How To Make DecisionsMar 28, 2022
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Fear of making the wrong decision. That struggle with the question: Is this choice or that choice the “right one?”... This fear plagues most, if not all of us. And back and forth uncertainty over choosing can leave us living in indecision and suffering anxiety over potentially making a wrong choice. But what, exactly, defines a “wrong decision”?
The encouraging truth is that defining what is a right choice, versus a wrong choice is often in how you interpret the results of your decision. And an even more encouraging truth is that you can coach yourself into being more confident, more effective and more comfortable in your decision-making. In this episode, I offer you some thoughts about how to view your past decisions and how to make decisions going forward.
“Who decides if a decision was wrong?... Typically, what we do is we decide that a decision that we made was the wrong decision if the outcome we got was either unexpected or not what we wanted… [But] what if we just decided that every decision we made was the best decision we could have made at the time, and moved on from there?” – Dr. Sara Dill
What You’ll Learn
- Is it really a wrong decision?
- The dream stealer
- How to make decisions
- Identify wants, sort underlying emotions
- Know discomfort doesn’t mean stop
- Expect the second-guessing
- Draw on decision-making strengths
- Flip a coin
Contact Info and Recommended Resources
- Get the book “The Doctor Dilemma: How to Quit Being Miserable Without Quitting Medicine” by Dr. Sara Dill
- Want to catch up on episodes of Stress-Less Physician? Links and Show Notes are all housed here.
Connect with Sara Dill, MD, The Doctor’s Coach
- Website: saradill.com
- Work with me: saradill.com/coaching
- Email: [email protected]
- Get a FREE consultation with Sara! Sign up here: saradill.com/schedule
Want to know more about me and how I learned to stress less? I recorded a trailer for my podcast that includes some of these details. I’ve also included a short bio below.
Meet Dr. Sara Dill
Welcome to my podcast, Stress-Less Physician. I’m Sara Dill, MD, board-certified dermatologist and pediatric dermatologist. Like nearly all physicians, I used to believe the way to be a good and successful doctor was to work hard, always say yes, and put patients (and everyone else) first. I was successful following that pattern but (as is typically the case) I felt perpetually stressed out, overworked and unhappy.
Compelled by the truth that I’d worked too long and hard to simply accept stress as inevitable, I was determined to find the answer. In order to fully devote myself to discovering a solution, I took a sabbatical from my practice and studied life coaching. I completed two life coach training programs, numerous other courses, read 100s of books, and used coaching to transform my own relationship to work.
What I learned was that stress is a symptom. It all has less to do with the actual hours you work than with your thoughts about your work.
With this knowledge, I took control of my life. So can you! But you don't have to take years or go on sabbatical. I did it so you don't have to. And I’m here to help.
I’m Dr. Sara Dill, and this is the Stress-Less Physician Podcast, episode number seven. Welcome to the Stress-Less Physician podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.
Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. How are you? I am doing great, having a really good day. I just took my puppy for a walk around the block, talked to some neighbors. I really do think I have the best neighborhood. I mean, having a dog gets you out and about a lot. But with COVID, we really, I think, came together. It’s probably easier because we’re in California as well. And so we were able to do a lot of stuff outside, a lot of street happy hours and bingo, and all of that. So, we’re still very close as a neighborhood. And everyone has now adopted my puppy as their puppy. Which is very helpful for a lot of people that don’t want to puppy, which as I said before, can really interfere with getting stuff done. But Teddy is adorable. And he gets me out of the house on a regular basis, so what’s not perfect there.
So today, I wanted to talk about how to make a decision. And I think this is something that a lot of us really struggle with. I know a lot of my clients really go back and forth on decision making. And I think it’s something that I see very commonly in so many people. And I really like this idea of what if there’s a better way to make decisions. So first, I would just ask you to check in with, how do you make decisions? Are you someone who you find it pretty easy to make decisions? Or are you someone who really spends a lot of time going back and forth? Maybe weighing the pros and cons, making lists. You can notice, are you someone who asks other people for their opinion? Or asks what other people would do in terms of making a decision. Usually, that’s a sign that you aren’t very clear on what you want to do.
