How to Eliminate Fear from Decision-Making

How often do you find yourself hesitating or fearful when there’s a critical decision in front of you—and you have to make a decision—and let’s say that decision has to be made in the next five minutes? If you’re like most leaders (and if you’re honest :-), your answer is probably higher than you’d care to admit. And that’s okay, it simply means you’re human.

But, as a leader (whether you’re leading your own company or someone else’s) you have to make decisions—it’s what we do as leaders (and remember, not-making a “decision” is making a decision).

Chances are this week you may have to make one or more of the following decisions

  • To hire a new employee or outsource to a new vendor (or not)
  • To fire an employee (or not)
  • To invest in some new technology (or not)
  • To increase or reduce an expense item (or not)
  • To confront an employee about an issue (or not)
  • To open up a new market or niche (or not)
  • To change a marketing strategy that’s not working like you expected it to (or not)
  • To change your prices for increased sales or profits (or not).

Now, the fact that you’re often a little fearful when making a decision makes complete sense. After all, life is lived moving forward and since none of us is omniscient and/or omnipotent (all-knowing and/or all-powerful), every decision we make could go very wrong because we don’t know everything and we don’t control everything. In fact, there will always be far more outside our control than will ever be in it (i.e. most of us live in a constant state of delusion that we actually control our destinies :-).

In light of that, how can you and I radically reduce (i.e. eliminate as much as possible) fear from our decision-making (which, by the way, is always a negative expectation about a FUTURE event—which, be definition means it’s not about reality)? To help you make this transition, I’d like to share with you three ideas that I’m confident can make a huge difference in your life and business.

1. Stop Searching for Perfect Answers/Solutions

One of the primary reasons why so many of us as leaders experience fear in decision-making is because we’re driven. We want to succeed. Okay, let’s be honest, we want to win/crush the competition. In order to do that, we set ourselves up for failure by making our standard, “The BEST,” or “The PERFECT,” or “The ULTIMATE.”

The problem with the “perfect” standard is that it’s by definition, unattainable. Perfection doesn’t exist in reality (similar to infinity). They’re both helpful constructs, but neither can exist in reality (i.e. there is no such thing as an actual infinite).

So if the standard we’re shooting for is unreachable, what does that do to fear? Exactly, it increases it because fear is a negative expectation about a future outcome and if we already know we can’t meet a standard, fear makes sense. And what does fear do to decision-making? Exactly, it delays it—which is a killer when speed of implementation is critical to fast growth.

Well, if that’s inevitable, what’s the solution? The solution is for us to change our standards. In other words, stop looking for perfect answers and solutions. Look for the best decision you can make based on the information you have at that moment … and then decide. Getting started is far more critical to fast growth than making perfect decisions. Why?

Because none of us is omniscient. Every decision has unintended consequences because every time you or I say “Yes” to one thing, we’re saying, “No!” to every other option. For example, if you decide to stay at work late to complete a project, that may be good for completing your project, but it’s not on your relationship with your family (if you have one). On the other hand, if you say, “Yes!” to your family and leave work to be home by 6:00 p.m. that’s good for your family, but then again, not so good for the project.

In other words, perfect solutions don’t exist. They don’t exist in theory, and they don’t exist in reality. So, just give up on them. Instead focus on making the best decision you can with the amount of information you have in the amount of time you have to make that decision. Then once the decision is made—and you see the consequences—you simply adjust your plan (that’s it).

One of my friends, Adam Urbanski, puts it this way.

“Most airplanes never take off in the direction of their destination. The runway is already in place and it’s set in the best direction for a plane to get off the ground. Then, once a plane is off the ground, the pilots simply adjust the flight path to get them to their intended destination.”
In other words, the first goal for a pilot is to simply get their plane off the ground and then the second is to adjust the flight path to get the plane to its intended destination.

So, are you guilty of hesitating until you find the perfect solution? Do you set yourself up for failure by longing for a solution without any significant downsides? Are you still hoping you can find the perfect (employee, niche, marketing tactic, strategy, product, JV partner, etc.)? If so, it’s time to stop.

2. Embrace The Worst That Can Happen

I learned this concept several years ago when I was 29 years old and lost my voice twice within a matter of months. Now, as you can imagine, if you’re a pastor (my former career) that’s a career threatening problem. So, the second time it happened I started to panic. “What if I’m losing my voice for good? What if I never speak again? This could kill my career and I’m only just starting ….” For several days, I was stuck in this doom loop of negativity because I simply couldn’t get a sound out at all.

