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The Essential Ingredients to Decision Making

When it comes to being in charge of your life, being able to make decisions is right up there with knowing what you want. 

If you can’t choose, and then act on that choice, you have little hope of making serious progress towards creating your life. In fact, if you don’t decide, life has a habit of choosing for you, as the saying goes. 

So it’s a pretty essential skill in the quest towards a great job, a great relationship, a great anything. 

But we’re not really taught anything about decision making. It seems like you either decisive or you’re not and you just have to manage the best you can with whatever level you’re naturally at.

Which a) is a bit rubbish for something so necessary and b) not actually true.

Decision making, like all skills, is something that can be learnt. You can become a great decision maker.

Making great decisions takes having a decision making process, trusting yourself to turn your decisions into action.

Structure Your Decisions

Think about it. You’ve got a great job offer. You need to decide whether to accept it or not. In your heart, you know it’s not the right job for you but you don’t have any other offers on the table and you hate your current job and you’re not entirely convinced that you’re good enough to be offered this job so you should just take it right? So you question and wonder and lie awake at night ruminating on the decision.

You have options here:

  1. Just take the job and hope you’re wrong about whatever concerns you have
  2. Reject the job and use what you’ve learnt from the experience to inform your job search
  3. Identify specifically what you have concerns about and see if you can learn more about those areas
  4. Do nothing and lose out on the job anyway

How do you choose?

Currently, you probably pick option 1 because you don’t have rational reasons not to, only intuition telling you something isn’t right. On paper it looks like a great opportunity so away you go.

Here’s how you could approach this instead.

Come up with a list of five to seven criteria that you’re looking for in your ideal role. Consider the people you want to work with, the tasks you want to be doing, the environment you like. Write out everything you can think of then go through each point and ask yourself, ‘if I got everything else on this list, could I live without this thing?’ If the answer is yes, cross it off. What remains (your five to seven points), are your non-negotiables. Now you have something to evaluate your job opportunity against. How well does it meet your criteria? This gives you something tangible to work from and the decision becomes obvious. 

Another way to approach it is to lean into your intuition. Write out all of the possible courses of action you can think of. One by one, read each option and ask yourself if you want to do it. Do you get a yes or a no? Find the option that resonates and do it.

Or you could toss a coin. Heads you take the job, tails you don’t. You’ll know the answer before the coin hits the ground because you’ll be willing it to land a certain way. Or at least, if you get tails and you wish you had gotten heads, then there you go.

It’s about having a structured approach to your decision making. A tangible process (whether logical or intuitive) that reassures your mind that you’ve taken a considered approach. Using a process acts as evidence that you’re making a decision you can trust. 

Trust is Vital to Decision Making

The secret to great decision making is trusting yourself.

Because great decision making is about taking action. Choosing then doing. Having follow through.

It’s not enough to decide. You actually have to do what you’ve decided.

And each decision, each choice, each action then builds on itself, moving you towards your goals.

Closing the gap from decision to action involves trusting yourself.

When you trust the choice you’ve made, it is much easier to follow through with doing the thing.  

Self-trust comes from building evidence that your decisions can be trusted. Just like using a process as outlined above can act as evidence, there are other things you can look for.

Consider how many decisions you’ve made to get to where you’re at today. Hundreds and thousands of decisions big and small. From buying a dress to deciding to go on a second date to moving house to what to eat for dinner. You’ve had way more practice at making decisions than you give yourself credit for. And the vast majority of those decisions either worked out excellently or pretty good. A few decisions you wouldn’t choose again but at the time it felt like the right choice. Now that you know better, you will do better and that learning was worth making that misstep. That’s a lot of evidence that you’re pretty great at deciding and getting even better at it all the time.

You have your historic bank of decisions to reflect on and realise that maybe you’ve got this more than you think. You can also pay attention to the decisions you’re making now. Take a moment to celebrate yourself for making a plan and sticking to it. Notice when you intuitively feel pulled towards something and actually do it. Even something as simple as noticing when you’re full and stopping eating can be a massive moment of paying attention to yourself and giving yourself what you need. Pat yourself on the back for those moments. Keep positively reinforcing making great choices.

Making Great Decisions

Here are some other tips and thoughts on making great decisions.

  1. Check in on your emotional state. Are you coming from a neutral, calm place or are you being emotionally driven? Firing off an angry text rarely ends well but the impulse to take action when we’re feeling strong emotions is high. We want to do something to try to alleviate the pain. Instead try to sit with what you’re experiencing and then make your decision when the storm has passed.
  2. I’ve alluded to this already but remember not making a decision is still making a decision. If you don’t choose, something or someone else will make the decision for you. You being in control of your life means you need to be calling the shots.
  3. Sometimes a decision being difficult to make is actually a sign that you don’t have the right options on the table. If you can’t choose between two duvets, maybe find a third that you like even better.
  4. Most decisions aren’t that life changing. Even fewer are irreversible. Take the pressure off. 
  5. Focus on making simple black and white decisions to avoid negotiating with yourself. Deciding to not buy anything new until your next paycheck is less mental load than trying to decide how to spend a budget.

Like all skills, making great decisions can be learnt with finding a process that works for you and building self trust to follow through.

Did you love this blog post? You can receive my latest insights and reflections from the week plus recommendations of blogs, podcasts, resources I’m loving by signing up for my newsletter here.

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