Your Complete Guide to Better Decisions
Are you aware that you are making dozens of decisions every day? Whether you are getting out of bed in the morning, setting out to school, or planning a meal; in each of these instances, you are required to weigh and assess at least two options, but the habitual nature of decision-making makes it go unnoticed.
The issue becomes clearer when you factor in the array of daily choices in your personal and professional lives. Of course, some decisions require more thought and deliberation than others, like choosing your academic path, accepting a particular job, moving out, or choosing a life partner. Thus, the gravity of a decision corresponds to the severity of your hesitation toward it. In turn, hesitation is not something to avoid altogether; it can translate into a more deliberate and robust decision-making process.
That is not to say that smaller choices do not impact your life as much. Deciding what to eat, as simple as it may seem, as well as adopting an active versus sedentary lifestyle may have great implications for your future health and well-being. Similarly, studying hard today may alleviate stress in the days leading up to your exams.
Regardless of your decisions, persistent reluctance will drain your time and mental capacities and hinder your personal and career development. Resolute decision-makers often boast more confidence and are thus better suited for agenda setting, building positive relations, and leadership responsibilities in general. On the other hand, the chronically hesitant display less confidence and miss out on improvement opportunities, undoubtedly hampering their performance.
If you struggle with decision-making, you can always start with simple steps like limiting your options on what to wear and where to eat out. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of META, has famously been wearing the same t-shirt to work every day to avoid wasting any effort deciding on unimportant matters. Likewise, choices that risk your health or pose a hazard to your community should also be easier to exclude, saving you time and energy.
Knowing the importance of being decisive, especially in matters that may affect your future on a personal and career level, you should also know that the ability to make decisions meticulously and with confidence is a personal skill like any other: it can be acquired and further built upon.
In short, the key to eliminating hesitation is to be in a positive state of mind, to be able to objectively evaluate all available options, make your decisions rationally and independently, basing them on knowledge and understanding, and, lastly, to be confident that you will always adapt to find solutions to your goals no matter the consequences of your choices. This may seem complicated or hard to attain, but it is not. Here is a quick guide to better decisions to help you understand and improve your decision-making process.
What To Do Before Making Life-Altering Decisions:
Pay attention to your emotions:
Before making life-altering decisions or even evaluating options and possible outcomes, you need to be mindful of your emotional state’s impact on the decision-making process. Do not be impulsive; an angry decision is most likely the worst one. Take your time, and practice patience. When in a negative state of mind, try the following technique: proceed with your normal decision-making process, but instead of enacting your decision, write it down on paper. You would be surprised at how drastically a calm day’s notice can change your perspective. On the other hand, beware that those positive emotions, too, can have the same adverse effect on your decision-making capacities. Excitement often has the potential to drive ambitious decisions, but momentum soon withers, leaving you committed yet lacking in energy and passion.
Manage your stress:
We all know that overthinking is one of the main reasons for hesitation. In his book “Stop Overthinking”, the acclaimed author Nick Trenton sees stress as the underlying cause of overthinking, hence his advice to do away with stressors if possible or to manage them if not. The author further explains that decluttering your mind, whether by writing a stress diary or practicing planning in advance, can help clear your thought process, allowing you to think rationally and critically.
Trenton also provides a mnemonic device to help you manage stressors; his “four A’s”:
Avoid – as in avoiding things that stress you and that you cannot control.
Alter- to deal with the latent causes from which the stressor originates.
Accept- deal positively with the fact that something you cannot change is stressing you out.
Adapt- cope with stress by adopting a positive attitude and setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
Set a timeframe:
Suppose you were faced with an important decision to make; it might be tempting to put it off until the last second. Procrastination is a common stressor, and, as stated earlier, stress often leads to difficulty in decision-making. Adversely, setting a binding timeframe to stretch out the decision-making process can help you utilize most of your time in evaluating options and possible decisions.
Make sure your environment is organized and distraction-free. Refrain from dividing your attention; focus only on the decision at hand. Making a life-changing decision while watching a sports match or scrolling social media is highly inadvisable.
