We’ve talked about making great decisions before, but over the years we’ve discovered that the best and worst decisions we’ve made aren’t just about the decision itself. They’re about the context of the decision–where we are, how we feel, and what we’re doing while making it.

This is particularly true of decisions with high stakes–things like firing someone, choosing a new associate, or making a big financial commitment. Decisions don’t get made in a vacuum. What we see as possible, inspiring or vital in one environment or state of mind can easily seem pointless, illogical or impossible in another.The decision you make when you’re rushed, tired, or scared is different from the one you make when you’re relaxed, rested and confident.

Your job is to make as many big decisions in the second state as you can.

Here are some ways that have helped us create positive states for decision-making, and as a result, better decisions.

  1. Remove yourself from urgent environments.
    Important is not the same as urgent. Urgent is what jumps out at you. It’s the ringing phone, the looming deadline, the chirping inbox. Urgent is the next fire you need to put out. It’s small picture stuff. And, not surprisingly, you can’t make good quality, important decisions when you’re putting out urgent fires. Take some time away. Try to make high stakes decisions away from the office.

  3. Wait.
    You can’t just turn off the phone and expect to be suddenly clear-headed. You need time. Important decisions tend to have long-lasting consequences. Hiring the right person versus the wrong one will change everything in your practice for a long time. You need to give the decision the time it deserves. Very few big decisions can’t be slept on. Do not be allow yourself to be rushed.

  5. Separate Decision & Action.
    Often what stops us from deciding is the fear of what we’ll have to do once we actually decide. Give yourself permission to see the decision-making process as a separate step. If you’re considering firing someone, for example, then just let yourself focus on the decision, and the positive results. For the moment, forget about what’s required to make it happen.

  7. Set your fears aside.
    We’ve written about avoiding fear-based practice mistakes. The secret here isn’t to simply try harder to not be afraid–which tends to just make everything scarier–but to acknowledge that you are afraid, so that you can recognize that it might be affecting your decision-making. The question you should be asking yourself is, “If I wasn’t afraid, what would the right decision be?” or “If I was giving advice to close friend, what would I tell them to do?”

  9. Get meditative
    I don’t mean you have to meditate, although you certainly can if that works for you. I mean change your state through activity. Walk. Hike. Go for a run. Swim laps. Rake leaves. Paint your bedroom. Do something that: a) doesn’t take a lot of focus or brainpower; b) is repetitive and c) isn’t related to your problem.

  11. Talk it through. And, of course, it’s hard to decide big things on your own. Find someone you can talk to. It’s amazing how many times they’ll see something you don’t. And no, they don’t have to be someone who understands your practice–sometimes an outside perspective is exactly what you need. In any case, many positive, smart heads are better than one.

What we’re talking about is essentially matching the size of the decision to the state of your mind. Need to choose a paint color? Just pick it. Paint is cheap, and you can re do it. No state change required.

Need to choose a new associate, or a new clinic? Use every single one of the steps above–you’ll be glad you did.

You can’t make big decisions effectively in a small state of mind. Create the right decision environment and you’ll find better decisions every time.

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