At times, making a decision is hard. Making good decisions, although subjective, is harder.
There have been days when I’ve stood gazing for minutes in the cereal isle, contemplating which one to buy. This “analysis paralysis” had started to silently spread to bigger, more important, personal and professional decisions.
I had to mend it.
After much reading and practising over the past few months, I’ve gained a bit more insight as to why some decisions seem difficult to make, and how we can make better decisions without complicating things or making matters worse.
Excluding impulse, almost all important decisions are made based on willpower or critical thinking, or a mix of both. Interestingly, research has found that willpower and cognitive processing draw from the same pool of resources.
Since both willpower/self-control and cognitive tasks drain the same tank; deplete it over here, pay the price over there. One pool of scarce, precious, easily-depleted resources. If you spend the day exercising self-control (angry customers, clueless co-workers), by the time you get home your cog resource tank is empty.
So now I try to conserve and better manage my tank of resources for what really matters, ignoring situations and decisions which don’t offer deserving results. For every decision (action), there should be an equal, or greater, outcome (reaction).
Walking through the jungle of everyday dilemmas, I learnt two simple yet profound ways that help me make quicker and effective decisions:
1. Make reversible or recurring decisions early and quick.
As much as possible, plan recurring actions in advance; trivial things like clothes to wear, meals for next day/week, monthly expenses, travel routes etc. One less decision to make goes a long way.
There is one thing in common between (late) Steve Jobs, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg – they all wear the same thing every day [for a reason].
Similarly, if a decision seems reversible, then be swift. For example, if you find yourself constantly thinking about an interesting paid event, but not yet sure about attending it, then just book it. If you don’t feel like going later, then you can always ask for a refund. It’s reversible.
2. Make small decisions quicker than bigger ones.
Don’t fret about the small things. Bigger ones being those that will impact you even after a year, for example: choice of car/refrigerator/laptop to buy, place to live, organisation to work for etc. Making these bigger decisions effectively needs practice and a little discipline; a simple framework of sorts:
- Identify only 2-3 criteria or goals, meeting which will be sufficient for a sound decision, and move on as soon as they’re met.
- Set a hard time limit for the decision. Not only will it stop from delays and procrastination, but a deadline’s confinement will stimulate the mind to yield better results.
- What does your gut feeling say? What does your past experience tell you? What does your knowledge convey (or that of others, for a different perspective)? Sometimes the best decisions are as easy as listening to your inner voice. Intuitive decisioning is a quality that elevates great entrepreneurs, CEOs and leaders.
If still undecided, then going out for a walk (endorphins to the rescue), sleeping over it (sleep clears our mind, literally), or “doing the opposite” can help, and if all else fails — try the “coin flip” trick.
At the end of the day, an “ok” (adequate) quick decision is better than a perfect (optimal) yet slow one. Essentially, there’s no such thing as ‘the best’ decision.