DECISIONS, DECISIONS…
tips to make the decision process easier
text by Fiona Clarke

Researchers have estimated that the average person makes 35,000 decisions each day: from what to wear, to what to eat, to what to watch on Netflix. Given so many daily decisions, and inundated with so many options from which to choose, the decision process is often confusing, overwhelming and exhausting. 

Above: The decision process can be confusing, overwhelming and exhausting.

Two types of decision-makers have been identified by Dr. Sue Varma, a board certified psychiatrist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center: Assessment Decision Makers who take time to do extensive research and Locomotive Decision Makers who, based on the immediate available information, choose quickly.   

“Assessment” types tend to be perfectionists, “maximizers” who overthink the options. These folks are stressed, plagued by buyer’s remorse and find themselves emotionally and even physically exhausted by the decision process. “Locomotive” thinkers are goal-oriented individuals, so acting quickly is their strategy. By deciding swiftly, it’s likely that these types will overlook some valuable information that would have been helpful in arriving at the best decision. Whichever is your style, here are five insights that will help improve your decision making process.

SELECT THREE OPTIONS

According to researchers at Ohio State University, we make better decisions when we generate at least three options to consider. Dr. Therese Houston explains, “All too often we only give ourselves one option and we fool ourselves into thinking it’s actually two. Should I do this or not? There’s really only one option on the table, but if you give yourself three options, it gets you thinking outside the box.” Conversely, for those who have identified lots of options, Dr. Varma suggests that you “narrow down your choices to just three.”  

Above: Research proves that focusing on three options will result in a more favorable outcome. 

DETACH YOURSELF

Have you heard of Solomon’s Paradox? It’s a proven theory that people tend to reason more wisely about other people’s problems than their own. By detaching yourself from your personal dilemma and evaluating the options as though they were considerations that a friend needed to process, research proves that your final decision will be better. This technique, known as “self-distancing,” is an effective strategy.

CHECK YOUR EMOTIONAL STATE

Research shows that different emotions impact our decision making in really profound ways. So, to be an expert decision maker, you need to be able to recognize and identify what you’re feeling and understand how that could influence your decisions, often subconsciously. For example, anger makes people more eager to act, often leading to rash decisions that they’ll later regret. Sad people are more likely to evaluate and compare all the options. At its extreme, this can be paralyzing. And fear tends to limit the ability to identify options, which is key to problem solving.

Above: Once you’ve made your decision, move on with your life.

FOCUS ON WHAT IS IMPORTANT

Dr. Jack Grinband’s research at the University of California, Davis has found that “postponing the onset of the decision process by as little as six seconds enables the brain to focus attention on the most relevant information and block out irrelevant distractors.” Not only will that give you time to focus on what’s immediately important, but you also can take a step back and think about the bigger picture. Connecting your every day choices with your long-term goals will lead to wiser decisions.

SET A DEADLINE, THEN MOVE ON

Prolonging the decision process can have disastrous consequences: a missed opportunity, loss of self-confidence, questioning one’s self-worth, depression and even despair. It’s helpful to know the variables that will affect decision making; your attention span, what else is on-your-plate at the same time, your motivation to decide, the consequences of your decision, consider past experiences and your own personality style. Set the process in motion, but set a definite date to finalize your decision. And, once made, move on with your life!