Put it on paper:
Use pen and paper, a whiteboard, or a notetaking app. Writing down your ideas and options will help you organize and connect them properly, removing your stress and biases from the process and allowing you to see the whole picture.
When making a decision, avoid the following:
To rush in without prior thought, planning, or critical thinking.
Delaying deciding on an issue to avoid facing a problem or due to fear of failure.
Relying on Intuition
Deciding solely based on your feelings toward the options.
Letting uncontrolled emotions guide decision-making.
Letting someone else make your decisions for you.
Leaving it Up to Fate
Avoiding rational decision-making, hoping you will get lucky with your choices.
Misallocation of Time and Effort
Wasting disproportional time and effort on information gathering while neglecting option analysis.
Awaiting unlikely perfect conditions to make a decision.
The rational decision-making process involves several methodical steps. The more closely you adhere to these steps, the more rational the process is considered:
- Carefully examine the problem and determine its nature: what is the core question your decision needs to address?
- Establish a list of all factors that need to be considered: what are the things you need to consider while deciding?
- Identify the relative importance of each factor: which of the things you are considering means most to you?
- Compile a list of options: what are the possible choices to make a decision?
- Carefully and critically evaluate your options: which choice is the best and why?
- Take a new decision; continue with the first choice, alter it, or go for a new choice.
Causes for Indecision:
To get rid of indecisiveness, it is necessary to identify its causes.
Despite the lack of information about your options, the experience of analyzing said information, or simply the abundance of similarly positive (or negative) options, may leave you reluctant to decide; it is often more closely related to your fearful attitude. Insecurity regarding your capabilities or potential, mixed with future uncertainties, account for some of the hardest obstacles you will face in decision-making.
Identify Possible Options:
Before you move on to evaluate your options, it is crucial that you collect and identify all possible choices for your decision.
The decision to take on a new job or not only has two options, but other decisions might prove increasingly more complex, with multiple possible options. In this decision-making phase, you can list the obvious, common-sense options. But it would also greatly benefit you to think outside the box and try to be creative with the options you come up with. Try your best to keep an open mind, and don’t rule out any options at this stage.
Evaluate Your Options:
After having a list of all possible options, you can move on to the evaluation phase. Remember to stick to a timeframe; procrastination can heavily burden your decision-making process.
Start the evaluation process by considering your personal and career-related priorities and values, disqualifying all the options that contradict them right out of the gate. Then, try to acquire all the relevant information about each option while being mindful not to overdo it to the point you find yourself out of energy and time, in addition to being distracted with information you do not need.
Here are a few questions that will help you through the process:
- Why is this decision necessary?
- Does this decision further your agenda in the long run?
- What is required of you if you make this decision?
- Are you ready to commit to the decision you make?
- Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone?
- Is this decision attainable under the current circumstances?
- Will this decision affect anyone else but yourself?
- Is the decision compatible with your capabilities? Do you have the skills or resources to implement it?
- What are the strengths that will enable you to make this move?
- What weaknesses may pose an obstacle to achieving what you aspire to? Is there a way to fix or eliminate them?
- Does this decision meet your ambitions?
- What benefits will you acquire if things go as planned?
- What would you be risking if things did not go as intended?
- What minimum must you achieve even if you do not get the desired outcome?
- What are the challenges you will potentially face? How can you prepare for and deal with them?
- What will you lose if you fail to make this decision?
Things may seem complicated because of the multitude of questions and the lack of definitive answers to some of them. Still, the process is rather simple: do your best to achieve the best possible answers, even for only a few of these questions, because even in the worst case, they will give you a chance to see things from a different perspective and maybe clarify the potential consequences of the decision you are about to make.
Now to the most important step in the process. Despite identifying possible options and evaluating them, odds are you are still torn between possible choices. The reason for this is often your fear of choosing the option that will not bring about the outcome you particularly desire due to circumstances you cannot control or past failures that still haunt you. Herein lies the importance of a success mindset: you need to proceed in the decision-making process, thinking only of success and not meditating on ideas of failure. If you achieve this, you will be pleasantly surprised by its effect on your decisiveness.
