Our lives are a result of the choices we make. Yet we get very little formal education on how to make the right ones. Sure, the topic of 'making healthy choices' might come up in a high school health class. You might even cover 'decision-making' as a topic if you take a college level business course. But making great decisions, as part of our daily life? That's something we're rarely taught.
We're most likely to learn how to make decisions by watching the people around us. That's why some people make the same mistakes their parents did, or at least make decisions based on the same criteria their parents did, which may or may not be a good thing.
Wherever you are in your life, there are a few ways to improve your decision-making skills, starting today.
Eliminate some daily decisions
Substitute as much decision-making as possible with healthy habits and routines. For example, if you always have the same (healthy) breakfast, sitting at your own kitchen table, you won't stop by Denny's and choose to eat the first unhealthy breakfast that comes to mind.
It's OK to eliminate daily decision-making with one blanket decision. There's a reason why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit every day. Quoted in this article in UK newspaper, The Independent, Zuckerberg says:
"I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community."
Other high-functioning billionaires agree. As fashion psychologist, Dr. Carolyn Mair, explains in this article, not having to decide what to wear "conserves cognitive energy" for more important decisions.
Move decision making away from stressful situations
So maybe you don't want to do a Mark Zuckerberg and instead create a great impression by wearing the perfect outfit to an important meeting or job interview. Don't leave the decision until you're rushed and nervous in the morning. Make it the night before (or the weekend before).
Whenever possible, taking your time over a decision is a good idea. Don't just spend the time mulling things over in your mind, though. Do your research. Find out more about your options. Talk to an expert. Read up on the subject. Make every decision you make a really well-informed one.
Weigh pros and cons (on paper)
This works well for more practical, less emotional decisions. A simple list of the pros and cons of each option can give you perfect clarity. If there's almost nothing in the cons column, but you're still hesitating, be honest with yourself. It may well be a fear of change or an unwillingness to step out of your comfort zone that's holding you back.
Use the 10-10-10 analysis
In her book 10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Ideaauthor Suzi Welch encourages readers faced with difficult decisions to consider what the outcomes of each option will be in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.
It's a deceptively simple strategy that can really help you clarify things. Maybe you're sacrificing long-term happiness to avoid short-term discomfort. Maybe you're living in the moment a little too much, rather than making decisions that will support future success.
Ultimately, very few decisions are as life-altering as we think. They're also rarely irreversible. Considering the worst case scenario can help you weigh risk and decide whether it's worth taking a chance. Predicting possible pitfalls in advance can also help you identify solutions. So you're really looking at what could go wrong AND what you could do about it.
If the worst case scenario is not that bad, not that likely to happen, and fixable, it can make a difficult decision easier.
Sometimes you have to use all your best decision making strategies, and then just take a leap of faith. There are no perfect scenarios in life. Every decision is likely to have negative consequences as well as positive ones. Recovering from the wrong decision builds more character than always making the right one. Sometimes you have to have faith that although the path you're on has some unexpected turns and obstacles, you'll still end up exactly where you're meant to be.