It doesn't matter what field you're in, how experienced you are, or how much control you like to exert over your life--everyone can stand to be a better decision maker. Making "better" decisions will get you closer to your goals, land you in more appropriate, comfortable situations, and ultimately lend you a more rewarding life. But what exactly constitutes a "better" decision?
The Concept of a "Good" Decision
The ultimate definition of a decision's quality is dependent on the final outcome of the decision. However, since most decisions rely on a number of unpredictable variables and subjective final qualities, it's nearly impossible to evaluate a decision's final worth, let alone predict it. Instead, you have to look at the qualities of the decision itself that may lend themselves to better possible outcomes. For example:
- Logical decisions tend to trump emotional ones. Since emotions can sometimes make us biased or see things in an inaccurate light, basing a decision on logic, rather than a current emotional state, usually gives you more objective information to make the final call.
- Thought-out decisions tend to trump impulsive ones. Because you've spent more time on the problem, you'll understand it more thoroughly and be better versed in the variables that might arise from any possible route.
- Flexible decisions tend to trump concrete ones. Things change frequently, so making a decision that allows for some eventual degree of flexibility usually offers more adaptable options than a decision that's absolute or concrete.
These aren't absolute rules, however. For example, your happiness is what usually matters most in decision making--so why shouldn't you use your happiness as a basis for a decision, rather than cold logic? Instinct can sometimes beat over-analytical thinking, so why avoid impulsive decisions altogether? Unfortunately, I don't have answers to these hard questions, but I do have some strategies you can use in almost any decision making process to make it easier on yourself.
Start Making Better Decisions
These strategies are intended to forgo the paradoxes and complications associated with over-analyzing the process of decision making. Instead, these will give you the tools and approaches you need to find balance in your decisions and gain more confidence in your ultimate choices.
1. Step away from the problem.
Scientific research suggests that distancing yourself from a problem can help you face it in a more objective way. For example, let's say you're trying to choose between two different job offers, and you can't tell which one is better for you. Instead of remaining in your own frame of mind, consider yourself as an outside observer, such as a friend giving advice or a fly on the wall. Removing yourself in this way helps you filter out some of your cognitive biases and lean you toward a more rational decision.
2. Give yourself some time.
Most of us end up being lousy decision makers when we try to force a decision in a moment, or push through to a final choice after first learning about a situation. In some, high-pressure environments, this is a must, but it isn't the most effective or rewarding way to do things. Instead, accuracy and reliability in decision making tends to increase if you first give yourself some time to decompress and collect yourself--even if it's just a few minutes. This may also help you remove yourself from the problem, knocking out two of these strategies in one fell swoop.
3. Know that there is no right answer.
You can stress yourself out trying to pin down the answer that's "objectively" correct, if you believe one such answer exists. Instead, remind yourself that there's almost never an objectively correct answer--all you can do is make the decision that's the best for you at the time, and it's probably going to work out okay either way.
4. Forget the past.
Remember the lessons you've learned from the past, but don't let your past experiences affect what you choose in the present. For example, if you've paid $100 a month for a service that isn't getting you anywhere, you may be tempted to continue simply for the reason that you've already spent thousands of dollars. This skewed line of reasoning is an example of an escalation bias, in which you're hesitant to cut your losses. You can't change the past, so instead, look to the present and future.
You can overanalyze a problem as much as you like, but it probably isn't going to help anything. It's just going to bring up new complications, force you to second-guess yourself, and possibly double back on a decision you've already made. All of these will make the process more excruciating and will make you unsatisfied with whatever decision you land on. Instead, pick an option early and fully commit to it.
There's no perfect way to make a decision, and there are very few situations in which a decision is ever "right." However, with these strategies in tow, you'll be well-equipped to make more rational, complete, and best of all, satisfying decisions in your life.