Decision-making never ends. It is an intricate part of each and every day, and it is how we choose our path. Step by step, each choice propels us in a different direction than one we could have otherwise taken.
We make decisions in all kinds of ways. Sometimes we leave things to luck. Other times we take a more pro-active role. Here are some of the ways we commonly make decisions, and some of my thoughts on each one:
Make a list of pros and cons
What is decision-making but weighing out the benefits and costs, and then deciding which choice is the best? Whenever I see people trying to make a tough decision they often take out a piece of paper, make a T-chart, and then list the pros and cons of each option. This can help provide a bigger picture of what you are working with.
Ask a friend
Some studies have shown that others may know us better than ourselves. While I don’t think this is always true, I can definitely see how friends can point out certain things that we may be unconscious of. By getting an opinion from a third party who knows us well, they can shed light on our values and preferences that we weren’t taking into account previously.
Look at it from multiple perspectives
A big obstacle toward effective problem-solving is being stuck in the same state of mind. We need to be more flexible. One of my favorite Einstein quotes is, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We can look at things from different perspectives by pretending we are something we are not, and seeing how the process unfolds from a new viewpoint. We may want to zoom out and take a bird’s eye view or zoom in and look closer at the details. Both can be beneficial and add insight.
Do your research
Some decisions require that we know more about the subject we are deciding on. Making a choice without first doing some research can turn things into a nightmare, so don’t be hasty. Take your time to search Google or Wikipedia. Maybe find a forum to ask a couple questions. Be thorough and check your sources. You wouldn’t accept advice from British Petroleum (BP) about how great their environmental plan is, but you might accept advice from an impartial third-party organization (who doesn’t have a vested interest in lying to you).
Picture the worst case scenario
What is the worst thing that can happen if you do X? What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do X? These can be important questions to ask. Worst-case scenarios sometimes happen, and it helps to be prepared for them. Sometimes we may find that there is a risk involved that we aren’t willing to take.
Consider all your options
Have you ever made a decision only to later find out that there was an option you didn’t consider? That can hurt. Before making a big decision, please make sure that you have thought out the full-range of possibilities. You might discover a “third way” that makes your choice a lot easier to make.
Follow your heart
There is a myth that all good decision-making is based on logic and reason. This is not so. Our emotions are a resource, and by following our heart we can sometimes make much wiser long-term decisions. Our emotions exist to help us understand and analyze our world in deeper ways. Of course, they can also misguide us, which is why we need to be careful. If we aren’t used to following gut feelings, it may take a lot of practice before we get it right.
Reflect on your values
Action without first considering what it is you want is one of the best ways of not getting what you want. Keep track of your values, and be clear about your intentions. Having those expensive jeans may seem appealing in the moment, but without looking long-range we can dig ourselves into a hole. Know what you want out of life and prioritize appropriately.
Go to an expert
Rarely are we the most knowledgeable person on a particular subject. Our friends can sometimes be no better. In this case it may be appropriate to seek consultation from an expert in the field. Investing? Talk to a market analyst. Feeling depressed? Go see a psychologist. Not sure how to write a book? Discuss tips with other authors.
Go for a run and then decide
If you aren’t pressed to make a decision in the moment, try walking away for a little bit. Literally. Go for a walk downtown or do some running on the treadmill. This will help get your mind off of things, and let your subconscious do some of the work. When you are done you will often find yourself thinking more clearly.
Take a nap
Napping is another good way of taking a break from tough decision-making. It is even being encouraged in the workforce now for it’s proven efficiency in improving problem-solving (and productivity). Like going for a walk or run, naps can re-boot our minds and have them come back thinking more clearly. Sleep deprivation is continuing to be a major problem in the U.S. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has found that over 60% of Americans experience sleeping problems a few nights a week or more. This can have negative effects on our cognitive ability, so taking a nap may be a crucial way to catch up on lost Zzz’s and improve our physical and mental health.
Flip a coin or roll a die
Sometimes we like to leave our choices to chance (maybe to dissociate from the burden of making a decision). So instead of thinking, we can flip a coin, or roll a die, or play “eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” This technique can have its advantages, especially if we don’t have a preference one way or another. It also helps when the decision isn’t too important (maybe we are deciding what movie to see on a Friday night – so it’s not like it is life or death).
- How do you prefer to make decisions?
- What is the craziest way you’ve seen someone decide on something?
- 13 Ways To Quickly Improve Your Decision-Making at PsyBlog
- Decision-Making Techniques at Mind Tools
- Logical fallacies
- Decision-Making and Behavioral Biases at Wikipedia