Are you naturally decisive or do you walk funny because you spend so much time sitting on the fence? Previously I wrote about how our willpower to make a ‘good’ choice decreases throughout the day, as decision fatigue sets in. But what if you’re not even sure what the right choice is? You can learn to make better decisions, faster, by practicing the techniques below.
Flip a coin (roll a dice/ close your eyes and point)
Don’t laugh! This is actually a really fast way to make small to middling decisions. If you agonise over whether or not you really need those new pants, or what to order from the café, just flip a coin and trust the flip. This sort of decision making will help you to see that a lot of small decisions we agonise over don’t matter much in the long run and over time, as you learn this, you’ll need a coin less as you’ll trust yourself to just make the decision and live with the consequences. After all, one pair of pants won’t send you bankrupt if you buy them, or render you incapable of dressing if you don’t. An unsatisfying lunch won’t drastically affect your health or your waistline. Plus, if you flip a coin and then find yourself wanting to re-toss the coin, you’ll have figured out what you really wanted anyway – the other option!
Write it Down
I’ve talked about this strategy before in other posts. There is power in writing things down. With regards to decision making, writing down the good and bad things about a particular choice can help you to see the most rational option. Follow the steps below:
Define the choice. Instead of writing ‘should I stay or should I go?’, frame your decision as one action, e.g. ‘Should I leave?’ (In this case, the choice is leaving, as staying is the default option – you’re already there).
Headline a piece of paper with ‘Good and bad things about (option)’. Draw a line down the middle of the paper. Label one side ‘good’, one side ‘bad’ and start listing the aspects of the decision you feel are affecting the decision.
Is your list heavily skewed to one side? With it all laid out in one place, it might be quite clear that one side has a lot more going for it than the other. If it’s not clear yet, keep reading.
Re-organise each side of your list so that the best thing about leaving is at the top of the good side, and the worst thing about leaving is at the top of the bad side. Ask yourself, does the fear of the worst thing outweigh the awesomeness of the good thing?
Look at how bad the worst thing is that could happen and ask yourself – can I live with that? If you can’t cope with one particular outcome then you should choose the other option. E.g, if the worst thing is losing $2000, for some people that would be inconvenient, for others, it would financially destroy them. You know your own limits.
If you’re still confused, go back through the list and put a line through everything that is not actually certain. E.g. ‘Something really good might happen and I’ll miss it’, or ‘other people might think I’m an idiot for leaving’ are speculations, not facts. Does this revised list change your opinion?
What would Michelle Bridges/ Warren Buffet/ Buddha do?
Identify your mentor/s. Who do you admire? This might be one person whose life is generally inspirational to you, or you might choose several figures, one for each area of your life (e.g. career, spirituality/life purpose, fitness, learning). It doesn’t have to be someone famous, your mum might be your mentor for parenting and your best friend might be your go to person for health and fitness. It can be anyone who is more successful than you in the area you are seeking guidance. Then, ask yourself ‘what would X do in this situation?’ If you’re the imaginative type, you can even pretend to have a conversation with that person about your particular decision, asking them question and guessing what their response would be. Try it, you might be surprised at what advice your own mind comes up with!
What about trusting your gut/ instincts?
Part of being a poor decision maker is not knowing the type of person you are, the type of person you want to be, and what you want your life to look like. When you know these things, decisions are easier to make, because you make the choice that best aligns with who you want to be and where you want to go. The strategies above will help you learn these things about yourself. Flipping a coin will help you get to know who you are, as you evaluate how much you enjoyed the choice you ended up with. Identifying a mentor helps with knowing who you want to be, and list making is about where you want to go in life – the possible outcomes of choices, and what aligns best with what you want. As you use these tools, you’ll get to know yourself better, and decisions can be made faster, internally and eventually, less consciously – before long, you’ll be using your gut/ instincts. But it’s not a good strategy to rely on for beginners because if you’re at the stage of not trusting yourself and your choices, then fear may be the overriding sensation in our gut, rather than what is in line with our best selves and our best lives.
Stick to It
However you make your decision, once you’ve made the choice, stick by it fully. Part of becoming a good decision maker is knowing that you won’t get it right every time, but the world won’t fall apart regardless. What makes a decision ‘right’ can often be about how we justify it to ourselves and other people afterwards. Find a way to make your decision the right one and if anyone questions you (or you begin to question yourself), just repeat your rationalisation.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.