How To Make Decisions Like Winston Churchill

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This is something I personally struggle with and as a couple of readers asked me to do a post on this, I figured i’d tackle it. If you have a trait or person you’d like me to dissect, shoot me an e-mail via the contact page.

 When I say I struggle with decision making, I don’t mean I spend 20 minutes deciding which colour socks to put on in the morning, I mean I struggle with the big decisions. The tough ones. The life changing ones.

The thing about big decisions is there are always unknowns involved. Usually, that’s when decisions get tricky. If you can’t figure out the consequences of your decisions, you may as well flip a coin to decide as it’s just going to be guess work anyway!

A tough decision I had to make recently involved an fundraising expedition to Mount Everest I’d signed up for. I hadn’t reached the target necessary to go and I had to make the decision to either put in £1.5K of my own funds or cancel, losing all the funds I’d already raised.

In the end, I decided not to go. I’m not sure how my decision will effect the future, only time will tell. However, I gave it a lot of thought and used some of the methods that Churchill would have used and that is the best I could’ve done.

Winston Churchill led Great Britain triumphantly through some of the darkest years the world has ever seen – World War II. Like many wartime leaders, Churchill had to make a lot of difficult decisions, there was no way around it.

Perhaps one of the toughest decisions facing Churchill arose in the summer of 1940 when France surrendered to Germany, leaving the English Channel the last barrier of defence between Britain and the Nazi’s. Although the French army was crippled, their navy was surprising strong. The Nazi’s were preparing to capture this Navy and, if they were successful, would leave this British incredible vulnerable to attack and invasion.

Churchill’s decision: trust the French would never let the ships cross over to Nazi hands or destroy the fleet himself.

On 3rd July 1940, the order was given to attack the French fleet, claiming over 1300 French sailor’s lives. It was a decision that would resonate throughout history and to this day the French remember it as “France’s Pearl Harbour”.

Decision Making Lessons Learned From Churchill

    • Whatever decision you have to make in life, it won’t be as hard as Churchill’s. The decision to end one life is tough, imagine 1300. So, first of all, you need to remember your decision most likely isn’t life and death.
    • Don’t make a decision until you are calm and neutral. A good metaphor to remember this by is “Don’t make any threats when you’re mad and don’t make any promises when you’re happy.” The key to good decision making is cutting out all emotion.
    • Trust your gut. You may not realise it, but you are the end result of millions of years of evolution. You’re the finished product. That gut feeling you get is something that has been developed by your ancestors to know when something is wrong. Listen to it, 9 times out of 10 it’s right.
    • Best, expected and worst. This is a really good technique for making decisions. You imagine the best possible scenario that can result from your decision. For Churchill, that was likely the Nazi’s don’t take control of the French navy and everything works out okay without his interference. The expected is the Nazi’s will at least try and make a move on the French navy. The worst would be the Nazi’s do take control of the navy, they invade England and kill everyone. In this instance the worst and expected far outweighs the best.
    • Past and present. This theory is a bit more complex. You have to imagine yourself a week, a month, 6 months and a year ahead of your decision. How will the future you feel about your decision? Would he thank you for making that decision? Decisions always seem easier with hindsight, so really try and put yourself in that future position.
  • Similar decisions. Have you made any similar decisions to the one you need to make now? Think about the consequences or how you felt afterwards.

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