strategy for achieving your goal and a set of tactics you will use to execute the next phase of your decision.
To create a strategy, start by revisiting the outcomes you identified in step one. Each outcome will require its own strategy, which is best understood as the big-picture approach you’ll need to follow in order to achieve a given outcome. For example, a strategy for losing 50 pounds could be incorporating exercise into your daily routine.
To execute that strategy, however, you’ll also need some tactics. Tactics are the specific actions you will take to move toward your goal. So, if your strategy is incorporating exercise into your daily routine, your tactics might include attending a Zumba class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings; lifting weights at 6 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and running two miles with your best friend in the neighborhood park on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
3. Take Immediate Action
Finally, no plan of action will work unless you do something immediately upon making a decision. It’s far too easy to procrastinate, even after creating the most intricate of plans. Instead of deferring action and talking a good mental game, set yourself up for success by stepping boldly into the arena.
Success requires that you get the ball rolling. Doing so sends a signal to the brain that you are serious, forcing you to shift from “mind mode” to full-blown “decision mode.” But how do you take immediate action after you’ve done all of the above?
My advice: Take one strong step that will help you execute your first tactic. To return to our example of losing weight, your immediate action might be buying new exercise clothes, setting your alarm for Monday’s weightlifting session, or setting the weekend running schedule with your best friend. Whatever move you make, ensure it strongly aligns with the overall strategy and helps to escalate one of your core tactics.
Are you ready to make a real decision, one you can fully commit to and see through to the end? If so, use the steps outlined above to help you achieve the outcomes you seek in your life personally and professionally. You’ll be glad you did!
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
A leading authority on leadership development and organizational performance management, Karima Mariama-Arthur brings more than 25 years of comprehensive, blue chip experience in law, business, and academia to every client engagement. A shrewd advisor to distinguished organizations from DC to Dubai, Karima help clients successfully navigate today’s ever-changing and competitive global business environment. Karima is the author of the internationally acclaimed and 2019 NAACP Image Award nominated leadership guidebook, Poised For Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan), which launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As an extension of her work, Karima speaks regularly both nationally and internationally in her areas of expertise and serves in an advisory capacity on select corporate boards.