What do I want for dinner? What am I going to wear today? Where should I go on my next vacation? Should I share this idea or that one? Should I email this to my client? When should I speak with my boss about that raise?

One person makes thousands of decisions every single day. Most of the time we are unconscious of the process and move rather seamlessly through the day making relatively small choices. We don’t overthink them, we simply choose and move on.

But sometimes we’re faced with more difficult decisions requiring more attention, and often causing sleepless nights. How do we make these choices? What steps do we typically take that help us to get to a final resolution so we can carry forward?

This year I’ve been faced with many difficult decisions as I realign my goals and adjust the narrative of my story. Yesterday I encountered another significant one where I had to take action rather quickly. After the final decision, I reflected on the number of choices I’ve made this year and how I’ve been able to process them more easily and methodically as the years have passed.  What elements are instinctively ingrained in my decision-making process driving me to a conclusion more quickly?

“Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”  — Malcolm Gladwell

Whether inherent or simply habitual, I have become more comfortable with the process and established something intrinsically repeatable.

Here are some steps to consider as we all face those tough decisions.

Identify and clarify the decision. Be clear about the decision you are faced with and all aspects of how, why, when, where, or what that need to be defined. Once you clearly understand what’s in front of you, you can then assess options from a more educated stance. If anything is causing confusion or ambiguity, get clarity before moving forward.

List your options. Once you’ve clearly identified and defined the situation, list the options you have available. Even the silly, simple, or unsafe ones should be considered, just so you can examine all options. Remember, in any decision we always have a choice, and the choice is ours.

Research the options. Look into the impacts of each option available to you. If you’re comfortable with the idea, speak with others who have faced similar decisions. Learn from their successes and failures – most want to share what they’ve learned. Be prepared with the right questions to ask, check online for information, and speak with experts if appropriate. The point is not to go blindly into a decision. Arm yourself with the right information.

You also need to get comfortable with when to stop gathering information.  Sometimes too much just confuses the issue or creates greater fear and then paralysis.  In this article on 99u.com, they explore our tendency to overanalyze and overthink when making decisions.  I found the comparison of the Satisficers vs. Maximizers particularly relevant.

List the pros and cons. I’m a visual person, so for me making a physical list of pros and cons helps me to absorb the information much more effectively. Once the list is complete, I can see side-by-side the impact of the options and can begin to ask myself questions to lead me to my final selection.

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” –Michelle Obama

Ask tough questions. As I review my list of pros and cons, I ask myself several questions, some harder to answer than others. Examples include; who else does this decision impact? What’s the worst that can happen? How likely is it that this would happen? Can I live with that outcome? How will this decision impact me 1 month, 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years from now? Are there tough actions I will have to take to adjust for this decision? What are those and can I live with them? Is it time to take a bigger risk to get closer to what I want?

Align with goals and values. A great guiding principle is to always look at the larger picture. Really review how choices align to or conflict with your goals? If there is a direct conflict with these or your core values then explore the other options. If all options impact your goals in some way, review those impacts and whether slight detours or an entire overhaul is required to get you to your results.

Step outside and remove emotion. When our emotions are involved or we personalize the scenario too much, our judgment becomes clouded and compromised. Try looking at the decision as if you were consulting a friend. If it were their decision to make, what would your objective viewpoint be to your friend? How would you advise them or ease their stress?

Make your decision. Don’t keep deferring the decision. Trust your instinct and make your choice. Once you’ve committed, don’t look back. Much like buyer’s remorse, we tend to overanalyze our choices and beat ourselves up that maybe it wasn’t the right one. Making a choice is better than not making a choice at all.

“The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

Sometimes our decisions don’t work out as we planned. If a mistake is made, or things don’t go as you expected, capture where you think the process failed and challenge yourself to improve next time. Every single one of us makes mistakes constantly—it’s how we learn and build experience. And sometimes even those mistakes turn into something even better. Be patient and forgiving of yourself. You are enough.

Do these sound familiar? What things do you do to drive the decisions you make?


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Content Strategist, Messaging Pro, Storyteller

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