Decision Making 101

Written by Aakanksha Gupta (Weloquent) 

An adult is estimated to make over 35,000 decisions per day, but no, not me. I would obsess over the perfect way to solve problems - be it how to make a schedule, how to voice disagreement, or how to start an essay, until I was either too anxious to even think about the situation, or I had over-analyzed it so much that my time to make a choice had long gone. When I was fed up of having my circumstances make choices for me, and when I grew weary of losing golden opportunities, I decided to actively look for ways to better my decision making skills.

I turned to friends, the internet, and books for solutions to this dilemma. I was on the verge of giving up when I found one staring me in the face while watching Disney’s Frozen 2 with my best friend. Lyrics from the song ‘Next Right Thing’ jumped out at me. 

Break it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice is one that I can make. 

With lots of time and practice, I learnt how to break every seemingly big decision into smaller steps. I began asking myself: what is the one step I feel confident taking? After I figured that out, it became easier to proceed little by little until I had tackled the bigger task at hand. I learnt how sometimes wearing blinkers can do you good — it helps you concentrate on your immediate task while eliminating all the other possible routes around you.

The following are some steps I have put together, to make the decision-making process easier for you:-

Don’t Start until You Destress 

Studies show that anxiety over-engages our brain circuits and causes us to make poor decisions, especially when we are pressured, upset, or distracted. Before you approach any problem, slow down and unwind. Here are some ways in which you can do so:-

  • Identify what helps you stay calm and motivated -it could be your go-to physical environment for thinking, a comfort book you enjoy reading, or a playlist you enjoy shuffling through. 

  • Ask yourself, “What would I say to my best friend if they were in this situation?” It is easier to be compassionate with our loved ones than with yourself, so asking this question at the correct time might help you be kinder to yourself. 

  • Reach out to the people you trust for support and/or advice. Putting our feelings into words helps us process our emotions and calm down when we are upset. Talking about things will get those gears in our brains turning! 

Get to Know the Ins and Outs of a Situation 

To find a solution, we must know the situation we are in like the back of our hands, and also what the repercussions of our potential decisions could be. To get there, give these strategies a try:-

  • Create goals based on what you want and don’t want. 

  • Be creative and find multiple approaches to choose from.

  • Gather all the necessary information so that you can evaluate your options. You could take notes, make a list of pros and cons, record a voice note, or talk to someone who knows the situation.

  • If you know that your mind wanders, write down anything that is irrelevant so you can come back to it later.

  • Put your goals, options, and information together to reach a decision. Pause and pinpoint how you got here by talking to yourself - “I’m choosing this option because…” 

  • Follow through on the decision that feels good to you considering your commitment levels, time, and effort.  

Learn from Your Strengths and Struggles

A friend recently asked me: “What's the point of being so hard on yourself if you're not getting something out of it?” He reminded me that we must learn from our mistakes, and be honest and patient with ourselves. Here are some ways to do that:- 

  • Take some time to reflect on the choices you made in a similar situation in the past. Did your decision work to your advantage? How did it serve you?

  • Appreciate yourself by recognizing what went well for you and why. Treat yourself for the good decisions you made - that way you won’t fear decision-making altogether. (We often tend to concentrate only on what went wrong, not on what goes right)

  • Remember that mistakes are normal! If, like me, you have a hard time letting mistakes go—give yourself a “worry window,” a fixed amount of time to get all your worries out - either to yourself or in a conversation with a friend or family member.

  • Retrace your steps and identify your struggles and ideas for the future.

Let’s take some pressure off ourselves by moving away from “right” and “wrong.” We make decisions based on the experiences, information, and skills we have. Over time, we can become more comfortable dealing with difficult situations. Remember, decision-making is a skill - one we can get better at if we are mindful about improving.