How to Make Decisions: 8 Tips to Consider

Find out what’s for dinner. Search for a new show to watch. Choose the right mechanic to repair your car. Decide whether you should confront a colleague who has approved of your idea.

In any given day, you may make more decisions than you can count. Some smaller or smaller decisions might come easier — but then again, not necessarily, as anyone who’s spent more time scrolling through Netflix than actually watching a show can attest.

However, when it comes to important or potentially life-changing decisions, you may agonize over your decisions and their potential consequences for hours or days.

Difficulty making decisions often stems from the mistaken notion that there is only one “right” and one “wrong” choice, explains Alison Gomez, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist. But giving yourself permission to explore, make mistakes, and learn from your experiences can alleviate some of that pressure, Gomez says.

Gomez also says that learning certain decision-making skills can remove a lot of the stress of making decisions and help you:

  • make decisions more efficiently
  • achieve goals better
  • make decisions you will regret less later

Building solid decision-making skills can also help boost your confidence, says Rachel Larrain Montoni, a licensed psychologist who offers therapy in Washington DC and New York City. This confidence boost can help you feel empowered and more confident when faced with difficult decisions in the future.

Below are eight strategies that can help provide clarity during the decision-making process.

When making big, life-changing decisions, Liz White, a clinical psychologist and founder of Harley Clinical Psychology, recommends first defining your goals and values, and then asking yourself which choices better serve them.

Knowing what matters most to you can help you make the decision that best suits your needs.

Let’s say you’re trying to decide whether you should move across the country for a promising career opportunity. If one of your core values ​​is family relationships, and moving will bring you closer to loved ones, you may decide it’s worth making the switch. Alternatively, if you consider freedom and flexibility to be some of your core values ​​and this job comes with a rigid schedule, you may opt out.

This approach can also have many benefits if you have people-friendly tendencies. When you pinpoint your unique values ​​and life goals, you can learn to make decisions based on what is best for sherather than the best for other people.

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It often proves harder to make decisions when you have too many options to consider.

In an older study, customers at a grocery store encountered one of two different displays offering free jam samples. One display offered 6 flavors while the other offered 24 flavors. Although more customers stopped at the display with more flavors, they were far less likely to buy a jar of jam than customers who stopped at the display with only 6 flavors. The researchers attributed this finding to “choice overload.”

In short, a plethora of options can leave you feeling so overwhelmed that you may end up not making a decision at all.

Setting some limits on your decisions might make them a little easier. For example:

  • Are you trying to pick a contractor to fix your windows? Plan estimates with three professionals.
  • Looking for a new outfit for a friend’s wedding? Stick to two stores while browsing.
  • Ready to try a new hobby? Write down your three best decisions and draw one out of a hat.

Are you starting to second-guess a particular decision? Taking a break from mindfulness — whether it’s a 10-minute meditation, breathing exercises, or restorative yoga — could help, according to marriage and family therapist Lindsey Ferris.

A Review 2015 Found Meditation can support better decision-making through:

  • Increase your awareness and value-free acceptance of the present
  • strengthen empathy
  • helps you regulate your emotions
  • promote reflective thinking
  • Reduce impulsiveness

Perhaps you are faced with the decision of whether you want to move in with your partner or continue to live alone.

“Think about all your options and listen to how your body responds,” suggests Ferris.

You may sit quietly contemplating moving in together, mentally scanning your body for signs of a reaction. If you feel tightness in your chest, tightness in your jaw, or discomfort in your stomach, it could indicate that you’re not quite ready to take the plunge – a part of you still resists the idea.

Sometimes it can be helpful to get the perspective of a close friend or family member—especially when you’re making big decisions that could affect your life as a whole. Just make sure you’re talking to someone you feel emotionally safe with, Ferris says.

Of course, if you ask everyone you know their thoughts, you may only be overwhelmed when they have conflicting opinions. Montoni suggests choosing someone who either has prior experience with the subject in question or whose judgment you really trust.

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For example, if you are considering sending your child to daycare, you could ask a sibling or a friend who has children around the same age.

Listing pros and cons is a handy technique to use when deciding whether or not to make a change, says Montoni.

Include two columns in your chart: one for advantages and one for disadvantages. Your chart will also have two rows: one to represent the change and one to keep things the same.

Suppose you have felt for some time that your relationship is not meeting your needs. Your partner is friendly and thoughtful, but something just doesn’t feel right. You’ve thought about dropping things but still haven’t made up your mind, so decide to try a chart for more clarity.

Your chart might look something like this:

If you consider your thoughts, which are clearly presented in the chart, you might find that ending the relationship has more benefits while staying has more downsides.

More importantly, you may find that your reasons for staying have a lot to do with not wanting to hurt or upset your partner, while your reasons for leaving things have more to do with your own personal needs.

Of course, diagrams and lists cannot make your decision for you. But they help you sort your thoughts into a readable format, which might end up making the process easier.

To put things in perspective, Montoni suggests considering the best and worst possible outcomes for each choice.

If you tend to think pessimistically, this technique can remind you of the possible positive effects that could result from your decision. It can also reinforce the fact that even the worst-case scenario might not affect your overall life that much.

Suppose you applied to a company that you admire. Even if you’re a bit underqualified for the role, you think you can easily pick up the skills you don’t have and you have the passion to do the job well.

But when HR calls to offer you an interview, you feel a little apprehensive and wonder if you should even take it. After all, you don’t have all the skills you want in a candidate.

If you try this exercise, you might identify “embarrassing yourself in the interview” and “not getting the job” as your worst-case scenarios.

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But then you think about the best possible outcome: you admire your motivation and enthusiasm, and you get the job. This option will help you decide whether to accept the call.

Getting your thoughts and feelings about a particular decision on paper can help you overcome some of your doubts and fears and ultimately provide additional insight into what you’re trying to accomplish with that decision, says Ferris.

A few journaling prompts to get you started:

  • Does the thought of a particular choice feel energized or drained? Why?
  • What additional information do you need before proceeding with a decision?
  • Visualize yourself 5 years from now after making your choice. Describe your everyday life.
  • Pretend a loved one is facing the same decision and write them a letter outlining your thoughts and advice.

Making certain decisions can feel daunting, especially when dealing with what could potentially go wrong. That’s why Gomez says it’s important to remember that no matter what happens, you will survive and adapt.

“Life is always on the move, and you can continue to make choices to either correct the mistake or learn from it,” adds Gomez.

Take a moment to think back to some decisions that you would like to change. Even if you weren’t very happy with the result, you may still have gained something positive: for example, new knowledge about yourself or clarity about your needs.

When you remember that you can still succeed after making a decision that doesn’t work, you may feel less afraid of making the so-called “wrong” choice.

Any number of techniques can help you make difficult decisions, from meditation and journaling to counseling with a loved one you trust. Just remember that there is no one right way to make a decision, just like there is no one right decision, and not all of these methods will work for everyone.

“Developing effective and efficient decision-making skills is an evolving process, so give yourself grace as you work at it,” says Montoni.

A therapist can offer more support if you often doubt your abilities and knowledge of yourself, or constantly find it difficult to make decisions at all.

Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and beauty. Her work has also appeared in Insider, Bustle, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, AskMen and Elite Daily.

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