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To Do or Not To Do?

You know that problem you’ve had recently or the one you are facing right now? I’m talking about problems bigger than restaurant choice or which clothes to wear for the day.

What’s your usual approach to solving those bigger problems?

Quick to action: Do you quickly reduce known issues and plans to lowest terms and then move into action?

More thought than action: Do you take more time to think through all known issues and plans then move into action?

Either approach can work well. And, each approach has it’s pitfalls.

When it comes to those bigger problems like which house to buy, how to handle a thorny employment problem, career moves, or a difficult relationship problem, your approach is important.

If you move too quickly into action, you risk not having essential information, that can only come with time, or not gaining sufficient and valuable information that lies in the gray areas. Your approach will be more impulsive than thoughtful which can result in an undesirable outcome especially when it comes to change and people.

If you over-think the issue, you will worry too much about consequences and may second guess yourself at a critical turn. Your forward progress can freeze, you risk undue misery as the problem persists, and you may miss opportunities within the problem or that would have appeared had the problem been solved in a timely manner.

What’s a person to do? There is a balance that works for practically every problem. It involves a process in which both thought and action are essential and work in lock-step.

If you see every decision as a yes/no proposition that must be decided immediately, your own anxiety will drive you toward a quick fix, overly-simplified answers, or it will freeze you in your tracks. Make it a habit to see (frame) every problem-solving opportunity as a process involving a series of decisions rather than one big decision.

How do you find the balance between thought and action in decision-making and problem solving?

  1. Ask: “What is really the problem here?” Don’t mistake symptoms for the problem itself. Ask lots of questions of yourself, others, and the situation.
  2. Create a decision issues sheet. Put your thoughts, related to the issue, on paper in a bulleted list. This helps you maximize your mental processing capacity and sort issues in terms of importance.
  3. Make mini-decisions about the issues on your list. Cross off items that move out of consideration. Do not delete or erase items since the issues will resurface in your mind. When they do, if you have written them down, you can quickly take comfort in knowing that you have already considered them and no longer need to give them mental space.
  4. Take action on baby steps. As you get into action, learning becomes turbo-charged. Only in action will you discover the understanding and data that will help you make the best decision concerning the bigger problem. In action, you will find help to reframe the problem, better define it, or give secrets to solving it.
  5. Once you have done #4 enough times, you may have solved the real problem. If not solved, you will be creating a path to solution. Keep in mind that the problem is addressed through the process and not just one big action.
  6. Trust the process. Don’t worry about whether you are making a right decision about the real problem. Make the best decisions you know to make about the smaller contributing issues and trust the process.   Don’t second guess your decisions. Once you’ve made a decision, trust that the process has been good.
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