From the moment we open our eyes until we collapse into bed each night, we are making decisions. Granted, most of them are relatively inconsequential: Eggs or oatmeal for breakfast? The plaid shirt or the striped one? Call mom during my lunch break or after dinner? And speaking of dinner, what should I make tonight?
Most of the time, these choices are easy, don't require much thought, and take up little time and brainpower. But what happens when faced with decisions that could have a more significant outcome on our lives? Those big decisions surrounding family life, career decisions or personal growth can leave us agonizing and analyzing for days or weeks on end. The fear of a choice ending with an undesirable outcome or, worse, leading to regret can leave us in limbo.
At the end of the day, making wise decisions is a balance between your logical and emotional brain. The key, though, is to not let either one be the singular driver. The next time you are faced with an important crossroad, use these steps to help guide a rational decision.
1. Gather the pertinent information you need to make an educated decision. When confronted with a pivotal choice, our emotional brain is the first to react. Rather than ignore that reaction, first acquire all the relevant information necessary to make an educated final decision. For instance, the perfect home goes on the market in your price range but in a different neighborhood than you had in mind. In this case, you should visit the town, assess how much taxes are compared to the other city, check out the school system, go to a town meeting or visit the local supermarket. As you gather information, imagine yourself living in that town first and then tune in to your emotional reactions.
2. Weigh the pros and cons of your choices. An effective way to engage in the decision-making process is to weigh the pros and cons of a change or choice you want to make. Create four columns and write down every advantage and disadvantage of both sides of the argument, taking care to consider all angles and everyone involved. Seeing the gains and losses for yourself and those who will be impacted by your choice in black and white often brings clarity.
3. When choosing between two paths, widen your options. Faced with a choice, we often become black and white in our thinking. Frequently, though, there are numerous options worth exploring. Unsure about that job offer on the opposite side of the country? Why not sublet your apartment and make a temporary move? Experience the career opportunity and life in a new location for six months, and then decide if you want this change to become permanent. Look for the gray areas in between two extremes and you might be surprised at the options available to you.
4. Be cautious of who you call on for help with your decision. Unless you have a friend or mentor who is unequivocally objective, don't ask others what they think. You might fall into a pattern called "confirmation bias" in which people continually seek out opinions until one confirms the option you are already favoring.
5. A rested, calm and focused mindset is needed to reach successful conclusions. Emotions impact our beliefs about how a decision will pan out. If you had a terrible day at work, you'd believe quitting your job is a great solution. After a fabulous weekend with good friends, your bias will point to staying in your familiar town as the best outcome for your future. When a decision comes to the table, take a moment. Ride a bike, watch a movie or sleep—do anything that temporarily lets you stop thinking about the dilemma momentarily, then pick it up when your head is clear.
6. Make value-based decisions. Will saying yes to this decision bringing you closer or further away from living in congruency with your core values. Ask the right questions: What do I want in this lifetime? Will the outcome of my decision move me closer to what I truly want? Is the level of risk worth the reward?
7. Plug into your intuition. Your intuition is one of your most powerful decision-making tools. Close your eyes and envision yourself walking both paths. Notice the emotions that come up for both. What is your gut telling you?
8. Don't allow fear of making the wrong decision to cloud your vision. Behavior scientists have shown that we overestimate the impact of our decisions, both good and bad. Rarely does a "good" choice bring us bountiful happiness or solve all our problems. Even when we end up making a "poor choice," it rarely wreaks total havoc with our life. Understanding that most decisions are not life-threatening or totally irreversible takes some of the pressure off.
When attempting to make essential decisions, we are trying to predict the future without a crystal ball. Imagine the best possible results. What will that bring into your world? Now imagine the worst-case scenario and ask yourself, "Can I live with that?". Give yourself peace of mind by creating a Plan B. Then, if the worst case were to happen, at least you have a course of action.
Rarely do we regret what we do; instead, we wonder, "What if I had tried?". Even if it feels risky, ultimately, you know what's best for you so don't be afraid to go after it!