Many of us are keenly aware that life is precious, and it goes by fast. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to how we’re spending our time: What are we putting our energy into? What’s in our heads? What’s in our homes?
Day in and day out, we make decisions about what’s important and what’s not, and our reality is the outcome of these choices.
The irony is that we receive little or no instruction on how to make decisions. This is unfortunate because even the smallest ones affect and shape our future.
Engineers see the world in systems, and decision-making is systematic. This approach starts with understanding the circumstances and determining the kinds of decisions they require: Are you solving equations to get exact answers, or are you making quicker decisions that allow for rapid corrections until the answer is right enough?
When NASA wants to put a rocket into orbit, for instance, lives are at stake and billions of dollars and years of effort are on the line.
Aerospace engineers test for every conceivable outcome, working every problem from every angle. There’s a risk of catastrophe and no chance for a do-over, so accuracy is essential.
This is a moonshot situation that demands smart, informed, exact decisions. A tremendous amount of time, thought, and courage is needed by those involved.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard
Thankfully, most of the situations we face don’t have life-or-death consequences, so our decisions about them don’t have to be precise. We just have to be willing to make them with the knowledge and experience we have, and be ready to course correct.
Imagine going to an archery range with 100 arrows. You wouldn’t take the first arrow, measure its weight, calculate the distance to the target, consider the thrust of the bow, factor in the wind, and so forth. You’d likely just take a shot and see where it lands. Miss on the first try, correct your aim, and shoot again.
Yet many of us get mired in the logistics and make things more complicated than they need to be. With so much data and so many insights and options available (not to mention other peoples’ opinions on what we should do and how we should do it), situations that could be resolved more rapidly get slowed down. Or stopped altogether.
We’re more likely to make progress in the day-to-day, though, when we make decisions confidently and quickly. We can do that by being clear about who we are and what’s important to us, and trusting what we know. This is essential; it helps us eliminate what doesn’t matter, so we can more quickly assess the situation and choices in front of us.
Because it’s not exact, there will be trial and error in this approach — though there is really no such thing as failing. Each wrong decision offers its own education, plus the added value of experience, heightened instincts, and confidence that shows up as reduced hesitation the next time we have a choice in front of us.
Decisions are what keep us moving through our lives, and having a systematic approach to making them can empower us to move and respond more quickly and confidently. In the process, we can create a full, meaningful life we love living.