“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Chinese proverb
So this is a post on making decisions for those of you out there who find yourselves at times overwhelmed and unable to make decisions. Fortunately, every single day you get to practice making decisions. I am so happy that you decided to read this post!
But stop for a moment and think of those decisions that are waiting for you to move from thought to action. Those ideas swirling in your mind or sitting on your to-do list that need your attention and intention to make them come alive.
One of the most important aspects of being a leader is being able to make decisions. As a feminist, social justice leader, your ability to make decisions is crucial. Crucial because change needs action. If you are driving downhill you do not need to press on the accelerator if you want to continue going downhill. It is only when you want to stop, when you want to go against the force of gravity, do you need to take action. In social change work, think of the status quo, the force in charge, as patriarchy. Patriarchy feeds off of inaction, so our motivation to act becomes clear.
Many people in social justice work can feel the limitation of lack of resources, the urgency of need or community members, and the uphill battle for many of our issues. You may find yourself second-guessing your decisions, or feeling like you need to think through some more, get other opinions, weigh the options, wait and see what may happen. On top of that, if you are not supported in your leadership or have to deal with microaggressions and macro-aggressions to the legitimacy of you being in your position, this can add to your inability to make decisions. This can all majorly suck, but here are some ways you can improve your ability to make decisions. Because we need to you to act!
While it is not wrong to be careful, not rush into things, and act impulsively, remember you cannot inspire anyone, including yourself with indecision. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with all the decisions we have to make. We can feel like it is too much and we short-cut or wait until the last minute because we get exhausted at the thought of what to do next.
Plan it out
Let’s say for example, you want to expand upon a program at your job to provide sex-education courses from three days a week to five days a week, but you do not currently have the funds to do this. If you decide to do this, you have to put into action a plan of raising funds, including training staff and volunteers, identifying possible donor sources, developing materials, and giving yourself a realistic timeline. You also need to articulate to everyone what are the possible scenarios if this does not come through. Will you reassess and try again in six months; will you shelve the idea and prioritise the next project or will you talk to the board about allocating other resources to cover this. You get the point here. Figure out what you want and account for every single step you’ll need to make that happen. Imagine the obstacles and continue through until you have answers to overcome them.
What’s Behind the Inaction: Mine & Mind the Emotion
If you find yourself unable to move forward in making a decision, ask yourself what is behind the inaction. Is it fear of failure, of making a mistake, of being humiliated? Do not try to force yourself not to feel what you feel. Emotions teach us about ourselves. This does not mean we need to be ruled by them but rather we should acknowledge them and see them as fleeting and as choices.
Some people like to think that fear is motivating. That waiting until the last minute, having a rush of adrenaline is what they need to get into action mode. What I see most often when people use this rationalization, is that they are not using their time wisely, and end up prioritizing meeting a deadline rather than producing their best work. If this is you, I ask you to honestly explore, what you are getting out of seeking fear as motivation.
So, if you find yourself procrastinating in making a decision, try applying a problem-solving approach using “what if” questioning. “What if” scenarios, help you to get to the root fear of why you are not moving forward. Using the above example:
What if you cannot get enough volunteers to help with fundraising? One answer may be, you can try offering incentives like metrocard, food, or child care. Keep doing the “what if” with every aspect of your plan, especially where you feel the most anxiety, until it feels doable to you.
Most importantly, have compassion for yourself. This work is not easy. The problems that you want to change should touch your heart. They should make you feel. You would not be doing this work if you did not have an emotional connection to what is happening.
Leading is doing.
Now try this exercise:
- Identify three decisions in your personal life or work where you’ve been procrastinating.
- Honestly look at why - the reason behind why you have not taken action.
- Pick one decision and write out a plan of action.
- Apply the “what if” scenario to each section where you have fear or anxiety
- Develop a mantra (for example: “I choose to act!”) to repeat everyday until you act upon your decision.
By practicing these skills you will build up your confidence in your ability to make decisions. You will not be afraid of making the wrong decisions - and you will make wrong decisions - but you will be adept at planning so you will know how to correct mistakes by playing out worst-case scenarios. You will become consistent in your decision making and people will trust that you are not afraid to move forward towards justice.
I would love to hear from you: Where do you feel confident in your decision making?; or, What is holding you back from making decisions right now?
Patricia Jerido is a coach for Leadership Matters Consulting where she uses mindfulness practice to bring about social justice change. Find out more at www.leadershipmattersconsulting.com or follow @CulturalMusings