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When you face a big decision in your business, it's easy to start over thinking. As we debate the pros and cons, we often get stuck rehashing the same arguments in lieu of making a choice. Effective leaders develop the confidence to take decisive action, a skill that makes them more productive.
"Ambivalence is often used as a form of procrastination," says Hillary Rettig, a productivity coach for entrepreneurs and author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific (Infinite Art, 2011).
That ambivalence can harm your company's bottom line. "Often, when we spin our wheels, we're moving away from profitable activities, and toward unprofitable ones," Rettig says.
As a leader, you're looking for the sweet spot between rash and overwrought decisions. You want to do your research, consult your team, and lay out clear options, but you don't want to get bogged down deciding which option is best.
If you find yourself over-thinking a big decision (as we all do sometimes), here are three ways to break the cycle:
1. Focus on being adaptable, not perfect. Many over-thinkers are looking for the "right" answer, or the solution that will guarantee success. "Leaders have to acknowledge that it is, in fact, impossible to prepare for every outcome," Rettig says. Even careful decisions often have unintended consequences.
Instead, aim to be adaptable. "The trend in business is now definitely toward 'lean' planning," Rettig says, meaning that you want to release quickly and iterate often. That strategy relieves the burden on individual decisions and gives you more power to change course once you get new information.
2. Embrace the possibility of failure. Over-thinkers wind up arguing and negotiating against themselves, creating an endless cycle. Their arguments are meant to prevent failure, but ironically invite it instead. "(That strategy is) very ineffective and doomed to fail," Rettig says. To release yourself from the paralysis of over-thinking, you need to be comfortable with the fact that any and all of your options could lead to failure.
Take the fear of failure off the table by thinking of failure differently. Rather than seeing it as an end point, think of it as a beginning. See it as new information that gives you an opportunity to adapt and improve -- an expected step toward success.
3. Listen to your gut instinct. Ultimately, you need to make a choice based on what feels right to you. "Nearly all the time, when someone is ambivalent, it's because they're trying to convince themselves to do something they don't want to do, or not to do something they want to do," Rettig says.
If you're not sure what you really want to do, toss a coin. As flippant as it sounds, as soon as the coin lands, you'll either be relieved or wish it had landed on the other side. Your gut instinct has the wisdom of your experience and expertise -- trust it.
Related: To Do More, First Slow Down