How To Improve Your Decision-Making

Some make knee-jerk decisions while others tend to sweat the small stuff. If you're in the latter camp, we asked the experts how you can become more efficient in your decision making.

Making a simple decision can impact so many things in your life – so it’s no wonder so many people are squeamish about making even the smallest of choices. But what is it that makes you so fearful? And how can you get over these fears?

Clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Lamb says essentially there are two parts of the brain that contribute towards our thought processes: the logical and the emotional. “The logical part of the mind is responsible for weighting up pros and cons, planning and processing information. The emotional mind runs on impulses and instincts and stores memories of what has happened in your past (usually stored in the unconscious).”

This means that the emotional part of the mind can often overpower the logical, because it’s designed to keep us from danger and harm. “This can be detrimental and stop you from moving forward in life as we make decisions based on fear,” Fiona adds. “This can then lead to conflict in your mind, causing you to doubt yourself that leads to more worry.”

Lorna Cordwell, Head of Counselling at Chrysallis Courses UK,  says the link between anxiety and poor decision-making often comes down to an ‘external locus of control’. Essentially, we put too much weight on what other people think, which can lead to you feeling worried as you struggle to ‘do the right thing’. “Basically, the ‘right thing’ is what’s right for you, but of course that depends on you feeling comfortable to assert yourself, as others often have a vested interest in your decisions.”

Then there’s the internal pressure of displeasing others, where you feel guilty if others are upset by your choices – but the unfortunate thing is that then you often compromise and, in the end, realise that you should have just done what you wanted to do in the first place.

Penny Power OBE, CEO and co-founder of The Business Café, agrees with this sentiment, particularly when it comes to making decisions in business: “Never before in the history of mankind have we been more aware of other people. The online world, the ‘compare and despair’ aspect of seeing how others lead their lives. The feeling that we lack. All of these things can make even the strongest and most decisive person fear making a decision. We all feel like we are under the microscope and everyone can judge us.”

Most problems with making a decision stems from anxiety, Lorna concludes: “Anxiety is often when we find a situation challenging because we don’t think we have the skills or capabilities to meet the challenge. So, we talk ourselves out of the decision over time, where our fear of the situation just keeps growing.”

So how can you get out of this cycle of self-doubt and anxiety to make good decisions that benefit you? “Self-help and therapy are often about learning to really understand ourselves, discover our real purposes and then work on removing those emotional obstacles that are telling us we might fail, or that it’ll be awful if we do,” Lorna says.

We all have a habit of negative thinking and talk ourselves out of making decisions. I think it is good to recognise whether we have a tendency to tell ourselves ‘that won’t work’ – these types of thoughts can be so automatic we don’t even notice we do it.

She continues: “We all have a habit of negative thinking and talk ourselves out of making decisions and I think it is good to recognise whether we have a tendency to tell ourselves ‘that won’t work’, ‘that won’t happen’, or ‘I wouldn’t be able to do that’ – these types of thoughts can be so automatic we don’t even notice we do it.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’s success is partly due to helping us to notice our thinking style and to begin to put a more realistic and possible slant on it.”

When it comes to the actual act of making a more balanced, rational decision, Fiona gives the following advice:

Slow down: Don’t make a decision when you are feeling a heightened emotion such as anger, loneliness or sadness. Go easy on yourself and allow the emotion to pass. When you feel more relaxed, look at the issue again.

Don’t Live in The Past: It can be difficult to make decisions based on facts if we have had bad experience in the past. It’s important to remember that this is a totally new situation and set of circumstances.

Let Go of The What-Ifs: It’s normal to feel apprehensive but try not to create worst case scenarios of every possible outcome. This will only hold you back and stop you pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Embrace Change: The only constant in life is change and we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We never actually know what the future holds, even if we can want to try and control it. Learn to let go and enjoy the unknown.
 
Stop Putting Pressure on Yourself to Get It Right: Remember there are no mistakes, only lessons. When you give yourself permission to fail and are not too hard on yourself, choices feel a lot easier. Nobody gets it right all the time and that’s ok! 

Lorna adds that while the practicality of weighing up pros and cons can be good, making a decision isn’t as simple as looking at which list looks the longest: “We must give due attention to what each item on the list means to us.  We may have many small reasons why we want to look for a new job, but if there is an overarching fear of change, it is going to outweigh all the rest.”
 
Penny is convinced that the key to having confidence in your decisions, particularly in the workplace, is acknowledging what triggers your fears and remaining positive through them anyway. “You know what makes you feel small, you know the life you want to lead and, most of all, you know that if you take a risk and all goes awry, you still made the decision for yourself, and hopefully that will open up a new path to something different.”

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