We make decisions every day—lots of decisions. We decide what to eat, who to meet with, which words not to use, and while some may hold more weight than others—choosing your shirt versus choosing your next career move— it can be difficult to articulate why we choose what we do. How exactly do we make these decisions?
In Steven Covey’s blockbuster book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he references the psychological concept of the four levels of competence: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence.
Often decisions are made unconsciously; we act without thinking about it. This leads us to either unconsciously make incompetent decisions or unconsciously make competent decisions. For leaders, this poses a huge risk. We can have a string of successful off-the-cuff decisions, and then continue haphazardly making important choices without much care because we start to overestimate our intuition and forget the value of strategic decision-making. We start to think we’re always right—and that’s where the danger lies.
I suggest a framework that routinely wakes me up and puts me back into the process of becoming conscious about my decisions. Every few months I use this simple framework for a short period to ensure my compass is working:
- Core Values: Does the decision support our core values? Does it conflict with our values?
- Alignment with current plan: Does the decision align with our current plan? We should make decisions that move us in the direction of our current plan and goals. Those goals were set in the context of our past and future and when accomplished, they set us up to reach for that bold future.
- Counsel: Seek wise counsel. Our gut feeling is to be trusted and followed, but it benefits from the input of others. Don’t skip that step.
I have found that when I put my choices to paper, when I write down each option and reflect on the possible outcomes, it helps me to become a conscious participant in the present decision—rather than an unconscious observer. It’s not a fast process. It takes some time, but that’s the point. It reminds us to be intentional about our decisions. Our greatest risk is becoming so insulated that we don’t stop to ask ourselves: Why am I making this choice? Because when we leave our decisions up to chance, we’re gambling with the future. Don’t let the future happen to you. Make it your own.