Dinner shouldn’t be a hard decision. But I stared at the menu for 10 minutes, trying to decide whether to order sushi or chicken katsu.
Frustrated, I nearly ordered both.
Was this insignificant decision really worth my time and energy? Probably not. But we’ve all been there.
Whether you have to decide where to go to school or what to eat for dinner, we expend an excessive amount of time and energy choosing between equally appealing alternatives.
If you’re paralyzed by choice, here are 5 methods to help you make hard decisions:
1. Pretend You’re Advising A Friend.
When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to waste your time worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Instead of spinning your wheels, pretend you’re advising a friend.
We make better decisions when we advise other people, according to a paper published in Psychological Science. But the disparity disappears when you consider your own problem from someone else’s perspective.
(It’s also a great way to overcome your critical inner voice and love yourself more. We’re rarely as mean to other people as we are to ourselves.)
We’re also more cautious when we make decisions on our own behalf, according to a paper published in Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes. When we make decisions for other people, we examine fewer details but more alternatives.
2. Check Your Gut.
Western culture doesn’t trust emotion.
But your gut can be an important part of the decision making process, according to psychologist and author Susanna Newsonen. Gut feelings are shaped by your past experiences and the knowledge you gained from them.
When we make decisions based on gut feelings, we’re more likely to stick to them, according to research by the American Psychological Association.
Get in touch with your gut by imagining your future self. You’re sitting in a rocking chair looking back on your life. How do you want to imaging you handled this situation?
It always helps me clarify what’s most important.
My new favorite method comes from Tim Urban of the absolutely brilliant blog Wait But Why. Let’s say you’re trying to decide whether to stay at your job or quit to start your own business.
Someone hands you an envelope and your answer’s inside. It says “stay.”
If you’re disappointed, then your gut wants to go.
3. Set A Timer.
Scarcity is a powerful motivator. That’s why limited time offers are used to sell every product and service:
- Only 3 left!
- One day only!
- Offer expires soon!
Scarcity clarifies what’s most important, according to productivity expert Donna McGeorge, author of The 25 Minute Meeting.
It also drives action. When you’re expecting visitors in 20 minutes, it’s amazing how quickly you can straighten up.
Take advantage of this psychological trait by giving yourself a limited amount of time to make a decision.
4. Get The Facts.
I usually go with my gut, but intuition can’t replace facts.
Intuition functions best when you have to make quick decisions in areas where you’re already proficient, according to Kelly O’dell, author of The Human Way: 10 Commandments for (Im)Perfect Leaders.
Intuition doesn’t do well when you have to make complicated decisions outside your area of expertise.
So if you’re trying to decide on a career, but your only job experience is babysitting, you should gather as much information as possible about salaries, job satisfaction, career prospects, and etc.
5. Set Parameters.
There are two kinds of decision makers, according to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.
Some people go to great lengths to make the best possible choice. They spend an extraordinary amount of time conducting research before making a decision.
Objectively, these people make the best decisions. But they are less satisfied with their choices and second-guess themselves. They also tend to compare themselves negatively with the people around them.
The second kind of decision maker takes action once their criteria is met. Their standards may be similarly high, but they take action as soon as they find what they’re looking for.
These people are happier with their decisions and happier overall.
Instead of agonizing over every decision, figure out what’s most important to you. When you find it, take action.