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Sometimes we all have to make that difficult decision. It may be a hard call because we are uncertain we are making the right choice or because we are aware it will have a negative impact on someone else.

George had been a loyal employee for over twenty- five years. He had grown up with the company from its inception and was almost part of the family. Everyone liked him because he was good natured, loved sharing a joke, worked hard and others   looked up to him for his wisdom and experience. But George’s star was dwindling, his performance slipping. He appeared disinterested in potential new projects and no longer contributed much to round table discussions of future planning.

His boss needed to make a decision. Should he make George redundant to take on a younger less experienced staff member to reinvigorate the company or let him stay for another year or two because he would probably retire during that time frame anyway?

Tough decisions can be tricky but we have our wonderful brain to help us work things through. Leaders know, not all their decisions will be welcomed or agreed with. What matters is demonstrating the decision has been made in good faith for reasons that are transparent and congruent with the values and cultural expectations.

It’s time to invite in the Emotions

While you might not always be inclined to invite the neighbours over for a drink on the weekend, did you know that that it is our emotions that allow us to apply meaning and motivate us to make a choice?

If it’s Friday night and you and your partner are considering whether to pop down to your local Chinese or grab an Italian takeaway, that decision will be based on your emotional thoughts about the two options.

Not only that but our subconscious has already determined which one you’ll go for and written down the name in the envelope a full 7 seconds before it is opened up by our conscious thought.

And you thought you made that conscious decision didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint.

Our understanding of how we decide developed from the unfortunate mishaps of those who either suffered brain trauma or underwent rudimentary brain surgery in those times when the brain was poorly understood. One of the best-known “subjects” was Elliot, a patient under the care of Antonio Damasio who underwent surgery for a brain tumour that required the removal of his orbitofrontal cortex. The surgery was a success but Elliot was left without the connection between his frontal lobes and his emotions meaning he became unable to make a decision.

With over 30,000 decisions under our belt ever day, not being able to decide is paralysing. How could you function not being able to choose between having a shower in the morning or not, whether you’d like your eggs poached or scrambled for breakfast or which of two jobs you’d like to apply for.

Too much choice or too much stress?

Our decision-making is heavily influenced by how much choice we have available to us and how much stress we are under. Barry Schwartz in his book “The Paradox of Choice suggests how having too much choice makes it harder to pick one thing. Having spent countless hours looking at a vast array of tiles for a new bathroom I’m with him on that one, though sometimes we can streamline our choices by filtering out the vast number we don’t want to even start to consider. Plus once we have tasted a particular version of a tomato based pasta sauce we like, it’s easier to disregard all the alternatives vying for our attention next time we are in the supermarket.

The biggest issue for great decision-making is finding sufficient breathing space for brain to think. With too much going on and too many thoughts whirling round our heads, taking out time to quieten down our mind to think is probably the safest way to keep our cognition and emotions in balance.

So if you’re finding it tough to make those hard decisions, pulling out of Planet Overload’s Information Circuit first can make a big difference to help us pause, reflect, consider and decide.

That’s why learning how to reduce our stress, magnify our attention and gain clarity of thought matters for all our decisions big and small.

How do you manage those more challenging decisions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.


  • Arlene Quinn says:

    Taking time to gaze out the office window and focus on a beautiful flower, a bird or a cloud still my mind and gives me space to think. Then acting on my decision relieves the stress. It is amazing how much clearer and lighter it feels when you simply move forward and take the action. Thanks for a clear article that I will share with others.

    • Dr Jenny Brockis says:

      Thanks so much Arlene for your comment. You are so right – clear the space and then act. Too often we wait for the right moment (which doesn’t arrive) or we get too caught up in our thoughts to be able to pick one action to take.

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