Are you the decisive or indecisive type? If you are decisive, do most of your decisions turn out well? Making good decisions is one of the essential skills to living a happy and productive life. Here’s the approach I’ve found works well for me.
The process of making good decisions:
1. Have a clear value system
If you are constantly fretting over your choices and unable to decide, it’s usually because you don’t have a clear value system. This one step alone will help you make most decisions.
A friend once told me that her personal creed was “God, family, work” in that order. This made it easy for her to decide which function to attend if two happened at the same time. My decision-making value is simple as well: if I were to die in my sleep tonight, what would I choose to do now?
2. Determine what information you really need
Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by too much information and becoming even more confused, think about what information you really need to make this decision, and seek that only.
A simple guideline will be the journalist’s mantra of “who, what, when, where, how, why”. Who does the decision impact? What exactly do you have to decide? When must the decision be made? Where is the best place to make the decision? How will you decide? And why is this decision important?
3. Explore your options
You often have more options than you realise. A friend once challenged me, when I told him about having to choose between working for someone else and having control over my life, “Why can’t you do both?” Since then I have always started with the position that I want it all. The question changes from “Which?” to “How?” and with some creativity, often a way can be found.
4. Listen to your gut
It used to drive me up the wall when I would question how someone knew that this was the best option and they replied “I just know.” That was when I was younger and hadn’t learnt how to listen to my gut, perhaps my gut was young then too and didn’t have a strong feeling either way.
Now I am much more willing to stop thinking and still my mind enough to know what I’m feeling deep down. The subconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious mind in many ways, and once you have learnt to trust yours, it will often guide you through minefields that logic cannot manoeuvre.
5. Sleep on it
When you have turned something over in your mind a few times and still cannot come to a conclusion, sleep on it and give your mind time to work on it in peace without your constant active interruptions. Often a realisation will come to you in the middle of the night when things suddenly seem clear. Try to write this down and see if it looks as clear in the morning. If it does, this is probably your answer.
Even when you have already come to a decision, there is no harm sleeping on it if the decision is not time-critical. It is much easier to reverse a poor decision in your mind than when action has already been taken. Delay is sometimes a good tactic in business and in war, and in your life too.
6. Wait for the right time
If you delay the decision, sometimes you will find that it does not have to be made at all. Circumstances will evolve to the point where momentum will carry you through. Or someone will do something that determines the course of events much better than you could have. Sometimes the crisis just peters out on its own, or your attitude changes and you learn to accept rather than try to force the situation.
Wait until a decision cannot be avoided any longer before you bite the bullet. This gives you time to think, gives circumstances time to evolve, gives others a chance to act, but basically still leaves you in control when push comes to shove.
There may be times when this critical moment comes very early, when the right time is almost immediately upon you. So be it. Your values and your gut will have to step in here.
7. Make it work
Once a decision becomes irreversible, make it work. Stop asking “What if” and wishing you’d done differently. A decision is good or bad depending on the results it brings, and you can turn a poor decision into a good one by managing its execution well.
And if on all counts you made a bad decision, make it work by learning from it. When it comes to life skills like this, you have to be bad before you can be good.
Making good decisions comes from practice
One way to start making good decisions is to start making bad ones. We learn best from experience. Or you can learn from others.