How to Improve Decision-Making in Life

“Not deciding is a decision itself”, my friend said.

He was right.

I just didn’t know which option to choose, consumed by paralysis analysis and unwilling to commit either way.

If we’re the sum of our choices in life, at that moment I didn’t add up to much.

Making the right choice

I was trying to decide between moving to Bristol or London in the UK after receiving good job offers in both.

I’d lived in London previously and still had friends there.

In contrast, I’d only trialled Bristol for 2 weeks and didn’t know anyone there.

Despite this, I got a good gut feeling for the place.

Was it time for a new chapter? (Read on to find out.)

I suppose this was a relatively big decision, but it’s one of many I’ve struggled with over the years.

The outcome strategy

I think decision making is so tough because we’re obsessed with making the right choice, largely due to the societal conditioning that success is everything.

If our value is predicated on performance, there are necessarily good and bad outcomes for every action, so we’d better choose the right option.

The fallout?

A kind of strangling perfectionism that inhibits our natural feelings for each situation.

Consequently, we try to cognitively deconstruct an unknowable future, imagining myriad ramifications of our present choice. This is a faulty approach.

You see, outcomes aren’t good or bad, but merely different.

We waste excessive time and emotional energy trying to predict a best-case scenario which doesn’t always exist.

It’s important to remember that multiple permutations of the future exist and it’s impossible to map the many combinations ahead of time.

Sure, we can do our best, but we often execute poorly.

So here’s some advice on how to improve decision-making in life.

“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.” William James

How to improve decision-making in life

1. Values

Start here. Values can help nudge your choices in a more aligned direction.

An easy example would be a vegan, whose beliefs around animal welfare make not eating meat an easy decision.

Alternatively, if you’re religious, you might seek a long term relationship with a like mind.

Maybe a more subtle example would concern your relationship with money.

If you’re a simple living minimalist, becoming a banker might be misaligned.

Obviously, this requires some upfront effort and self-reflection, but ultimately, using your values as a choice-making template is worth the payoff.

2. Boundaries

Drawing decision lines in the sand is another useful technique.

While many of us strive doggedly to keep our options open, it often isn’t an optimal approach, where simplification would provide a better alternative.

While it’s amazing that life provides almost unlimited opportunities, the result is often a decision-making minefield.

The only way to safely bypass the landmines is by artificially limiting your options with non-negotiables.

By clearing away the definite no’s, the potential yes’s become clearer by default.

Being vocal about these pre-made choices is also useful to inform friends and family of your position, thereby avoiding inappropriate offers and repetitive decisions.

For example, I recently set the intention to stop drinking alcohol for six months.

My network knew I was off the sauce and didn’t try to tempt me into boozing, which saved significant emotional energy saying no.

3. Journaling

Many of us face decision-making dilemmas because we try to solve problems using our heads alone.

With the barrage of daily content we consume, it’s no wonder our minds are blocked and unable to sift signal from noise.

Simultaneously, we regularly ignore a powerful resource, honed by millennia of evolution.

Our gut feelings are essential in aiding accurate decisions that align with our inner-most beliefs and desires.

Unfortunately, due to cognitive overload, these cues are often muted.

That’s why I try to practice stream of consciousness journaling as part of my morning routine where possible.

Think of it like flushing your psychic constipation.

By quietening the machinations of the mind, our subconscious gut feelings can float to the surface, providing incredible insight.

Your process

Don’t regard decisions as all or nothing outcomes.

While they undoubtedly influence our trajectory, they shouldn’t cause us to procrastinate on making progress.

There are few irreversible outcomes in life and if we do intermittently make a misaligned decision, we can generally course-correct quickly.

P.S. If you’re wondering, I chose to move to London, partly due to the job and also the proximity of friends.

While I don’t regret the decision, London didn’t last.

In hindsight, Bristol may have been a more aligned choice at the time.

However, there a no mistakes, just alternative outcomes, and that particular sequence of events informed who I am today 🙂