This post was written by Deepa Awal, a Newfield graduate of the Coaching for Personal & Professional Mastery program and a Newfield Program Mentor Coach.

  • If you are on a train, do you walk the length and breadth of the train to get the best seat for yourself, or do you take the first seat that is satisfactory to you?
  • How often do you find yourself agonizing over the menu when you go to a restaurant?
  • How often do you find yourself taking a long time to make a decision because you cannot ascertain the effectiveness of the outcome?

How we make decisions can impact how satisfied we are and how happy we feel about our choices. Herbert Simon was the first to make the distinction between maximizing and satisficing. He noted that even though maximization or optimization is the rational method of making decisions we often satisfice or “do the best we can,” because we do not have enough information about the environment and its future circumstances.

Early research on maximizers and satisficers showed that even if maximizers ended up with the best option, they did not necessarily have greater satisfaction as a result of it. In fact, they often displayed less life satisfaction and happiness, lower self-esteem, and more regrets and anxieties.

At the root of our decision-making behavior is the fundamental human desire to have positive outcomes for us. We think in terms of gain vs. loss.

In the journey of my life, I found no matter what I did it was impossible to always be on the gaining end of the spectrum. The conflict and turmoil of maximizing were agonizing. It was painful to lose an opportunity or make a decision that did not maximize my gain because circumstances demanded it. I struggled with decisions I made.

For example, did I make the right decision to go to NYU vs. Case Western? Did I make the right decision when I chose to marry? Did I make the right choice to immigrate to the U.S.? And on and on and on. The consequence was long hours spent in remorse and regret with very little constructive learning and even less satisfaction.

As I matured, I realized gain and loss seem to go together – nothing is an unmixed blessing.

The final lesson on my condition (I am talking about years here—not weeks or months) came in speaking with a wise elder who shared how in his lifetime he had learned there was no gain and no loss. Everything was equal. NO GAIN, NO LOSS … ever. In practice, this implied to me that whatever I did, the outcomes are likely to be equal in terms of gain and loss.

I realize now this is a way to help the mind take its attention away from positive and negative outcomes and create space to focus on other substantive sources of information.

As I pondered over this message and applied it, I found myself relaxing and being more present to my existing circumstances. The decisions now came more from the gut, with less thought to the outcome. It was more about what I wanted and felt was aligned with my values, purpose, and emotions than what will be the gain or loss, pro or con.  I expected gain and loss – and felt acceptance of both consequences.

How to Lead with Your Heart to Make Decisions

I don’t expect you – the reader – to take me for my word. To test the credibility of creating space for yourself and making decisions using all the resources you have, think of one decision you have to make in the near future.

Now try this:

Assume, for a few moments, that whatever decision you make will have similar outcomes in terms of gain and loss. This helps you shift your focus from outcome to self.

Now, include your gut and your heart in your decision-making. One way I do this is to use an exercise developed by Richard Strozzi.

State the problem that requires a decision. Then I take three steps (not just figuratively but also literally, so that you get the body involved!):

Step 1: Make the decision with a focus on head/cognition. This is the rational mind. The attention here is on thoughts that arise as you think about your problem and the best conclusion you can reach with your rationality. Take a step forward as you say this resolution/decision aloud.

Step 2: Make the decision from your heart. This is the emotional mind. To access the emotional mind, take a moment to Center first. Centering means bringing attention to the present moment and your body, especially to your heart. Take a second step forward when you are ready and speak your words, continuing to keep attention in your heart.

Step 3: Make the decision from your gut. This is the intuitive mind. Once again, Center by bringing attention to the body and especially to the area of the abdomen. As you take your final step forward, keep attention on your gut and speak your truth… in this moment from this place.

Questions for Reflection

  • What did you learn?
  • What new information did you gain with each step, if any?
  • How was this different from focusing on the outcome?
  • What will your practice be going forward?

If you struggle with making decisions and want to learn how to lead with your heart, check out our program offerings here

About the Author: 

Deepa Awal has over 20 years of experience in coaching leaders and mentoring coach practitioners. She combines the discipline of organizational behavior with her skills, experience, and beliefs about learning and coaching to enhance the capacity and competencies of her clients. As an organizational consultant with Fortune 500 firms, and the Principal of her Coaching Practice, she has extensive experience in individual coaching, team building, 360 reviews, and leadership development. She has coached leaders in South East Asia including India and as an immigrant from India, has rich personal experience that informs her coaching with leaders in transition.

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