Almost everyone has experienced it. Two or more options, and we just can’t decide. In the case of something trivial like choosing from a menu or picking out an outfit, the consequences of a wrong decision are negligible. However, what should we do when something very important hangs on our decision, like what our life will look like in the next few months or years, and we can’t make up our mind?
Ideally, we should make decisions based on careful consideration of all the pros and cons of each alternative, with the goal of maximizing our gains and minimizing our losses. However, in reality, it’s not that simple.
Do we always make decisions rationally?
The truth is that a huge amount of conscious and unconscious factors influence our decisions, in addition to our rationality. These factors include our emotions, previous experiences, various biases, and more. For example, these biases are mental shortcuts that help us simplify and speed up our decision-making. However, they also increase the likelihood of making mistakes in our decision-making process.
Under the influence of these biases, we may decide, for example, based on the fact that the situation reminds us of another situation we have heard of, or we may adopt an idea that we have automatically created after learning about the situation (we hear great reviews about a product, all of its advantages and features, and we reject it as “too expensive” without even checking its price).
How can we make decision-making easier?
We see that the decision-making process is not always completely straightforward. Therefore, I would like to offer you some tips that can help us in it.
Let’s define the goals and conditions that our decision must meet
Let’s make sure we know what we want. (“Do I really want to change my career? Or do I just want to change my boss?”) Let’s define specific characteristics that the final decision must meet. What do we need? What do we not want? (“E.g. when choosing a vacation: I want the sea and a low price, I don’t want a pebble beach, etc.”)
Write down all the options and consider all their pros and cons
Since the decision-making process can often be influenced by our emotions, this is one of the ways to involve rationality and conscious processes in decision-making. Also, keep in mind that although we are unlikely to find an option that has no cons, in decision-making, the goal is to choose the option that is best for us. Including its negatives. Based on this list, we can then continue with the elimination method.
Let’s talk to someone
Another person and their perspective can reveal aspects that we ourselves missed. Let’s ask for the opinion of someone who knows us well and whom we trust. Another option is to discuss the situation with someone who has experienced it themselves. Of course, it is necessary to keep in mind that although the situation may seem the same, two completely identical situations and decisions do not exist and that much depends on our individuality and on the specific case. Despite this, however, we can learn something from someone else’s experience.
Let’s give ourselves time, let’s not rush
Once we have written down all the options, pros, and cons and have spent some time thinking about the problem, let’s take a break. Our brain needs to process all this information. Let’s go for a walk or exercise. Let’s do something else, let’s not think about it for a while. It is possible that we will stimulate even the unconscious part of our mind to express itself. Besides, if our decision does not have to be immediate, let’s give ourselves time. As written in a great book – “Never decide until you have to” (Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow – The Last Lecture).
Don’t get overwhelmed
Although careful consideration of all possibilities is important, especially in major life decisions, it’s equally important not to get completely overwhelmed by the problem. When we start to feel lost in the endless analysis of options, take a break from it. And when we return to decision-making, let’s try to ask simple questions. “What do I want?” “What will happen if I choose this option?” “Does this option lead to fulfilling my goal?”
Don’t be afraid of change
It’s natural that significant changes almost always bring a sense of threat and discomfort. Let’s not allow these feelings to overcome us. Don’t let the impression that the way things are now is better and that we don’t really need a change. Think soberly. Some changes are necessary and are worth some risk. Don’t reject interesting (and potentially beneficial) options just because we are afraid of change.
Trust ourselves and our instincts
Yes, this article is about making decisions as rationally as possible, warning against possible biases, and suddenly there is a word “instinct.” What to do when we have two options, and even after careful consideration, we can’t choose? You’ve probably heard that in such a case, we should flip a coin. This “folk wisdom” sometimes continues that flipping a coin will not be useful because it will decide for us, but because during it, we can catch ourselves secretly hoping for one option. So why not try it?
Do what’s good for us
This also relates to point number seven. It may happen that we know exactly which decision is rational and reasonable, but we still don’t feel like implementing it for some reason (let’s try to distinguish this hidden intuition from laziness and convenience). Trusting our feeling or intuition can be very helpful sometimes. Do what’s good for us. How we feel about our decisions is usually more important than how objectively good they seem.
Don’t regret the decisions we made
It may happen that even after careful consideration, we still have certain doubts after making a decision. “Did I make the right decision?” “Would it have been better if I did it differently?” Don’t let these doubts overcome us. When the decision is irreversible, stop thinking about it. Remember all the things we did and considered before we made the final choice. Trust that we decided correctly at that moment.
Despite making a careful decision, it may happen that the situation doesn’t turn out as well as we expected. Nonetheless, let’s not regret our decision. It has brought us somewhere. Let’s believe that we are “where we’re supposed to be”. Furthermore, most decisions may not be as permanent as they may seem at first glance. Over time, another choice may arise and we can decide differently this time.
Of course, the tips described above that we can use in the decision-making process are not a clear-cut guide that everyone must always follow. Every person is different, and therefore, when making decisions, they may use different strategies or tools that may differ from those described in this article.