How to Work on Your Decision-Making Skills

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Several hundred years ago, a French philosopher named Jean Buridan explained the difficulties of decision-making. He told a story about a donkey that starves to death because it is unable to choose between two different bales of hay.

We, humans, tend to be similar to that poor beast. Too often, we are stuck in an endless loop of weighing the pros and cons of different alternatives instead of making a choice and sticking to it.

Decision-making is an essential skill, both in business and in everyday life. Luckily, there are ways you can improve it.

Here is how to work on your decision-making skills.

Factors that complicate the decision-making process

Two significant problems negatively impact decision-making skills:

The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)

Every time we are faced with multiple choices where each option has different features and benefits compared to others, you can be struck by FOMO.

For instance, maybe you want to buy a new phone and prefer the iPhone camera, but if you pick an Android device, it might work better with the Google ecosystem, which matters to you because of your work. That is how FOMO paralyzes you and stops you from making any choice at all.

The paradox of choice

As you might have guessed by now, the more options we have, the harder it is to make any choice. It might seem that having plenty of choices is a good thing, but that is not the case.

Choosing between many options is time-consuming and loaded with stress. On top of that, if you have a single option, all you have to do is accept or reject it. When you are faced with plenty of options and pick one that you are not happy with, you see it as a personal failure, as if you are the only one to blame.

When the choice we make is not between several worldly things but rather concepts, ideas, and strategies, we call the problem decision paralysis.

When you take a look at the factors listed above, the situation might seem hopeless. But, fear not. According to an article by Firefly Therapy in Austin, decision-making is a skill that you can work on and fine-tune.

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Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

Start your decision-making with the end goal in mind

A tactic that can help you make the right choice is to “begin with the end in mind,” as Stephen Covey famously put it in his book “7 habits of highly successful people”.

In practice, this means that you should start every decision-making process with your ultimate goal in mind. If you left your house to buy a red shirt, go out and buy a red one. Do not come back home with a blue one just because it was on sale.

If there is no red shirt that you like at the moment, leave the store. There is no law that forbids you from coming home empty-handed.

You can apply the same principle to other, more essential things in life. Know what you want and accept no compromise, be it managing your own business or buying a shirt.

Avoid decision-making fatigue

As humans, we have a lot of limitations, and decision-making is no exception. Our brains are capable of making only a certain number of choices at their peak capacity. After that, decision-making fatigue sets in, and we tend to search for shortcuts and make bad decisions.

Another shortcoming that our brains have is that they cannot differentiate between more and less important choices. That is, for your brain, choosing which job offer to accept is just as important as whether you will put extra ketchup on your pizza. Decision fatigue can impact everyone, in the workplace and the home. Identifying the root causes of decision fatigue in your life will go a long way toward alleviating the negative consequences

The solution is to establish some routines in your everyday life. For example, you can eat pancakes every Saturday morning, or pick a specific outfit for a specific day of the week, etc.

Each of these routines saves you a bit of brainpower that you can then repurpose and use for making a choice that really matters.

Use if/then thinking

If/then thinking is a term that comes from the world of computer programming. There, it means that a certain action is performed only when a certain criterion is met. In decision-making, it is a technique that can help you be prepared for upcoming challenges.

In essence, if/then thinking is a system of making promises to yourself. For instance, you can tell yourself “If someone makes me a really good offer, I will be willing to sell my house” or “If a customer wants to try out some of our new services, I will introduce them to X, Y and Z”.

According to an article from Psychology Today, humans are really good at establishing this type of connection in their minds. Once this rule is set up, you will be able to react swiftly and make the decision on the spot.

Consider both pros and cons

The failings of the human brain don’t stop with the ones listed above. We also tend to think too far into the future and see connections and consequences that aren’t even there.

That is one more reason why decision paralysis might hit us, and why it is not good to delve into considering different options for too long.

Instead, take just five minutes of your time to create a list of pros and cons. Consider both sides and simply pick the option that looks better at the moment.

Don’t beat yourself too hard over what the future might bring. Life is strange and unpredictable, but that is what makes it both exciting and scary.

Also, don’t sweat the small stuff. When it comes to something as simple as choosing what TV show to watch or where to order your dinner from, simply skip the list-making portion of the process and give yourself five minutes to reach the final decision.

If you don’t come up with anything within that time frame, chances are that the issue wasn’t that important, to begin with. Remember to take it easy sometimes.

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