How to Be More Decisive—and Stand by Your Choices
It can be said that life is just a series of decisions. You decide what time to wake up, what to eat for breakfast, what shoes to wear, and what route to take to work. During any given day, one makes countless decisions—and yet, certain decisions, important life-changing decisions, can be incredibly hard to make. You’d think that since we are constantly choosing between one thing and the other, we would be able to decide quickly, without fear or consequence, when making these significant life changes, as well. However, deciding whether to live with a new acquaintance or your oldest friend isn’t as simple as picking the type of wine to order at dinner.
Trying to make a significant decision—whether or not to leave a job, marry a love interest, move to a new city, or have a child—and standing by your choice is a challenge we must face over and over again. In order to be able to handle these situations when the time arises, it’s best to put decisiveness into practice now. That way when you have to choose between A and B in a major life decision, your choice will be the right one. If you’re thinking easier said than done, bear with me. Here’s how to be more decisive and stand by the difficult choices you may have to make.
The first step in being more decisive is to acknowledge that you’re currently not very good at making choices. The second step? Choosing to be more decisive. Stop telling yourself (and other people!) that you’re indecisive. Think about all the little things that you decided today: the white shirt from your closet, the vegetarian sandwich at the deli, the brand of shampoo at the store, etc. If you can make these decisions, you can make the big ones, too.
Don’t waste your time getting caught up with the small decisions. It shouldn’t take you 30 minutes to decide whether to use cheddar or fontina in a grilled cheese sandwich—both will be delicious!—so no need for a list of pros and cons. The less time you spend on the small stuff, the more time you’ll have to tackle the challenging decisions. As President Obama famously told Vanity Fair, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Do what you need to do to pare down decision-making. Eat the same thing for breakfast, take the same workout every morning, and wear the same brand of jeans.
The method of writing down a list of pros and cons for each option is timeless and one that I’ve practiced over and over again. I made a pros-and-cons list to help me decide which college to attend, whether or not to move to Spain after graduation, and if I should take an office job versus working freelance. It takes 10 minutes to put together a pros-and-cons list, so just do it. Grab a piece of paper, make two columns, and write down everything you can think about moving to New York versus L.A. Fold up the paper and stick it in your purse. Carry it around for a few days, and when you come up with another pro for New York, add it to the list. Thinking about the positives versus negatives can help lead you to the aha moment.
Imagine yourself down each road. Visualize your life in both scenarios. What will the next year look like if you take that job? If you don’t? According to Lori A. Greenawalt, featured in The Next Generation of Women Leaders, you should consider the following: “If the best thing happens in this situation, where I am and how would I feel? Then I play the inverse: What if someone else takes the new job (and risk) and the best thing happens to them? How would I feel about that? I let this sit for a period of time, and I can usually come up with an answer that feels right.” Figure out what you want in life and you’ll be better able to make the decision, because it will lead you to that goal.
It is often said that those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. You must learn from your mistakes. Look back at the major life decisions you’ve made thus far and think about the process it took you to get to that choice. Remember the poor decisions you’ve made. Is there a reoccurring theme? Insecurity? Lack of confidence? Acknowledge the insecurities, build your confidence, and move forward with the decision. Avoid making the same mistake twice. Choose wisely.
One of my best friends is incredibly indecisive. Whenever I need her to make a decision and make it fast, I hold up my hand and say, “You have five seconds to make a choice.” Then I count down. Usually she waits until the last second, but it works every time. Having a time limit forces her to commit. Apply the same theory to your decision-making process: Give yourself a day or week to think through the options, and remember that taking more time to decide won’t ensure that you’ll never make a mistake. In the words of the late journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick, “The percentage of mistakes in quick decisions is no greater than in long-drawn-out vacillation, and the effect of decisiveness itself ‘makes things go’ and creates confidence.”
Do your research. Get as much information as possible. If you’re thinking about leaving your established company for a position at a startup, find out as much as you can about the startup. Who is investing in it? What are the stock options? Does it have a plan to go public? Visit the office and talk to some employees. Read all the articles you can find about it online. Once you’ve gathered up the hard facts, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision. Plus, when someone grills you about your decision, you’ll be able to back up your choice with real data.
Discuss your options with the people involved. If you’re trying to figure out whether or not you want to have children, you have to communicate with your life partner because he or she will be directly affected by your choice. Be inclusive with your dialogue. Ask your A-team for advice. They’ve helped you get this far, so continue to get support from your parents, siblings, lifelong friends, mentor, and therapist.
If you know deep down that you don’t want to marry your current boyfriend—even though he’s an amazing man and you’ve spent three wonderful years together—you have to end the relationship and end it sooner rather than later. Listen to your gut instincts. Pay attention to your body when you’re thinking through the various options. If leaving your current apartment makes you feel a little sick to your stomach, that’s your body telling you it might not be the time to make that choice.
Quiet inner doubts by facing your fears head-on. Are you afraid of failure? Of being alone? Oftentimes we can’t make a decision because we are fearful of a certain negative outcome. Figure out what you’re afraid of, and pay attention to these fears when making a choice. Manage your fear. Decisions should be positive, and although one option may make your life easier, it won’t make you happier. Make a decision based on the life you want for yourself, and deciding to be happy is one of these choices.
Below are items that will help you become a better decision maker.
How do you go about making important life-changing decisions?