Decisions, decisions – One simple but powerful technique to get off the fence

by Lisa Rothstein on 08/02/2010

Procrastination isn’t always about putting off doing something we dislike. For people with multiple talents, it’s often about putting off simply making  decisions about what to do. For us, every daily decision can seem like huge life choice. Should I work on my screenplay right now, or my children’s book illustrations? Sleep in or hit the computer early? Take that painting class or start that home business teaching people to make useful items out of discarded toilet paper cylinders?  Do I base my choice on what I “should” do, or on how I feel in the moment, or on what I said I’d do yesterday, or on a carefully considered list of pros and cons? No wonder we’re paralyzed. I don’t know about you, but I have sometimes spent the better part of the morning just sitting on the sofa trying to figure out how to spend it.

In my search for procrastination busters, I recently ran across a technique for making decisions that is so simple it seemed kind of “duh” to me at first. But as I applied it, I found to my delight that in most cases it worked incredibly well. (Note: This method for making decisions is probably better suited to smallish decisions than major ones. You might want to put more thought into whom to marry, for example, or whether to move to completely different city or whether you should quit your job and join the circus. But for those everyday decisions that keep you stuck for longer that is productive, this little trick could be just the ticket.)

Watch your words (and numbers).

This technique comes to me via an excellent book I’ve been reading entitled Every Word Has Power by Yvonne Oswald.

Yvonne’s specialty is in showing people how to improve their lives by giving their language a tune-up. Yes, I know you’ve probably heard that the words you use affect your moods and your actions, you’ve learned to refer to “problems” as “challenges”, and so forth. But in making decisions, language is crucial. To decide, we must ask ourselves questions. “What should I do?” “What do I want to do?” “Should I make that phone call or go to yoga?” These kinds of questions are pretty much unanswerable. You never feel the conviction that you’ve done the right thing, if you ever get past your procrastination and choose at all.

What Yvonne suggests is that you ask yourself a different kind of question, and then bring numbers to it. “Between one and ten, which would do me the most good: working on my script or going for a walk ?” Then  quickly — almost without thinking — give each one a grade. “Script, 8; Walk, 6. OK, script it is.”  Whichever one wins you do, case closed. (And by the way, if it gets a 5 or below, it’s an automatic “no.”)

Two things matter here: the wording of the question and the assigning of numerical values. Asking, “Which would do me the most good, this or that?” “Which is better for me, this or that?” rather than “Which should I choose?” or “What would I rather do?” takes away the power from any sense of crushing obligation (“should”) or the vagaries of mere whims (“rather”) and makes the decision come from that place that looks after your highest good. The numbers are impersonal, neutral, carry no emotional charge, and really don’t lie. (Yvonne says that you’re tapping your unconscious mind and intuition when you do this.)

In any case, when I asked myself questions this way, instead of my usual agonizing, I got answers that were instant and obvious. I was gobsmacked. You too may be shocked at how simple making  decisions can be when you’re viewing the options from a higher perspective, and giving them grades. Which would be better for me, spending two hours finishing that screenplay, or hanging around on Facebook? Screenplay, 9 – FB 1 and a half. (Sigh. OK, back to work then.) Suddenly, I am acting like a decisive person, and feeling good about it. Procrastination, consider yourself busted! (At least for now.)

I’m going to revise what I said about not making decisions that are really important using this method. If you’re bold enough to trust your intuition, and brave enough to admit what is really in your best interests, it’s probably sounder than many alternatives. Is marrying Bob a 4? Then it really doesn’t matter how long you’ve been single or how perfect everyone else (including Bob) says you are for each other. And so what if you find out that writing that novel you’ve been beating yourself to finish is a 3? No one’s holding that gun to your head but you. You’re a DaVinci, and you have so many wonderful choices. Why not hold out for an 8 or above?  As a mentor of mine says, “If it not a ‘hell yes!’, it’s a ‘hell, no!’” Life is just too short to waste on 3’s and 4’s.


Activity: Think of one or more decisions you’ve been putting off making, activities you’ve been putting off doing, or projects you’ve been putting off starting or finishing. Ask yourself : “How good would it be for me to do _____________?” Give it a number between 1 and 10. If it’s a 7 or higher, figure out what’s stopping you, or better yet, take action right now. If it’s a 5 or below (making 1,000 decorations for your charity’s holiday party) do you really have to do it? Can you give yourself permission to let it go? And if you’re stuck between two good options, compare their scores. Whatever is higher, wins! If it’s a tie, just flip a coin. You’ll be happy with either, and the relief and energy that come from getting off the fence and making decisions will outweigh any doubts you might have about whether you picked the best option.

What about you? What techniques or tricks do you use to make decisions? Please share your ideas with your fellow DaVincis here!


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

bud inzer November 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

Excellent share! This was helpful to me and I am sure I will use it with others. Thanks. Bud

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