Then one afternoon, as I was driving along Wisteria Drive (not Lane 🙂 here in Germantown, MD and turning on to Mateny Road, it hit me, “Okay, let’s say I do lose my voice for good. When could I do then?” And as soon as I accepted the idea that I might lose my voice forever, my brain flooded itself with ideas of things I could do. And not only things that I could do, but it started keeping track of all the things I was left with.

For example, even if I lost my voice, I still had my family. I still had my health. I still had my intellect. I still had my abilities. I still had my connections. I still had my resources. I still had my skills. Etc. In other words, the only thing(s) I would lose would be my voice (and possibly my job). That’s it. I’d still have everything else.

And within a matter of seconds, after spending days stuck in fear, my fear was gone. Why? Because in that moment I stopped letting fear embrace me and instead chose to embrace my fear. And once my arms were around my fear, it no longer had any power over me. Remember, fear is a negative expectation about a future event. Once you or I accept the idea that the worst might happen … and that we’ll survive that, the stranglehold of fear has to let go of us.

So, what are you afraid of? For example, are you afraid of making a bad hiring decision? If so, why not accept the idea. “Okay, so what if I make a bad hire and this goes badly, then what?” “Can I survive that?” Absolutely! Note: This is not to encourage making bad hiring decisions (that would violate everything else that I teach). Rather it’s to encourage you to remove the fear of making a bad hire. Once you accept that you might, you won’t be afraid. And then you can get back to make the best decision possible to hire a good A player (or a B whom you can see becoming an A).

Don’t underestimate the power of this principle. It can rob fear of its effectiveness in mere seconds. In fact, you may want to give it a try this week.

3. Do Enough Due Diligence To Pass The “What Were You Thinking?” Test

In general, most of the leaders I’ve encountered tend to fall into one of two categories—those that do too little due diligence and those that do too much due diligence (very few seem to fit in the middle—which is where most of us should be most of the time).

The problem with too little due diligence is that all of us are guilty of “seeing only validation.” Once we come up with an idea, all we can see is the data that supports our conclusions (which may be correct. But, then again, may not). This is an incredibly common entrepreneurial problem. Most of us are driven. A lot of us are highly intuitive. And a significant number of us like to “go with our gut,” when making decisions.

But because we’re all driven by “seeing only validation,” we not only see just the data that supports our “gut” we forget all the bad decisions we’ve made in the past and tend to think, like Jethro Gibbs of NCIS, “That my gut is never wrong!” Really? In fact, I’m pretty confident, that there are probably plenty of people in both your life and mine who would suggest that we both have a very selective memory bias 🙂

On the other hand, that are plenty of leaders who are stuck in analysis paralysis and are afraid to make a decision—and because of that, they keep doing more due diligence—way past what is necessary to make a good solid decision—not because they need to do more due diligence, but because they’re afraid to make a bad decision. In essence, they think they can eliminate fear by doing enough due diligence to eradicate the possibility of a bad/wrong decision (or enough to cover their hind sides in case something goes very wrong).

But eradicating fear doesn’t work that way. Neither getting more data nor doing more due diligence eliminates fear (that’s why some leaders, and you may be one of them, put decisions off for years). More information doesn’t eliminate fear. In fact, it often increases it.

So, what the solution? My recommendation is that you do just enough due diligence to pass the “What were you thinking?” test. Not doing due diligence is a bad idea. But so is doing too much. That’s why I recommend that you do just enough due diligence to make a good solid decision (the best you can with the amount of time, information and resources you have available to you when you’re making that decision).

Remember, perfect decisions don’t exist. So don’t worry about them. Instead, focus on doing just enough due diligence to pass the “What were you thinking?” test.

In light of everything you’ve just read, as you look at your business, what decisions have you been putting off because of some level of fear? Calling a potential client or joint venture partner? Having a difficult conversation with an employee? Opening up a new branch location? Launching a new marketing campaign? Hiring a new employee? Etc.

Where has fear affected you and your business?

If you want to eliminate that fear, then may I encourage you to go back through these three ideas (letting go of perfection, embracing the worst outcome, and doing just enough due diligence to pass the “What were you thinking?” test) and give them a try. You just might find that the solution to your “hard” business problem, just might be a “soft” one.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other ideas about how to eliminate fear, make sure you include them below! Or if you’re reading this by RSS or email, make sure you click here>>