Five Strategies to Help You Make Better Decisions

How hard can it be to make decisions? Plenty. Because different choices can have so many components, here are five strategies to help you capture the hidden thinking behind your decision  

Tossing a coin can help you make decisions faster

Choices from what to eat to where to live can become overwhelming. Here are five strategies for how to make better decisions, as well as a good reason not to blame yourself when you can’t

Like many folks, I often find it hard to choose. My dilemma can be as simple as what to have for breakfast, or as momentous as whether to move. Other people complicate my decision-making even further. If I have to pick one friend to go on that trip I won, say, I risk conveying to the other – however inadvertently – that she’s not quite so cherished.

Can’t Make a Decision? Not Enough Information

A wise woman once told me that when you can’t decide, it’s because you don’t have enough information, and the answer is to postpone the decision until you know. But as you may know to your cost, it’s precisely when you don’t have the luxury of time to weigh your decision that choices become most fraught.

With 24 hours to accept or reject that job offer, two alternative date proposals to choose between by tonight, or an impatient toddler pulling you down the cereal aisle, you need to make your mind up and make it up now. Here, some strategies I’ve used.

How to Make up Your Mind Now

  • Pros and Cons. A tried-and-true method for working out a problem: simply divide a piece of paper into four sections and list all the good points you can think of for each of the two possibilities, then all their drawbacks. Study the lists and make a rational choice.
  • Coin Toss. While the above method works, it’s curiously unsatisfying, because it doesn’t capture the emotional factors that go into our decisions. Cereal A may be more wholesome than Cereal B, so rationally it’s the one to pick. But Cereal A makes you feel like a schlepping suburban type, while Cereal B gives you a dashing air of derring-do. A coin toss forces you to choose one at random, and the unfairness of the choice can bring those suppressed illogical elements to the surface. When you cry to yourself, “No! I wanted it to be Cereal B!” you know what your decision should be.
  • More Information. In the case of the company job offer above, maybe the answer is to start madly researching the company online. Your ambivalence may point to a gap in knowledge. Will this place fit my values? What are its goals? Can I make a difference? You have a day to find out.
  • Ask Folks. People love being asked their opinion. You can either go for random – asking people you meet, or your friends – which, like the coin toss, will reveal your own underlying thoughts. Or seek out experts, like folks at the company where you might work, others in the field, or your friend who dated one of the guys who wants to take you out tonight.
  • Blue Sky. Ask yourself: if everyone in the world did exactly what I wanted at all times, what would that look like in terms of my decision? Once you have the ideal outcome, no matter how farfetched, strategize how to get as close to there as possible.

More Choices Equal More Difficulty Deciding

Whatever method you choose to try to spur your decision, try not to beat yourself up for being indecisive. In The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz (read an interview with him here) convincingly demonstrates how having more choices – from soft puffy Oreos to chocolate crème, Double Stuf to cookie straws – can actually paralyze us.

See? It’s not your fault. Now get out there and toss that coin.