Read about any successful inventor or businessman and you will inevitably notice something: a habit of decisiveness in all that they do. What is decisiveness, exactly? It is a word we often hear, but rarely define. In simplest terms, decisiveness is accepting the fact that you are in control of your own life. It is the methodical, systematic effort to determine the best course of action and then carry it out. Put negatively: it is the refusal to let the random gyrations of society, chance, and whim set your course. Psychologist Michael J. Hurd sums up decisiveness as “trusting and acting on the conclusions of one’s mind.”
Obviously, decisiveness is a quality inventors stand to benefit from enormously. So how can you develop this habit in your own life? Hurd offers some practical tips on being decisive in his article, “What Should I Do?”
When stuck with the question, “What should I do?” don’t stay stuck. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to blindly asking someone else what you should do. Instead, ask yourself — and answer — the following questions:
What are my options in this situation? (If there is only one option, your question is already answered. If there are two or more options, then proceed to the next question).
What are the likely immediate and longer-term consequences of each option? (Make a list of each set of consequences and confine the lists to one page).
Which options are the most desirable and the least desirable, and why?
What is my final choice? (If you cannot answer this yet, then first develop the top 2 or 3 finalists. Then go to a final judgment).
Questions like these will become invaluable guides to action, as inventors face decisions all the time. Which supplier should I use? Do I believe this cost is legitimate? Is this deadline realistic? Do I have too much on my plate? Questions like this crop up all the time, and successful inventors are the ones who are comfortable answering them.
Of course, it will be far easier to ask yourself those questions if you accept that you are the author of your own destiny. As appealing as this sounds, few of us ever fully accept what it means in practice. Hurd elaborates more on this helpful point, which is essential to creating a lifelong habit of decisiveness:
“This exercise is an example of using your own rational judgment instead of letting others tell you what to do. It’s the alternative to both do-as-I-say dogmatism and do-as-I-feel subjectivism. It’s called being objective. Some don’t like the idea of objectivity because it seems too cold or harsh; others feel it’s too hard, or too much work. What’s the alternative? Self-defeating impulsivity? Doing what a dictator tells you to do? Praying to the skies and hoping for an answer in code? Get real!”
If you work at it, you can stop yourself as you are about to fall into these traps. Do you find yourself thinking “Ahh, I can’t be bothered with this now; I’ll cross the bridge when I get to it.” Or how about, “I know this is important, but it’s just such a big decision that little old me can’t possibly decide it.” If you think these thoughts, drop what you are doing and change them. Successful inventors cross bridges miles ahead of them in their own minds and are better off for doing so. They do this by asking themselves, “If I don’t decide, who will?”
So, instead of succumbing to those passive thoughts and letting them move you, take a different approach. Will yourself to sit down and consciously decide the pressing questions before you. If you need to write a business plan, don’t think “oh my God, this is such an important task that the slightest little error will screw it up. I might as well not even try.” Instead, put on a pot of coffee, sit back, and do some research. Read a few sample business plans. Get some expert advice. And then, sit down and write one. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, and you can certainly go back and edit. The important point is that by doing this, you have made the decision to move forward. You have gone from thinking to doing.
This same thinking applies to any decision you face. Instead of getting stuck in analysis-paralysis, calmly think about what this decision requires of you. One way of staying calm is to remind yourself that no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, has done it before. It may be challenging, but it is doable. You can also save yourself a lot of mental anxiety by asking, “Where do I start?” Once you figure this out, the rest tends to unfold naturally.
Above all, keep your cool and always remember that you are in charge. If you resolve to make this a part of your outlook, it is almost impossible to fail.
Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of IdeaBuyer.com, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.