10 Decision Making Tips for Uncertain Times

Uncertainty creates physiological and mental stress that impacts our ability to focus and process information. From business challenges to global pandemics, it can be difficult to find the strength and clarity to make decisions when you may feel like running or hiding. Here’s a collection of tips to help you center, focus and make meaningful decisions.

Breathe to “short-circuit” your body’s response under stress

Unwanted pressure sets your body in a “fight-or-flight” mode, which hinders your decision-making ability. Follow these simple steps to rewire (or “short-circuit”) your physiology to regain focus:

  • Examine what feelings you are experiencing. Give the feeling a name (I feel pressured, stressed, anxious …).
  • STOP what you are doing!
  • Take a deep breath.
  • For the next minute or two, focus exclusively on your breathing, count your breaths and slow it down.

This short practice will return you to a more optimal state for clear thinking and creative problem solving.

Recognize your “blind-spots” — know what you do not know

Sound decision making relies on accurate information. But, under stress, our brains tend to create “short-cuts” and select information based on our filters. Seek out colleagues or people you trust to challenge or validate your information. Also, seek those with alternative viewpoints to get a new perspective and widen your horizons.

Transcend the rational mind — cultivate your emotional and intuitive intelligence centers

Did you know you have multiple centers of intelligence: rational, emotional and intuitive? Go beyond the rational to access them all using alternative strategies like exploring how you feel about a situation or using creative techniques like music or drawing to depict your challenge.

Einstein is widely quoted as saying “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Sleep on it! — unlock the unconscious mind

Many scientists believe that our minds continue to work on problems during deep sleep. Before you go to bed, write down different aspects of a decision you are working on. Then put the list aside and forget about it. Relax and take advantage of the workings of the unconscious mind by “sleeping on it.” You may wake up with the creative solution you’ve been seeking.

In the late 19th century, oil had become extremely important, but its chemical structure was a mystery. A chemist, August Kekulé, fell asleep and dreamt of six snakes, each chasing its own tail and arranged in a circle. When he awoke, that dream inspired what he later called the benzene ring, which represents the molecular structure for oil and all organic compounds.

Localize it! — view adverse situations as specific and temporary

When adversity strikes, it can feel like the end of the world, like things will never be right. But optimists see adverse situations as specific and temporary — an isolated instance that will soon pass. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself, “is this negative situation as widespread as I fear? Will the situation always be this bad or can things improve over time?” Visualize a more positive reality!

Give a workaholic mind a rest

Working too hard can impact your thinking. Paradoxically, the brain is most creative when NOT focusing on a task — seemingly doing nothing — like walking, being in nature, or having an afternoon cup of tea. Set aside 30 minutes a day, or an hour or more a week, to devote to such activity (a nice treat for workaholics).

After all, it is believed that Archimedes discovered the law of buoyancy while taking a bath.

Make “value-driven” decisions

Think hard about what is most important to you. What are your core values and what results do you really want? Make a list of those values and the goals you want to achieve. This will bring you clarity and help weed out irrelevant information to extract what is essential. Keep an eye on your guiding values.

When asked about the key to success, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky told his team to always keep an eye on the puck, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Seize control

You have more power over most situations than you think. Determine what actions you can take to control a situation. When a situation is beyond your control, remember that you can still control your response and your attitude.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

Psychologically resilient people find ways to exert control over their lives even when they have no control over the physical circumstances in which they find themselves.

Use the power of positive thinking

Being positive and confident is good for decision making. Research shows that people who express positive emotions live longer than those who are negative. Identify any unproductive emotions that may be driving your decision making. Stop them in their tracks by:

  • Naming and recording these emotions
  • Stopping and flipping them by imagining the opposite
  • Envisioning a positive reality and looking for the opportunity in the situation

Practice this daily to build your positive thinking muscle. In addition, surround yourself with positive people with whom you can have a good laugh, some fun and “play” time. Keep in regular touch with those “playmates.”

Change brings opportunity. The Chinese character for crisis is composed of two characters placed side by side; one is danger and the other is opportunity.

Embrace the learning

Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”

For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.

Eva Kedar Ph.D. is an executive leadership coach; published author and YPO Certified Forum Facilitator. Using powerful experiential activities to unleash personal and team vitality, Kedar takes YPO forums to deeper levels of communication, trust and connection. She trains moderators, jumpstarts new forums, rejuvenates mature groups and leads transformational retreats. Combining her doctorate in organizational/business psychology, corporate experience, and expertise in areas such as the Enneagram, peer coaching, resilience, happiness, relationships and legacy building, Kedar provides rich and meaningful experiences for her forum, leadership and coaching workshops. Kedar is a global citizen of the U.S., U.K. and Israel. Born in Prague, raised in Israel, and educated in the U.S. and U.K., she draws upon her varied life experiences as a former scuba diving guide, a soldier, a brain researcher, published writer and a philanthropreneur, to bring a unique approach to her work.