Are you facing some tough choices or decisions and don’t know what to do?
Or perhaps you’d just like to know how to make the best possible decisions when everything seems stressful, overwhelming, or unclear.
If so, this article is for you.
If you can cultivate the habits and processes that wise decision-makers use, you’ll find that life becomes a lot easier.
You’ll have more confidence and trust in yourself, which in turn, will help you to consistently make wise decisions in the future!
1) They take a moment to pause
If you’ve just been asked to make an important decision quickly, you might feel pressure to decide something straight away.
But in almost every situation there is time to pause so you can gain some perspective on the issue.
How long you can pause depends on the situation, but whether it’s just taking the time for three deep breaths, or being able to sleep on it, a little bit of distance can bring a lot of clarity.
2) They check in with their gut or inner feeling
People who take time to pause while making decisions, also regularly check in with their inner feeling, sometimes called a gut feeling.
An example comes from a story I learned while studying well-being counseling:
Jenny* was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor told her that she needed to have major surgery urgently and make the decision overnight.
She felt dizzy and overwhelmed by this, so she took a pause and used a technique (with a guide) called ‘Focusing’ by psychologist Eugene Gendlin.
Focusing involves making emotional space within us and then connecting with our body’s inner wisdom.
In doing so, she realized that her body was telling her that needed a bit more time to consider her options and the implications of surgery. When she asked the doctor if she could wait a few more days, he said yes.
That extra time allowed her to discuss things with friends and family and come to terms with the diagnosis and treatment.
By waiting just a few days longer she was able to feel empowered and in control of her decision, and the surgery was a success.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
3) They get all of the relevant information first
Another thing that helped Jenny in her decision-making, was feeling like she had the time to get much-needed information.
When she felt rushed, she felt out of control and lacking in agency.
By taking a pause and being guided by her inner wisdom, Jenny was also able to gather information and feedback from different sources.
This enabled her to make a very important decision under pressure, in a way that felt authentic and right for her.
In a work or life context, this could simply involve doing research online or in person or asking knowledgeable people and loved ones for advice.
Even though sometimes it seems like there is a need to rush an urgent decision, taking the time to find out all the relevant factors affecting your decision, will help you to make the wise choice.
4) They stay flexible
If you already have a plan or goal in mind, it can be tempting to stick to the original plan no matter what.
But successful decision-makers realize that you need to be able to be flexible and even pivot entirely, based on the information and circumstances of the decision.
What seemed like an infallible plan last week, may not be relevant in this new situation, and by being willing to change their minds, flexible people make wiser choices.
5) They try to be objective and avoid biases
Did you know that there are over 150 cognitive biases that most people get tricked by?
Biases are something that we all have, and they can skew our decision-making process.
So how can we stay objective when making decisions? In truth, no one can be 100% objective all the time, but by taking some key biases into account, we can make wiser and better decisions.
Here are the most relevant biases for decision-making:
- Confirmation bias – Having a preexisting idea in your mind, then looking for things that confirm this idea and believing that this means it is right. Try to identify your pre-existing biases and take them into account when making a decision, actively looking for other points of view and then comparing.
- Anchoring bias – Relying too heavily on the first piece of information we receive when making decisions. Wise decision-makers take the time to gather and evaluate multiple sources of information to avoid being swayed by a single piece of data.
- Availability bias – Giving greater importance to information that is more recent or poignant, such as recent events or vivid anecdotes. To avoid this, make a conscious effort to consider all relevant information, regardless of when you found out about it.
6) They analyze options and weigh up the consequences
One way to help avoid cognitive biases and decision overwhelm is to think carefully about what the choices are, and what the likely outcomes will be.
The best way to do this is to write out each choice, and then brainstorm the pros and cons.
This exercise will help you become clearer about what choices you actually have, and what you can likely expect the result of each one to be.
7) They break decisions down into smaller pieces
Sometimes a decision or choice might actually contain a series of different choices, or there may be many factors involved. To avoid overwhelm, you can break decisions down into different stages or categories.
For instance, if you have to choose whether to accept a new job, or perhaps a choice between different jobs, you might look at breaking the decision down into these components:
- Salary and benefits
- Commute and work hours and how well that fits with your life and commitments
- Company culture and values and how that fits with you
- Potential for growth and career advancement
- How likely you are to feel happy and fulfilled doing the work
Splitting the choices and outcomes like this can make things much clearer.
8) They take the decision and then trust in themselves
Ultimately, while we can do many things to try to ensure we make the best possible decision, sometimes we just will not have all the relevant information at the time.
Smart decision-makers use some or all the tools above, and then choose a decision and trust in themselves.
Scientific studies have shown that people who make a decision and then trust themselves, end up happier and enjoying life more, in comparison to people who constantly question themselves.
The key point here is that although the people who doubted themselves more often were ‘correct’ more often, they were also more stressed and less fulfilled.
So, trusting yourself and your decisions, (after following a process such as the tips in this article), will bring the best results in the long term. Even if later it is revealed that a ‘better’ choice could have been made, you will learn from that and be able to take it into account for next time, increasing your wisdom and confidence.
So what should you take from all of this when making a decision under pressure?
- Take a deep breath and see if there is the possibility to take a little more time to make a decision, if you don’t feel ready.
- Consider all your options and try to be aware of your biases.
- Brainstorm ideas, pros and cons, and consult other people/sources who have relevant information
- Allow yourself to let go of rigidity and welcome change and flow if necessary.
- Check in with your gut
- Once you’ve carefully followed relevant decision-making processes, make your choice and have confidence in it and yourself.
Final thoughts on wise decision making
Nobody can make the ‘right’ decision all of the time, it’s impossible!
But by following the steps above you can feel good about your process, knowing that you are making the best possible choice, given the options and knowledge available at the time.