The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting every part of our lives—health and well-being, finances and job security, family, and community—in every part of the world. When we are living in a period of deep uncertainty, without context or precedent, it can be easy to make bad decisions. In fact, studies show that faced with stress, our ability to make balanced decisions is compromised. Instead, we make decisions primarily based on positive rewards, while overlooking negative consequences. Given that we make decisions all the time, how can we ensure, even during this time of crisis, that the decisions we make are good ones?
Here are some things to keep in mind.
The more we train ourselves to stay in the moment, the more able we are to make decisions based on the information at hand. Many decisions we make are based on past experiences. You know the saying “Once bitten, twice shy.” While the past can be a useful teacher, it can also cloud our thinking and lead us to make invalid assumptions. Just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean it will happen again. Being present allows us to focus on what is important for the decision we have to make and block out the noise that often gets in the way.
Think about your values
When we make decisions based on the reward, as we are more likely to do under stress, we risk compromising our beliefs, which can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. For example, if you are unemployed and offered a position with a high salary, but with long hours and a long commute, you are more likely to focus on the salary than the long hours. If work-life balance is one of your core values, this is probably not going to be a good choice for you. Whether it is a company’s values or your own personal values, ensure you use them to guide the decisions that you make. If you are unclear as to what your values are, now is a good time to think about them. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable to them.
Avoid decisions based on fear
A fear-based decision will often begin with “I have to…” and end with some negative consequence. Fear-based decisions are disempowering and drain you of energy. Instead, try to make decisions from a positive perspective. Instead of feeling that you have to take on an extra assignment or else they might think you don’t work hard enough, choose to take on the assignment because it will be a growth opportunity. Or, choose not to because your time would better be spent focused on your current projects. When you think “I have to,” you take away your own power to make the decision.
Sleep on it
Stress diminishes our ability to see possibilities, limits our decision set, and hinders the likelihood of making the best choices. For a big decision, with potentially high risks, give yourself some time and space to think it through. Even better, wait to make your decision until the next day. Sleep helps you process information, and according to research from UC Berkeley, a good night’s sleep improves your ability to take in new information.
Try to remove emotion from your decision and think about the facts. List the pros and cons. This type of rational thinking is often minimized in stressful situations, but it is a key component to making good decisions. Remember to consider different scenarios, determine what the best outcome might look like, and also the worst that might happen. In the end, ask yourself if your decision makes sense based on what you know.
We often hear people say, “Trust your gut.” Another way to put it is that you know more than you think you do. When we overthink our decisions, it’s usually because we lack confidence in ourselves and our ability to make the right choices. Once you’ve thought things through, weighed the pros and cons, it may be time to trust your feeling. You probably know the right answer deep down.
The future may seem very uncertain right now. It is difficult to make plans when we don’t know what will be open, when. It is important to remember, however, that while we can’t control these circumstances, we have control over the choices and decisions we make. Our best decisions will combine logic and intuition, weighing the pros and cons within the context of the facts and our beliefs.
No, you can’t control when things will be back to normal, but you can focus on making the best possible decisions for yourself today.
Amy Kan is a former marketing executive, turned leadership coach, based in Los Angeles.