One of the things I see too, that I think really holds us back from making decisions is a very common fear of making the wrong decision. Now, this is very interesting to look at, especially in sort of using the coaching lens, is, what is a wrong decision? How do we define a wrong decision? Who decides if a decision was wrong? It’s sort of like thinking about maybe somewhere out there in the world, there’s a list of bad decisions, wrong decisions.
Typically, what we do is we decide that a decision we made was the wrong decision if the outcome we got was either unexpected or not what we wanted or lead to some other untoward events. We go back and we label that decision as wrong. But in the moment—I want you to go back and think about it—in the moment, wasn’t it the best decision you could have made, based on what you were thinking and believing at the time, based on maybe what you knew to be true at the time, maybe based on what your skill set was, or again, what your sort of capacity was? What if we just decided that every decision we made was the best decision we could have made at that time and moved on from there.
Often, what I like to do is decide that it was the best decision and sometimes my best wasn’t that great. But rather than calling it a wrong decision, it was a decision. And it moved me forward. And then I got more data and then I got to make another decision. So often, in coaching, we talk about when you are in indecision, when you are maybe telling yourself you don’t know what you want, you don’t know what the right decision is. You can live there for a long time in this sort of indecision land. It’s sort of very vague, I think, when you’re living in a decision.
And I really like the idea of: What if I don’t know? What if when you tell yourself “I don’t know what I want? I don’t know what the best decision is.” I love the idea that what if that’s a dream stealer or hate? ‘I don’t know’ will steal a lot of your dreams, a lot of your life. You can spend a lot of time in indecision. What would it look like to be able to move more quickly through making a decision? What is it that you need to do to be a more effective decision maker?
So first, I would say, is this idea of: what if we decide that whatever decision I make, I’m not going to go back and beat myself up for it. I’m not going to call it the wrong decision. I’m not going to blame myself or shame myself. I’m just going to tell myself I made a decision. I made the best decision at the time, based on what I had available to me. How would that feel? It might not feel totally believable. But you could notice if you knew you would never go back and tell yourself you made the wrong decision, and then sort of use that against yourself. Would it be easier for you to make decisions?
Another thing that holds us back very frequently from making decisions, of sort of looping through indecision, is an idea that we don’t want to regret our decision. This is sort of tied in with that idea of labelling a decision is wrong or bad. So it’s interesting to look at this too, because what is regret? Regret is a feeling that we have, a feeling of remorse or regret. It doesn’t feel that great. But where is that feeling coming from? It’s not coming from the decision. It’s coming from our thoughts about it, that it was the wrong decision or a bad decision, or that we should have made a different decision, or that we could have made a different decision. That’s such an interesting thought to look at. Because it supposes that we really can go back somehow weirdly in time and have made a different decision. But we can’t. How do we know we made the right decision? Because that was the decision we made? What if that was the only decision we could ever have made?
We have sort of this fantasy, when we tell ourselves, “I should have decided differently, I should have made a different decision. I regret the decision I made,” as if we could go back and do a do over. It reminds me of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I don’t know if you read them when you were a child, but I loved them. But I hated making decisions. I hated choosing which adventure, so I would read every option. I would keep my finger in all these different parts of the book, and read everything through to the end. And then I would decide what I wanted to do, based on the end result.
But life isn’t like that. It is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. But we don’t always get to decide or know what all the repercussions are going to be of our decision. We’re going to make new decisions in the future, based on the results in the information we get after we make this decision. So, you could just notice that, this idea that somehow, we could go back. It’s actually a thought that generally makes us feel terrible, that I made the wrong decision. I should have decided differently. I could have done it differently. I should have done it differently. Those are all thoughts that are probably going to feel terrible to you. And I would suggest that that’s because they aren’t true. You couldn’t have done it differently. You didn’t make a wrong decision. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision. And maybe in the future, you want to make a different decision. That’s completely legitimate.
