Speed and efficiency have become key values for us. We expect an instant response when we flip a light switch or download a movie on television. We anticipate immediate acceleration when we put our foot on the gas and a reverse but equal response when we brake. We are a nation of fast-food lovers. Computer-mediated communication, whether by email, text messages or phone, allows us to be in touch with anyone on the globe within seconds.
Life in the high-speed lane seems to make rapid decision making a valuable skill. In contrast, the inability or unwillingness to respond instantly to the bombardment of demands for decisions—whether they involve a meal order or the appropriate response to an email—is a sign of weakness.
At a time when pressure for rapid action is accelerating, Kevin Cashman, leadership developer and author of The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward, argues that quick decision making leads to mistakes and inefficiency. His conclusion about the limitations of time-pressured decisions due to a sense of time poverty—that feeling of having too much to do and not enough time—confirms the adage that when we act in haste, we frequently find ourselves repenting in leisure.
Cashman’s insight is no less true in our personal lives than in our work lives. Whether at home or on the job, pressure for on-the-spot action can play havoc with a competing value—that of being mindful during each passing moment. Researchers have found that mindfulness leads to a host of health benefits that range from a strengthened immune system to improved relationships. But more relevant to the topic at hand, mindfulness leads to greater competence in decision making.
But in a fast-paced, complex world where the demand to respond is increasing, how can we press the pause button? Here are five constructive ways to stop the clock when important decisions have to be made:
1. Consult others. Query colleagues, friends, family and teammates to gain insight into others’ perspectives. Gather information widely and listen to contrary viewpoints.
2. Assess possibilities and their implicit risks. Consider the consequences of alternative courses of action and think through various responses to worst-case scenarios. Consider the consequences of postponing the decision making.
3. Distract yourself. Let your subconscious mind work on the matter while you go for a walk outdoors, take a nap, play a game or listen to music. Solutions emerge when we create the space for them to surface.
4. Seek perspective. Will your decision be remembered five years from now? One year from now? Next week? Step back to consider what is most important now and in the future.
5. Prepare to learn. Accept your limitations. Some decisions will not turn out as hoped for, but all outcomes, even the adverse ones, are potential opportunities to learn.
One of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves is to be present in our own lives. Demands will appear and recede, but whatever our circumstances, we don’t have to live in a state of time poverty. (How ironic that in the midst of abundance of material possessions, time is our scarcest commodity.) Indeed, our task remains constant and timeless. In the face of the pressure to act, we need to remain present and mindful, confident in the knowledge that only in this way can we make the best decisions—whether large or small.
Photo: Adcuz on Flickr.