Becoming a Better Decision Maker

Woman deciding. Becoming a better decision maker.
Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay

Much of life requires us to make decisions. For many, this is an uncomfortable process. There is no magic formula that guarantees the “right” decision every time. In a way, it is comforting to know that everyone makes a poor choice once in a while. The goal, therefore, is not perfection. Instead, when we make decisions, we want to simultaneously maximize two factors:

  1. the speed with which we decide
  2. the percentage of positive outcomes

It has been my observation that people who self-identify as poor decision makers often struggle with a few common challenges:

  • Overwhelm, when the complexity of the situation seems too big to handle
  • Anxiety, characterized by a paralyzing fear of making the wrong decision
  • Disinterest, which prevents a wise analysis of the relevant factors
  • Self-doubt, where a feeling of inadequacy clouds judgment
  • Uncertainty, typified by a lack of knowledge on how to proceed

When faced with one or more of these stressors, people tend to either make impulsive decisions or procrastinate the process altogether. Both approaches tend to result in regret and/or negative outcomes.

To become a better decision maker, it is helpful to identify which of the above factors are at play and use strategies to combat them.

If you feel overwhelmed...• Clarify the question(s)
• Outline your possible choices
• Break the decision down into smaller pieces and tackle them one by one
• Seek the support of someone who has competency in this area
If you are anxious...• Map out the worrisome outcomes
• Develop a strategy for how you would proceed if each scenario were to occur
• Avoid “catastrophizing,” or giving too much weight to highly unlikely situations
If you are disinterested...• Consider if someone else might be better positioned to handle this decision
• If you must decide, lay out a few steps to ensure that you make a good decision (e.g. research alternatives, speak to relevant parties, etc.)
• Avoid impulsive or ill-informed decisions
If you doubt yourself...• Remember that no one always makes perfect choices
• Allow sufficient time to consider all the options
• Keep a running list of wise choices you have made in the past, no matter how insignificant
• Identify someone who will affirm your efforts to make progress
If you are uncertain...• Compile a list of resources from which you can obtain information, wisdom, and advice (e.g. professionals, friends, colleagues, family members)
• Don’t pressure yourself to make a hasty decision, but also set a deadline to hold yourself accountable

As some will obviously point out, not all decisions are of equal importance…some are big (e.g. Should I marry this man?) while others seem small (e.g. Should I put ham or turkey on my sandwich?) Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out that sometimes it is the smallest choices that can end up having the largest impact. For instance,

  • We choose to turn right instead of left and end up avoiding a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
  • We choose to sit at a certain table where we pick up the flu from a previous patron.
  • We decide to binge watch a TV series that just happens to be the favorite of the potential employer with whom we have an interview the following day.

The point is, since we have no way of knowing which decisions will end up having the most impact, the best we can do is make thoughtful, intentional choices based on the information and resources that are available. Lingering indecision, while tempting in the moment, is likely to result in a series of unnecessary future headaches.

What if you make a decision and things go badly? While hindsight can provide useful learning, it is never helpful to berate yourself or be paralyzed by self-recrimination when you feel you’ve erred. Reflect on what might have been done differently, humbly make amends where appropriate, and then move forward.

Being confident in your ability to make a good decision is beneficial in most aspects of life. How are you at making decisions? What strategies would you add for strengthening the decision-making muscle?

27 thoughts on “Becoming a Better Decision Maker”

  1. Funny that you choose this subject this week. I have been struggling with a big decision lately and i did feel overwhelmed, self doubt, anxious, and uncertain. I certainly did the steps in the Overwhelmed category and it help with all the other feelings because i could focus on what needed to be done, which in turn, relieved my anxiety, and self doubt. Great post, and the steps work.

    1. There are a couple of people in my circle who are struggling with big decisions right now, and that is what got me thinking about this whole topic. I’m so pleased that you found this helpful, and I hope you have a pleasing outcome… shedding the anxiety and doubt can certainly feel great!

  2. As usual, you have a great way of explaining and strategizing options and solutions. We make decisions constantly. As you said, small and large ones. Not all decisions are the right ones. But if we build our confidence from the ones that were good choices, and use curiosity for the ones that weren’t, we have the opportunity to continue to grow, learn and reset. I also find that 9 times out of 10, it’s the deciding part that’s most challenging. Once a choice is made, we tend to rally towards making that decision work. I found this quote about decision-making and thought you’d enjoy it:

    “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.” – Author Unknown
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v10My Profile

    1. I love your comments, Linda. They are always so thoughtful and collaborative:) I totally agree that the anxiety surrounds the making of the decision, and then we often move on, forgetting the stress we entertained throughout the process. The anticipation can be the hardest part. Wonderful quote!!

  3. I really like your bullet points about becoming a better decision maker. I’m guilty of being anxious and at times catastrophizing. This is something I’m working on. Thanks for the great tips!

    1. Sometimes just telling myself, “Stop catastrophizing” can be calming! I think we all struggle, even if it is in different ways. Just another opportunity for growth:)

  4. This is such a helpful list Seana! I sometimes find people are paralyzed with self-doubt but your tips will really help them move forward.

    1. Paralyzed is the right word, Hilda. Decisions require intentionality, but they shouldn’t make us feel powerless. We do the best we can, and then move forward!

    1. That “what to eat for lunch” question can take a lot of energy! Years ago I decided that I would just standardize my breakfast and lunch. Makes shopping, planning, and deciding much easier. To my surprise, I now actually look forward to eating what my mouth is expecting! Of course, I’m not rigid about it… if I get a chance to go out for lunch with friends, all the better. But on the day-to-day front, this works for me:)

  5. Yes it’s me to a “T.” As a kid I remember telling a friend’s mom that when I can’t decide between two things, I just dive headfirst into one. I just choose. That simple!
    I miss that!
    I often have to break down why the indecision and then see what I can do about it. Spot on here!
    Tamara recently posted…We Pop For The Land Before Time.My Profile

    1. We all struggle with decisions, and I think the deep thinkers struggle the most. I often just “go for it” when I feel stressed by the choices as well. Breaking down just about everything seems easier to me!

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Ellen! I guess this is the way my brain thinks… keep breaking it down to figure out what the root case of the problem is. The “big mess” is always hard to fix!

  6. This is great, Seana! As others have said The way you broke down the process and added bullet points in the various categories is really helpful. I struggle with a HUGE decision for a number of years. Nothing I did seemed to move me forward in that one aspect of my life. Now that I’ve made the decision and am taking very small steps forward I’m happier and more confident that the outcome will be just fine. No catastrophic ripples which I had been worrying about – yet.

    1. The anxiety can really build up over time! I can definitely relate to that. Sometimes just finally making the decision is decompressing – a relief to finally have made a choice. There will be challenges, regardless of the choice we make, which is something we can expect, and then just deal with, one at a time!

    1. And then we never know which – the “small” or the “big” decisions – will actually have the most significant impact. I’m still thinking about this topic, even after I’ve finished writing!

    1. What a wonderful thing to be aware of progress and new competency. That is something I am always thankful for, as sometimes I feel like I am trying, but not getting anywhere. Love this comment:)

  7. This is one area where I am very organized—I make my decisions pretty quickly. I listen to my inner voice when making choices and usually it is right. Hard for me to be around indecisive people though—they drive me nuts, especially when shopping with them!

    1. I think I’ve shopped with one of those:) I have observed that those who struggle with decisions often envy those who make quick decisions. We all have our strengths, and being able to listen to that voice and move forward is definitely one of them!

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