How can I make better decisions?
Updated: 2 days ago
For many of us life seems more complex and more overwhelming now than ever before.
Every day in the modern world we are faced with so much marketing and so many choices, and then other times we can feel like we have no choice at all, especially when faced with huge life challenges and big decisions. Sometimes it feels like life is happening TO us and we are powerless to control things.
Choice and decision making seems to have evolved over the decades as well. It doesn't seem so long ago that you had your coffee black or white, with or without sugar. Fast forward to 2011 where Business Insider Australia was quoted to report over 87,000 possible drink combinations available at Starbucks, the world's top coffee retailer of the day.
According to Barry Schwartz, psychologist and author of ‘The Paradox of Choice’, while it makes sense to consider greater choice as promoting greater freedom; more choice does not necessarily equate to more satisfaction. We all want to make effective and positive decisions, although we can end up feeling dissatisfied with our choices, because of the amount of choice we have.
He suggests that ‘choice overload’ actually encourages us to question our decisions more before and after we make them and sets up unrealistically high expectations, and it helps us blame ourselves for any and all perceived failures.
Many wish that we could wind back the clock and return to a simpler time, when life wasn't full of social media, marketing and 'apps.' But of course we can't - we need to learn how to embrace choice or help it work for us.
And when we experience choice overload or we feel completely overwhelmed when faced with challenging and complex decisions, what are we most likely to do?
That's when we often do NOTHING.
Procrastination or avoidance is what typically happens when our decisions or choices seem too challenging or we have too many options to choose from. Which only sends us into more feelings of anxiety or decision paralysis.
With all this choice and complex decisions to be made, how can we build our skills at decision making? These tips might help:
1. Decisions are the only way we learn
We are making decisions all day every day, although sometimes we're not aware of it. What we'll have for breakfast, if we'll exercise today, when we'll make a cup of tea - all these little decisions are happening in our thought processes and in our actions. As Tony Robbins says 'decisions are the pathway to power', and the only way we learn anything is to act, which takes a decision. And that decision could be something we repeat again, or not.
Think about when we make a decision to try something new. To be able to learn anything new we must 'fail' at it so we can learn it. As Tony also says 'Repetition is the mother of skill.' We need to act and fail and act and fail to build a competence for anything, from tying our shoelaces to mastering a musical instrument.
2. Not choosing is a choice.
When it comes to making difficult decisions remember not making a decision is also a choice. The Positive Living Skills Primary School Wellbeing Extension program teaches year 3-6 students the power of choice and the very important distinction that not choosing is also a choice.
When you see life as happening TO YOU, you feel there is no choice and this feels powerless. When you realise that even though you can't choose the events that will happen in your life and you can't choose what other people will do, you CAN choose how you will respond, you CAN choose what something will mean to you, and you CAN choose to seek support.
Eventually you can start seeing life as happening FOR YOU rather than to you, and you’ll realize that even when you think you’ve made the wrong decision, you’ve learned a valuable lesson that will help you move forward armed with more knowledge and experience.
3. The Rule of 3's
When it comes our daily decisions, too many options can have us feeling overwhelmed or stuck. Reducing the number of options can greatly reduce the stress and anxiety, which is where the ‘rule of 3’ principle comes in. Our brains like to consider information that comes in threes, and we often hear or see information presented to us in threes whether it is based on fairy tales, slogans, marketing, speeches and presentations.
Next time you're faced with too much choice, reduce your options to the top 3 then make your decision from there.
'Would you prefer to come in Monday afternoon, Wednesday morning or Friday lunchtime?' - the rule of 3's is a very effective selling tool too.
4. Write it down
All important or difficult decisions must be made on paper. If you try to learn how to make a decision in life using only your head, you’re going to start doing what’s called “looping.” By writing things down, you’ll have a physical list that helps you see the picture more clearly and you can identify and analyse different options, like the old pros and cons list, and even give things weightings depending on their importance to you or their alignment to your values.
Seeing the issue on paper relieves some pressure from the situation and allows your mind to focus on the task at hand, rather than spiraling into self-doubt.
In the Positive Living Skills program, students also learn the POWER principle - a 5 step decision making process that moves from Problem to Options to Evaluations and action.
5. Learn how to say NO.
So many people find this challenging. Can you help us move? Can you join our group? Overwhelm also comes when we take on too much for too many and don't have any space to breathe.
Of course we want to help others and often we really want to please others, so we say yes to too much or to things that don't fully fit with our values or priorities.
When we learn to say no to things that won't serve us or don't fit with our self-care plan or our goals, we have more space and freedom to move forward in the direction of what we want.
If you find that you say yes on the spot, try making a little space. 'Thank you for asking me/thinking of me. Can I get back to you tomorrow?' Then tomorrow it's ok to say 'I've thought about it and I'll have to pass this time.Thanks anyway.'
You don't have to make up a big long excuse. True friends or family will understand.
What else can we do?
Those who have tried to change a habit or improve their decision making skills can thank Mel Robbin's '5 Second Rule'. The simple act of counting backward to yourself, 5-4-3-2-1, has proven to help thousands across the globe. What researchers call a “starting ritual” can trigger positive new behaviours and brings decisions and action into the now.
Decision making is just like any other skill. The more we do it the better we get at it. Remember, repetition and practice is key, and no one came into this life with an instruction manual. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone can decide to be kinder to themselves and kinder to others.
"Know that it's your decisions and not your conditions, that determine your destiny." Tony Robbins
Until next time,
The PLS Team