All of us make thousands of decisions day in, day out, from what sandwich to buy for lunch or which book to read, to what to do at the weekend. Most of these are subconscious, and we base them on our past experiences – such as what we enjoy, what we’re good at, and how easy something is to do. But it’s the bigger decisions – such as buying a house or a new car, or whether to apply for a new job – that can get us in a tangle!
I don’t always find making big decisions that difficult. I tend to weigh up the options in a methodical way, and base my choices on fact rather than emotion or whim (although I do listen to my “gut” instinct, as well). My main problem, however, is I often get overwhelmed by the detail of putting my decisions into action. Rather than focusing on the bigger picture, and keeping the end goal in mind, I often become paralyzed by all the smaller decisions I have to make. I usually start off on the right foot, by making a To-Do List and ordering it by priority, but then I realize what a mammoth task lies before me and delay taking any further action for as long as possible!
I’m also guilty of worrying too much about the consequences of my decisions. I often think “what if?” – what if it’s the wrong choice? What if things don’t go to plan? What if I fail? But, although these are questions you need to consider when making important life choices, sometimes you just need to go for it. You shouldn’t ignore these concerns, but often saying to yourself, “It’ll work out. It always does,” can help you come unstuck.
Looking at your decision from other points of view is a great way of putting your dilemma into perspective. For example, I often picture someone I admire in my head and think, “What would this person do in my situation?” And if I know someone who’s made a similar decision, I’ll go and ask for his or her advice.
If I’m struggling with a decision, another trick I use is to say to myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Yes, buying a new house is going to impact on your life in numerous ways, but you can always move again if it doesn’t suit. Same with a new job. Of course no one likes making the “wrong” choices, but the main thing is to be thorough in your research, and to go with the best decision you can based on the facts before you.
Another thing I do is to think of big decisions from the past, and remind myself how their importance has faded over the years. For instance, when I was at high school, I couldn’t decide whether to study English Literature, English Language, or both. At that point, I didn’t know what career I wanted, and I was petrified I would make the wrong choice. In hindsight, I realise that subject choices like this rarely matter unless, perhaps, you want to get a job as a vet or a lawyer. But, as I never had an interest in either of those fields, it was never an issue. (Incidentally, I ended up taking English Language, which is quite useful when you’re an editor!)
Today’s article is all about common decision-making mistakes. It includes some of the ones I’ve already mentioned, such as not putting your problem into perspective, procrastination and believing decisions are “make or break.” We also look at pitfalls like not involving key stakeholders, the challenges of psychological bias, and how failing to communicate your decisions can negatively impact their success.
What common decision-making traps do you sometimes fall into, and how do you get yourself out? We’d love to hear from you, so please share your ideas below!