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14 Easy Ways to Improve Decision Making

Our life is a direct result of the choices that we have made at each point along the way and we do not always do a good job at deciding what is best for us.

If we all made sound judgments we would not act irrationally, engage in needless conflicts, forego gains in order to spite others, make impulsive purchases, marry wrong partners and wrongly invade other countries. But the truth is that we do all of the above without even realizing how much our decision-making mistakes are costing us.

Unfortunately, it is not always simple to make the right decision and behave ‘optimally’.
However, there are a few things that we can do to noticeably improve our decision making skills and reduce the number of less than perfect choices that we rightly call “mistakes”:

1. Consider ‘opportunity’ cost.

Making good decisions does not always mean weighting costs against benefits. You have to take into consideration the ‘opportunity cost’ or what you give up by choosing another option. For example, reading friends’ updates on facebook can be a form of enjoyment and relaxation, but this is the time you could be spending doing something way more enjoyable like playing badminton with a friend, writing for your blog or jogging.

2. Look for alternatives.

Before making a decision it is always better to explore several possibilities instead of sticking with the obvious ones.

3. Reframe the question.

Can you see the difference between asking “Do I want to risk losing my current job by sending out my CV to other companies?” or “Do I want to find a better, more satisfying job and quit the one I no longer enjoy?” When making important life-changing decisions always phrase your questions in a positive, encouraging way and your decision-making will not be influenced by fears, uncertainties and self-doubts.

4. Gather all the facts.

The busier we are, the more we have on our minds, the more likely we will are to rely on our emotions and not on facts. It might not be a big deal when you have to decide what to wear for a night out, but when it comes to choosing where to invest your money, mistakes can be rather costly and unforgivable. Before making such serious decisions do extensive research and gather every little piece of information that you can.

5. Be relaxed, well-rested and composed.

It is not a secret that physical fatigue, lack of sleep and stress impedes our concentration and limits our cognitive resources (which means that any decision that we make will be an educated guess at best).

6. Take an outsider’s perspective.

Do you know why it is always easier to advice others than to decide how to act in a similar situation? Extensive psychological research has shown that we are much more objective and rational when we distance ourselves mentally from a specific situation and take an outsider’s perspective. If you still feel too emotionally attached to the problem, you might even want to ask a genuine outsider what they think about it.

7. Get emotions under control.

Can you remember one good decision that you have made while being angry, anxious or stressed out? Probably not and there is a reason for this. When our mind is clouded by negative emotions we lose our ability to think clearly and act rationally.

8. Take your time.

There are times when we have to make important decisions on the spot, but more often no one is breathing down our back, waiting for us to make up our mind. If you feel anxious or overwhelmed about making a decision, sleep on it. Let it sit there for a while, until you are able to consider all the alternatives and chose the best course of action.

9. Do not over-analyze.

A great practical decision always lies somewhere between instinct and over-analysis. Do not torture your mind with “to be or not to be” questions. True, weighing your options and their impact on your life is important, but there is no need for endless investigation and needless self-doubts.

10. Distance yourself in time.

This is another trick that helps you to look at the situation more objectively. Vast psychological research has shown that people make better, less impulsive decisions when their choices are separated in time from the consequences. What does it mean for us? First, do not wait until the last second to decide. Second, when pressed for time, try to think how you would act if your decision did not matter at the moment.

11. Look for “decision-making patterns”.

If you always make the same type of decisions, the chances are that you will end up getting the same results. People are very surprised when they learn that they habitually make the same erroneous judgments in certain life areas, be it falling for the wrong person or postponing important tasks until the last minute.
Think what area of life you struggle with the most? What is the cause of your challenges? What can you do differently to avoid the same problems in the future?

12. Try counter-intuitive thinking.

When an answer seems obvious, stop and try to think if there is another course of action. Research shows that simply encouraging people to “consider the opposite” of whatever decision they are about to make reduces errors in judgment and helps them to look at the problem from different perspectives.

13. Ask 3 “What” questions.

When in doubt asking yourself these three powerful questions can help you to find the best solution faster:

  • What if? (e.g., What if the assessment of the situation were different? Would you still act the same way?)
  • What else? (e.g., What else could be happening? Did you miss something?)
  • So what? (e.g., Is it really that important?)

14. Let go.

The right choices are not always obvious. Sometimes we have to choose between two evils and both of the solutions involve certain risks. At times like these the best course of action is to make the best possible choice and trust the Universe to take care of the rest.

Do you have any decision-making tips?
When faced with complex decisions what is it that helps you to make up your mind?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

  • heartflower11
    June 2, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Nice thoughts! however i think it would take too much time to go through all these things before making a decision. I think you know you make the ‘right’ decision when it feels right. In fact, there is no right or wrong. Only outcome. And in the next moment you have to make the decision what you do with the outcome/results of your decision. I’d say a decision is being made more often than we realize, but I know you are talking about the ‘big’ decisions. Take away the fear of what might happen if you do or don’t do something, the less fear, the clearer the decision.

  • Daniel Wood
    June 3, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Research has shown that the best decisions are made by the people with the longest time perspective.
    If you can see how the decision you make today will influence your life in 10-20 or even 30 years in the future, the decisions you make today will be a lot better.

  • Bill
    June 6, 2011 at 10:17 am

    It has been my experience that when making a hard or difficult decision,  it is a powerful tool to know you are trying to do the RIGHT THING…not simply trying to manipulate others!

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