But what would it be like to not ever label the decision you already made as wrong, or decide to regret it? You can evaluate it, you can look at why you chose to make that decision. And then you can decide in the future to make a different decision. But I love this idea that decisions and the better we get at making decisions and not making ourselves wrong or using them against us in the future. This is how we move ourselves forward. Making decisions moves us forward. It’s where we get a lot of our power. Because once we make a decision, then we’re going to get new information when we act on it.
So, I would like to suggest that the way to make a decision is not to go through the pros and cons and not to ask necessarily everyone else for their opinion. You can certainly ask for feedback, ask for advice if you want to. But what I would do get very clear about what is the decision in front of you? What are you asking yourself to decide between?
Let’s say hypothetically, it’s whether to accept a new job, or stay at your current job, your current position. So, I would then say, why would I want to take the new job? What are my thoughts about it? What is the best-case scenario? In this new job? What do I want to happen if I take this new job? And then I would ask the same for the other option for staying at your current job. Why would I choose to stay here? What’s the best-case scenario? What would I want to have happen?
And then what I want you to do—and this is really designed to sort of set fear and worry aside, because fear and worry are not conducive to making great decisions for us, and they certainly slow us down—Is if I knew I was going to be equally happy and equally successful with either choice, staying at my current job or taking this new job, if I knew that I was going to be successful, if I knew that I would have a positive outcome, that I knew I would be equally happy in five years, what would I choose?
Often, that will really help you see, at least what you want to choose. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to decide to choose that, but it can be helpful to sort of tell yourself the truth of, “I want this, but the reason I’m not choosing it is because I’m afraid that I won’t get what I want, or it’s going to be too difficult,” or whatever else it is.
So, when you’re asking yourself, why would I choose to stay here? Or why would I choose to move? You want to notice, what is the flavor of those reasons. Often, there’s one side or one decision that’s really motivated by fear, or by what I would call scarcity. So, if you are choosing to stay at your current job, because it seems safer and it’s easier, and you aren’t really sure that the new job is going to be worth it. Those are all sort of coming from, I would say a little bit of fear and scarcity.
And if the reason that you would take this new job is that it’s amazing. And it’s a little bit scary, because it’s going to ask you to grow into a role that maybe you haven’t done before, or see patients that might be a little more challenging for you. I would just notice that I think those reasons are coming from more abundance from excitement, from enthusiasm, from desire. And yes, there’s a little fear there, there’s probably fear on both sides. And that’s why the second question is really, if I knew I was going to be equally happy, if I knew I was going to be successful at either option, what would I pick. And that’s really going to give you a lot more insight into perhaps what it is you really want to decide. And then you get to decide.
So, what I would suggest is what if you decide to make the choice that is coming from positive emotion, that feels exciting? It’s probably going to feel scary, that’s normal. Fear is often part of change, it often accompanies decisions that we make. Fear does not mean pause, or stop, or that you’re making a mistake. I used to think I shouldn’t make a decision until I feel completely comfortable with it. But generally, for me, that’s never, right? I don’t feel comfortable making decisions 100% of the time when I’m making them, because often, it’s stepping into something that’s new or different. Or making a decision to show up in a different way is going to feel uncomfortable.
That’s normal, that’s sort of part of the deal. And then the next thing that happens after you make the decision is that you are immediately going to be invited by your brain to second guess yourself, to review it to maybe change your mind. And so knowing that this is also part of the decision making problem and process. So first we make the decision, and then our brain is going to want us to second guess to go back to, “I don’t know, maybe that’s not the best decision. Maybe that’s the wrong decision. Maybe I’m going to regret this.” All of those thoughts that we already talked about, that make it difficult for you to decide are going to be invited back again by your brain.
So, what I like to do is tell myself, right on time, of course, my brain is going to suggest that now I should second guess myself, now I should change my mind again. And so what’s very important is to get very clear, this is actually why I like to write all this down. What are my reasons for making this decision? Make sure you like your reasons. And then keep reminding yourself of those reasons.
So, if your decision is to change jobs, why? What are your reasons? Write them down, remind yourself of them. Because when your brain wants to go back and second guess it, especially if you’re facing any challenges, or other people are questioning your decision, you want to remind yourself: No, this is why. These are my reasons and I like them. These are my reasons and it’s a great decision. Am I scared? Yes. Am I asking myself to step into the unknown? Perhaps yes. Can I make a new decision in the future? Of course.