Your desire to control the future, or dwell on the past, leaves you stuck in a negative thought loop. Make up your mind and try your best to achieve what you set out for, despite knowing that what you plan can be affected by circumstances beyond your control. You cannot predict the future, let alone control it, and the COVID-19 pandemic is a testimony to that. Dwelling on the past is even more dangerous, as it is unchangeable and puts a great strain on your time, energy, and mental well-being. Just think of your past failures as experiences that taught you what not to do in the future.
In her book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” American author Susan Jeffers believes that most people are accustomed to a wrong mentality when deciding between two options, which she called the “no gain” mentality, in which we constantly ask ourselves, “What if?” We hesitate, then remain afraid that perhaps our decision was wrong and that the other option was the right one! We also try to control circumstances beyond our reach, hoping that everything will happen as expected, which is certainly improbable, if not downright impossible.
Accordingly, Jeffers advises a shift to the “no-loss” mentality, which is to choose an option with the confidence that whatever we choose, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you believe that an opportunity lies in each option before you, you will undoubtedly think more positively.
Although it could be argued that adopting this approach has its own downfalls, as being too optimistic can cloud your judgment and disrupt the rationality of your decision-making process, Jeffers maintains that, as opposed to the “no gain” mentality, the “no loss” mentality helps you prepare for any future challenges.
You will often have to make decisions without being completely confident that you will achieve the desired outcome. Instead, focus on what you’re doing now and work toward your goal, believing that you can reach it and overcome any challenge you might face if things don’t go as planned. See every decision you make as an opportunity to learn, grow, and move forward. Even if you fail in achieving your goal, you will gain experiences that will enable you to achieve greater results in the future.
Also, know that the experiences you will accumulate throughout your life will enrich your personality, open new horizons, and change your perspective on many things. Thus, your perception of the very notion of success may change drastically. Evaluate your results from time to time and correct the course if necessary. If you become certain that a decision you made was incorrect, take full responsibility for it without blaming others or circumstances you cannot control. That’s very important. Realize that loss, pain, and frustration are a part of life and that both your right and wrong decisions shape your character. The important thing to remember is that you can learn from these experiences to make better decisions in the future and not give in to negative feelings to move your life forward toward achieving your goals.
Develop these skills for better decision-making:
Consult the Experts:
At every stage of the decision-making process, there is nothing better than getting advice from those with experience. These may be people who have had similar experiences as you aspire to, have achieved success in the areas related to your decision, or are professionals trained to help you in the same field.
Use their help to identify, gather information, and evaluate your options. You can also benefit from their experience to assess your capabilities and compare them with what is needed to make good decisions.
Make it your objective to seek advice to gain as much knowledge as possible about your goal and potential, as well as to see a clearer picture of the situation in general. All of this will give you more confidence when making the decision that should ultimately be yours and yours alone.
Now, let’s put everything we’ve learned to use in a big decision you’ll have to make at the start of your career: choosing your major and figuring out what kind of career you want.
Let’s say you’re a student at school and still hesitant to decide what you want to achieve professionally. As we have agreed, you will have to consult the experts, in this case, the career advisor at your school.
Career counselors have enough experience and tools to figure out why you’re undecided and help you learn more about your career tendencies and options. They can also evaluate your skills and abilities, suggest the best majors to study, and give you all the information you need about universities and their admission requirements, as well as available jobs and their future in the market.
But you must work hard on yourself, too. Talk to people who work in the areas you’re considering. Read books on various fields. You can learn a lot from the biographies of successful people. Look for information on the Internet, but make sure that the sources from which you are getting information are reliable. Explore and connect with the universities’ official websites. Communicate with institutions and companies and visit them to learn about the work environment and search for training opportunities. But remember, in the end, you will have to be the one who makes the decision and chooses your career path with complete independence.