If you were to break down each decision you have ever made in order to analyze the composition of it, you would probably find that there were some common threads in each of them as well as some differences.
Even if you follow a similar process in your decision-making each time you make one, the nature of what is being decided is often going to dictate the factors you consider.
Daily decisions, such as whether you are going to have another cup of coffee or which route you’re going to take to work are going to be heavily based on your routine and any unique factors that are going on that may warrant you varying from that routine. Common threads will be your past experiences and how much time you have. Differences will be things like the weather and how you may be feeling that morning.
Bigger, more infrequent decisions will likely rely more on external input, some analysis of pros and cons, and your instincts. Other variables will include whether you have been faced with a similar decision before or if you have your own experience to draw from.
Understanding the key components of your decision-making and their applicability to the situation at hand are essential to making consistently good decisions.
The biggest obstacle, however, to making good decisions on a consistent basis is typically a fear of making the wrong choice. So, what part of your decision-making process offers you some protection against that worry?
For me, it’s paranoia.
I generally consider myself an optimist, but not a head-in-the-clouds type of optimist. I have made enough decisions in my life that I have a pretty good feel for my own process and if my confidence in a particular decision is well-founded, but I still expect somewhere between something and everything to go wrong between the time I make a big decision and the time the outcome is known. That is where my paranoia comes in.
The concept of paranoia is nearly if not one hundred percent negative. You never say to yourself, hey I’m really interested in going out with that person, they seem really paranoid. In your profession, no one says give this problem to that guy, he’s paranoid…I’m sure he can handle it!
Despite its bad reputation, I have found that a little bit of paranoia goes a long way in helping me make a good decision.
In this sense, I equate it to anxiety. In my public speaking class, I address the fear of public speaking in a few different ways. Many people experience a form of anxiety when they think of speaking in front of others and are immediately fearful of it. I challenge the people in the class to turn that around and to embrace that feeling of anxiety as the brain’s way of signaling that something important is going on or about to happen. Channeling that anxiety toward a positive purpose helps people to overcome what they otherwise have considered a fear or an obstacle.
That is exactly how I use my paranoia. Rather than not making a decision because I fear that something is going to go wrong, I channel that fear toward making a stronger decision. I do a better job of addressing the cons of a particular decision up front so that I am not worried about what is going to happen. I let my paranoia guide me toward what I think may likely go wrong and then I put a plan into my decision that accounts for it.
If I am able to use my paranoia or my anxiety to help me identify my fears, those fears no longer control me or my decision-making. On the other hand, if paranoia or fear stop me from moving forward or effectively handling a situation, then those fears are dictating the terms of my life to me.
We all know that not everything is going to go right every day nor is everything going to go wrong, but I think we can swing the odds toward more things going our way, by paying attention to the details and making decisions that account for the things that may not go according to plan.
Like so many things that we talk about when we discuss decision-making, the key is finding the right amount of what we need and creating a balanced, sustainable process for ourselves.
As the title indicates, I have found that allowing about 5% of my decision-making process to focus on paranoia gives me the right balance and perspective. If I have a hard time limiting that paranoia and it is taking up a bigger place in my mind than usual, I try to identify why that is happening. Sometimes, I can rationalize my thoughts and move forward with the relevant decision. Other times, that growing paranoia is the exact signal I need to realize that I may be headed down the wrong path or thinking about something in an unproductive or inefficient way.
Either way, I am using it for positive purposes and as an additional tool in my decision-making process. Do you think that a bit of paranoia has a positive place in your life?
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union