So, the rule that I have for myself is that, of course, I can change my mind, but I need to get new information first. I can’t just change my mind because I feel scared, or because I’m worried about making the wrong decision, or because I’m worried about regretting. Because I know that regret is optional. And I know that I never have to choose the thought that I made the wrong decision. I love to know that I’m going to honor myself in the future. By not questioning my past self. I know that I’m doing the best I can. And sometimes my best might not be amazing. Sometimes my best is sort of bare minimum. And that’s okay, too. I’m human, and I’m doing my best. And I’m going to continue to try to do better and better. And I always want to have my own back when I think about the decisions I’ve made and I think about the decision I’m making now. Who do I want to be in the future? What is the experience I want to create for myself? If I knew I was going to be happy and successful, what would I decide? And love that idea.
And if you’re someone who struggles with making decisions, you may want to start just by noticing where you don’t struggle. Are you someone who finds it easy to go grocery shopping and pick out things? For some people actually, they can really have a hard time with deciding. So, what are some decisions that are easy for you? And then you might look at what are some decisions that are more difficult for you? Where do you struggle with making decisions? What are you telling yourself about that? What would you have to believe, to become someone for whom decision making is easier or faster?
Notice what happens when you stretch out the decision-making process. I think sometimes we just tell ourselves that it takes me a while to make decisions. And that can be fine. But I would suggest that decisions are actually made in a moment. Up until that point, you’ve really made the decision not to decide, and then we make the decision. And we move on. So, shrinking down that time that we spend in indecision, not letting ourselves tell ourselves we don’t know. And maybe making a decision to not decide yet, if that feels best to you.
I love this idea of making a decision to not decide can also sort of take ourselves off the hook. You just don’t want to live in that “I don’t know land,” the land of indecision. You could just notice, “Well, right now I’m choosing this and I’m not ready to decide whether I want to switch jobs, or move, or change my schedule. I’m not ready to do that and that’s okay. That’s my decision. And when I’m ready, I’ll know.” You’ll know, because you’ll make that decision.
And again, just reminding yourself after you make a decision, 100% anticipate that your brain is going to invite you to reconsider, to re-decide to question your decision. And you just want to keep reminding yourself of your reasons and making sure you like them. Making sure that you don’t go back and re-decide and re-guess and spin out in indecision. That’s typically what happens.
I also want to talk about something that I often do with my clients. And this again, is a way of sort of telling yourself the truth about what it is you really want to do. And this is flipping a coin. So, when you’re confronted with making a decision, sometimes again, getting very clear on what is the decision that you’re making? Have you considered all the alternatives? Then flip a coin.
And you know that moment when you see whether it’s heads or tails, it’s a moment where you’re going to notice, are you excited? Or are you sort of bummed out? Are you like, “Oh, yay!” Or are you disappointed? There’s a moment there before your mind gets involved when you see the result of that coin toss, heads or tails, and you will know what it is that you prefer. You do not have to do what the coin toss tells you to do. I don’t care if it’s heads or tails. What I care about is noticing your reaction, noticing when you already sort of know what it is that you want to do, what it is you want to decide on, but you’re holding yourself back, you’re telling yourself you don’t know, because you’re afraid of either doing it or of the outcome or of not getting what you want. So that’s another little trick you can do to just get more clear about what it is you do want to do, how you do want to decide. And then you get to decide, am I going to go with it? Or am I not?
I’m going to keep this shorter today. I hope this is interesting and helpful. I’d love to hear back from anyone who has questions, comments, Feel free to send me an email. And if you want help with this, if you’re someone who sort of struggles to make decisions and you want to talk more about this, then definitely sign up for a free consultation call with me. And let’s help you make a decision and get out of “I don’t know” and indecision. Let’s get you moving forward. Let’s get you taking back your power. All right, love talking to you and I will talk to you next week.
If you are a busy practicing physician ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at Saradill.com. That’s S-A-R-A-D-I-L-L.com. It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.
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