How did you decide what to eat this morning? Did you flip a coin? Grab the first thing you saw in the fridge? Plan it out the night before? How about picking a career path: do you research your options? Get someone else to choose for you? Or panic and avoid the decision altogether?
We all make decisions every day, both easy and difficult. And yes, even when you feel as if your life is out of your control, you’re still making decisions, such as how to react to challenges or frustration.
Making – and taking responsibility for – your own decisions is crucial for a productive, happy life. Luckily, making good decisions is something that can be learned. It takes practise to actively engage with and develop good decision-making skills, though. Here’s how you can do it.
Beating analysis paralysis
Judge: “It took you eighty-two minutes to pick a hat!”
Chidi: Did I at least pick the right hat?
Judge: There was no “right one”! They’re hats, come on, man!
Remember Chidi from The Good Place
? His inability to make even the simplest decisions lead to him being crushed by a falling air conditioner and end up in Michael’s experimental “Hell” with Eleanor and the gang. While Chidi’s case is a bit extreme, we all sometimes struggle to make decisions. We also get pretty annoyed when we feel like other people are making decisions for us… Basically, we want the freedom to make our own decisions, but sometimes, when we do have that freedom, we’re not actually sure what to do with it. There are ways to combat this indecisiveness, though. Here are five practical tips to help you become a better decision maker.
1. Keep your eye on the end goal
Knowing what you want the end result (or goal) of any decision you make to be can be hugely helpful in making decisions, whether big or small. If you know the purpose behind making a certain decision, you’re more likely to stick with it. It’s important, though, to make absolutely sure that you really know and understand what your goals are and why, so take some time to plot them out.
Not sure how to identify your goals? Check out our tips on how to set goals and keep them here.
You constantly butt heads with a frenemy on your sports team, and it’s causing tension for everybody. Your team isn’t doing as well because of it.
You’d like to resolve this tension, and turn the frenemy into a friend (or at least win their support), so that the team can work better together.
To reach your goal, you’d be more likely to get results if you decide on a positive, supportive approach, such as a conversation to figure out what’s going on and how it can be resolved to the benefit of you both, rather than losing your cool and shouting at them in front of the rest of the team.
(BTW, these tips to help you deal with difficult conversations could prove helpful!
2. Do your research
Making good decisions often relies on gathering as much information as possible related to the issue your decision has to help you solve, especially if it’s a decision that can really impact your life. (So no, we’re not suggesting you spend hours researching the contents of your fridge to try and figure out what you should have for breakfast!)
You’re not sure what you should do for a career one day – do you want to become a journalist, or a landscape architect? You’re stumped.
To have a career that you enjoy, suits your natural skills and makes you feel fulfilled, productive and happy.
Before you make your decision, do as much research as possible on the different fields you are interested in. Read up on what the jobs entail, talk to people whose opinions you trust (such as experts in these industries, career advisors or your parents) find out information about the educational pathways and options you’ll need to follow, determine what kind of skills you need for these jobs and how you can develop them, find out what the pros and cons of each field are and list them all!
3. Consider the consequences
All decisions have consequences. Think about your goal, consider your research and then determine how your final decision might impact yourself, and/or the other people involved. Ask yourself: how will this decision affect me now? And how will it affect me in future? Having a list of pros and cons of each possible decision will help you in this step.
You want to train for your first 10km race, but you can’t figure out if you should try getting up early in the morning or train in the evening after work or school.
To stick to your training program from the start, not chopping and changing, so that you can be ready by the time of the race.
List the pros and cons, and consider what each option might cost you, or might add to your training.
|Get training over first thing
||Struggle to get up, groggy in mornings
||Already awake, don’t have to wake up!
||Might be too tired to train after full day
|Nothing to interfere with early morning training
||Really cold outside
||Exercise will help you relax before bedtime
||Will have to give up time with mates
|Will give energy for rest of the day
||Don’t like eating in morning
||Don’t have to get up in darkness
||Too hot outside in evening
|Will make you feel good for reaching a daily goal
||Will have to get up really early to still make school in time
||Will make you feel good for reaching a daily goal
||Easy to get distracted to do something else
Once you’ve decided on your goal, researched it and weighed the consequences, make a choice. (Usually, at this point, Chidi would just not be able to pick a hat. At all. Don’t be like Chidi.)
Finally making a decision can be tough and even cause anxiety, especially if it’s an important and potentially life-changing decision. But trust your instincts.
- Does this feel right?
- Does this decision work best for me now, and in future?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re probably on the right track. If you answer no to either or both, rethink before you decide.
If you really struggle with negative thinking and anxiety when making decisions, these five tips to deal with negative thoughts might make things a bit easier
5. Evaluate your decision
Take a step back and look at your decision and the steps you took to get there to make sure it is working. This kind of “feedback” is important because it teaches you even more about decision making, helping you improve your skills.
Also, if you can tell that your decision isn’t working out the way you wanted it to, evaluating may help you to find new information and adapt your choices along the way.
Seeing the final consequences of your decision can take time! So be patient and persevere, and keep checking in with yourself on your journey to make sure that you’re still on track to your end goal. And remember: no matter how difficult a decision may have been, in most cases, you can go back and choose another option. (Unless you’ve already eaten that salad instead of the pasta…) If you chose journalism instead of landscape architect, and you realise the wordy life is not for you, it’s entirely possible to retrain and follow a new path. It takes bravery, time and commitment, yes – but your life is not ruined because you originally chose one thing above another.
Bonus tip: Fear-based vs. love-based decision making
When making big decisions (or even small ones!), ask yourself: Am I making this decision based on fear or love? As far as possible, your decisions should be love-based: that is, coming from a place of self-love that values who you are and realises that you are worthy of a good life. How does this work, you ask? Consider these examples and choose the option you think is more likely to be based on a sense of self-love:
- I’m deciding to stay at this job because I’m scared I won't find anything better, and I don’t want to be without an income. It is safer for me to stay here.
- I’m deciding to stay at this job because I really love what I do, and I think I can still learn a lot and make a difference here. It will make me a better person to stay here.
- I’m deciding to stay in this relationship because what if I never find anyone else? I hate our arguments and I’m not really happy, but chances are it won’t get better with someone else.
- I’m deciding to stay in this relationship because I love them and being with them makes me a better person. Yes, we have our difficulties, but we are both growing stronger together.
Get what we mean? Filter all your decisions through this fear-based/ love-based lens, and see how it makes a difference!
Know that you're worthy of a good life.
Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash
Gifs via Giphy.com