What decisions are you making? How do you know you are making good decisions?
Understanding why you want to make a difference and the internal and external options you have right now to make it happen can show you what you can do today to get on the path to bringing your vision to life or narrowing down what it is exactly.
However, it’s one thing to say I want to change my life—or the world—and another to follow through with it. Life happens no matter what we do. And if we don’t bring consciousness to our decision making, we will forever live based on external stimuli and internal patterns we don’t recognize as they are playing out in our daily lives.
Daniel Kahneman, arguably one of the most important contemporary psychologists, demonstrates clearly how we like to think of ourselves as rational in our decision making while the truth is that we are subject to many biases in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.
As Change Creators, we can’t afford to ignore the intricacies of our decision making.
The Twin Sister of Decision
When Ilaina Rabbat and Roshan Paul decided to build Amani Institute, they were both working at Ashoka. They used their vacation time to do initial sensing, spent nights working on the concept, connections and strategies, hosted meet-ups to come up with a name and logo and finally moved to Nairobi, Kenya to start building the Institute on the ground.
In the process, they had to make a million different decisions. Literally.
The most important one, however, was to commit to making it happen.
Commitment is the twin sister of decision.
Your fears, internal and external options, your strengths and interests, and real or perceived opportunity costs all color the decisions you are making. What makes them count, however, is your commitment.
The Visible and Invisible Leap of Faith
Decisions don’t have to be literal leaps of faith.
Roshan and Ilaina didn’t immediately quit their jobs to start their social enterprise; they took time to prepare the ground. The visible leap of faith—relocating, starting the program, and such—was preceded by an invisible one that was the commitment to creating an answer to a problem they perceived: the lack of the equivalent to a medical training school for people who want to build careers of meaning and impact.
For some people, it helps to publicly say they want to run a marathon to actually follow through with it.
But others experience a sudden lack of energy after sharing with someone that they want to write a book, for example, or want to tackle a difficult problem in the world.
Sometimes, sharing your invisible leap of faith too early and with too many people can also take energy out of it as you get confronted with everyone’s opinions about your decision.
Ground yourself before you make it public.
A compass for decisions:
1. The Cause
When I asked Tosh Juma, who is launching Nairobi Design Institute, an Impact Design Academy in Kenya, what he thinks when he hears “decision making,” his answer was fast as lightning: “The cause.”
If you are aligned with something that is bigger than you, your fears, and your shortcomings, you will figure things out.
Sometimes, that means continuing with your job and moonlighting your idea.
Sometimes the “cause” is not a specific social change topic but just the commitment to doing work that is impactful.
Or it means figuring out that you actually are not a social entrepreneur but rather an intrapreneur, and there is nothing wrong with that if it still furthers the cause you are committed to.
2. Fears, Values, and Happiness
Double-check your story to see if your decision is disguising a fear that you can actually face.
In my last column, we spoke about a fear practice you could develop to make sure you are familiar with your fears and build courage to face them.
For example, one of our alumni decided to build a career working in the nonprofit sector but realized that she would really have more impact in her previous company that wanted her back.
She faced her fears of falling into old patterns and negotiated a new role that allows her to innovate from within and create cultural impact through a very large media company in Europe.
Her decisions pivoted as she worked through her fears, but the commitment to the cause (creating positive social impact through her work) didn’t change.
What is crucial when we talk about fears and commitment is Peter Senge’s distinction between creative and emotional tension. Your fears can create an emotional tension causing you to lower your vision or giving up altogether in the worst case.
Focusing on your commitment, accepting reality, and remaining open to different ways to making your vision come alive will help you build the ability to remain in creative tension that inspires finding better solutions to achieving your goals.
Sometimes, we think we don’t do something because of a lack of courage.
An interesting reframe of such a situation happened when I ran into an alumnus who remained in his family business instead of starting his own social enterprise as he initially envisioned.
He shared with me that he realized it wasn’t really a lack of courage but a very strong value around family that kept him there. A clash of values doesn’t have to create “either-or” situations for you.
In my last column, I shared the “Third Horizon” framework that can help in such a situation: You can build towards a more significant shift of your work in the future by including small things in your daily or weekly routine that help you build expertise and experience.
Read here for more about how values affect your decisions.
Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert presents some very interesting research on how our beliefs about what makes us happy are often wrong and how that translates into bad decisions.
Watch his TED talk – Why We Make Bad Decisions
Decision-making tools are only as good as you know yourself
There are many tools that can help you with the actual decision making, ranging from flipping a coin to elaborate frameworks that can help you weigh your options. I particularly like these 52 skills on mindtools.com or this great “Beginner’s Guide to Better Decision Making” by James Clear.
Oftentimes, you won’t know all the answers and have to follow your gut instinct, or you are someone who always does that but needs to start being more analytical in how you are making decisions.
In the context of the Inner Journey, this type of self-reflection is crucial to understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie. And in the context of social change work, this sometimes translates into a matter of life and death of people you are working with, or puts you in an ethical dilemma that you can’t resolve but still have to act on.
Decision fatigue is a reality and can be a serious problem. Taking a hard look at all the decisions you make on a daily basis and seeing which ones you can eliminate can be very helpful. Remember: Habits replace willpower and making decisions requires a lot of willpower!
Community of Practice
Last but not least, a community of practice and support is incredibly important when you are making important decisions.
Join a group of likeminded people such as the Change Creator Facebook Group – I Am A Change Creator, a Fellowship, or make a point of getting your friends together to support you when you are taking the leap.The ones that will pick you up when you get knocked down and encourage you to try again.
As Brene Brown puts it in her talk “Why It Isn’t Your Critics Who Count”:
“yes, it was as terrible as you thought it was, but you were brave, and now let’s go try it again.”
Don’t let noise distract you.
Know who the people are who are also in the arena and keep on building a better world!
Asking for feedback from experienced professionals and friends, finding your blind spots, and checking your assumptions have to become habits if you want to improve your decision making.
You can google decision-making tools, but they are only as good as your ability to self-reflect and your commitment to making change happen.
Understanding why you want to create change and exploring both your internal and external options to making it happen can help you understand what decision you need to make next as a Changemaker.
Expanding your ability to be increative tension instead of letting emotional tension snap you back is crucial to honoring your commitments.