What problems are you battling with this week?
Have you got a hard choice to make? Whether it's at work, or at home, having tricky choices ahead weighs on you, even when you aren't actively thinking about them. The longer you delay making the call, the more conflicted and overwhelmed you might become.
But here's a reminder: avoiding a decision is making a decision.
Why it's hard to make the right decision
There are three main reasons why it's hard to make a big decision: uncertainty, decision fatigue and insecurity.
Reason 1: Uncertainty
The main reason that decisions are hard is uncertainty. We don't have any guarantee of a potential future, and if we make the wrong choice, we could make our future worse than our present.
This is the real job of a decision - to convert uncertainty (which we can't control) into action (which we can.) If we avoid making an important decision because we're uncertain, it's often an attempt to evade accountability for the choice we make - forgetting that not deciding is a choice in itself.
Decision-making is hard work! Especially when the stakes are high, when all of the options are complicated, or you aren't confident you can make the right call. Remember, the etymology of the word decision comes from the Latin 'caedere' meaning, literally: ‘to cut off’. Decisions aren't just scary because of what we're moving towards, but what we're cutting ourselves off from: choices, opportunities and pathways untrodden.
What if making this decision makes it worse? What if we make the wrong choice, and things could have been better?
In short: we've got preemptive FOMO.
Reason 2: Decision Fatigue
When we make too many decisions, the quality of those decisions can deteriorate - this is what decision fatigue is all about. It's a real thing, and it can be particularly impactful for people who make many decisions throughout the day, such as business leaders, executives, or even parents. The more decisions we make, the less mental energy we have to make subsequent decisions.
The impact on decision-making can be significant. Studies have shown that when people are fatigued, they tend to make impulsive, risky decisions, rather than carefully considering all available options. They may also fall back on mental shortcuts to make decisions, rather than analysing all the available information.
To avoid decision fatigue, it's important to be mindful of the number of decisions you're making in a day, and to prioritize the most important decisions. This might mean delegating smaller decisions to someone else, or automating routine decisions where possible. It can also mean taking breaks throughout the day to recharge your mental energy.
Reason 3: Insecurity
Making a decision - especially a big one - requires a level of confidence in yourself, your intellect, your choices, and your ability handle outcomes. If you're feeling wobbly, even if that wobbliness has nothing to do with the decision at hand, it will show up all over the place and undermine your ability to make good, clear decisions.
The consequences of making the wrong decision can be significant and long-lasting, which adds to the pressure of making the right choice. This fear can cause us to second-guess ourselves or become indecisive, making the decision-making process even more difficult.
I can't give you the right answer for your decision (sorry) but there are a few things that can help you make a good choice.
In this article, learn:
What makes a good decision?
TL;DR - Not the outcome, but the process you use to make it.
Contrary to popular wisdom, what makes a decision good or bad is not the outcome – it’s the process used to make it.
If we evaluate the quality of a decision based on how it turned out, we surrender control to luck and circumstance. I've made bad decisions that (thankfully) never came back to bite me. I've also done the right thing, and suffered as a result.
While a good decision process does not guarantee a good outcome, consistently good processes do lead to consistently better outcomes
The three stages of a decision
So what are the stages in a decision process (even if we won't necessarily tick them all off in the order we'd like?) There's 3 main steps to be aware of:
Stage 1: FRAME
This is all about taking the time to understand the problem you're solving or the choice you're facing. Time spent here saves drama later on.
Stage 2: EVALUATE
This is all about clarifying your goals and values, and considering how your options align with those things.
Stage 3: TEST
This is all about making the smallest possible choice, and taking action immediately.
💡 Tips on how to do this well:
- Be very clear on your goals and criteria, and make choices that align with those
- Use a decision process or framework to counteract bias and enhance your thinking
- Test your thinking out loud and with others.
Stage 1 - Set the frame
Most of us frame our problems and decisions too narrowly at the beginning, shutting ourselves off to potential options and ideas.
We need to look outside of our stress to get perspective on the shape and significance of our problem before we get going. Why does this matter? Where did this come from? Does it need solving?
Remember: not all problems need solving, and if they do, they don’t always need to be solved by us.
Why is this an important decision to make? What’s changed that created the need for us to act? What are the drivers? How important is it to solve this problem or respond to this opportunity, and what will happen if we don’t? What information supports our feelings?
We ask these questions because it’s easy to get tunnel vision. Daniel Kahneman calls this WYSIATI - ‘what you see is all there is’.
Big-picture thinking requires us to zoom out and appreciate the broader context, asking questions like:
- What’s going on, internally and externally, that we haven’t thought about?
- What other forces are at play?
- Is there more to this than we’ve considered?
We also need to try and get outside of our own heads and practise shifting into others’ views and perspectives. When you can do this, you become less attached to your point of view and see things from a new angle.
When choosing your frame, consider:
- What information do you have?
- What are your ideas and assumptions?
- What are the gaps?
- What other ideas should be explored?
- What is the real decision we're trying to make here?
Once you've 'frame-stormed' for a while, you should have a clearer picture of the choice you're trying to make, and you can set about making it.
Stage 2: Evaluate
Good evaluation starts with clear criteria.
When you’re excited about an opportunity or battling with a significant challenge, it’s tempting to jump straight to solving it. But if we go straight to choices without taking the time to nail our criteria, we might not reach the right conclusion.
At this stage of the process, take the space to confirm what a good decision looks like, by asking:
- Purpose: What goals are relevant to this decision?
- Outcomes: What are the most important outcomes?
- Priorities: Which of these outcomes are most important?
- Constraints: What are our constraints on cost and logistics?
Once you know what you're trying to achieve, you can consider how well your choices and options align with those things.
Try using a simple decision matrix to 'score' your choices against your most important goals and outcomes.
Create a table with the different options listed along the side and the criteria listed across the top. Then, rate each option for each criterion and calculate a total score for each option. This can help you see which option scores highest overall and make a more informed decision.
➡️ Check out this great 7 step guide to prioritising your choices and use the FREE decision matrix inside!
Stage 3: Test
Never make big decisions, when small ones are an option.
Odds are, you've made some inaccurate assumptions and taken a few short-cuts with your thinking. Because you're a human. That's cool. But when you try and make a big decision too early (large commitment, big price ticket, huge impact on your life) you're baking in those inaccuracies unnecessarily.
The better option is always to take the smallest next step possible, to begin unearthing the new information we need to build a great final solution.
If you want to move cities, try living there for a week. If you want to quit your job and pursue your dream of becoming a novelist, try writing a short story every week for a month. If you want to start your own business, try contracting for a while.
Pick something you can unravel, before you change everything permanently.
Once you've decided what your best option is, and you've run it through a sensible process, your brain will probably tell you that you've completed the task.
You have not.
All good decisions have action baked in - until you do something, your decision will not come to life. Work out a small, meaningful step toward the future that you can take as soon as possible.
Book a meeting. Take a class. Tell someone. Write the first few words. Build the landing page. Whatever it takes to make your decision real.
- Making the right decision is hard, because of uncertainty, fatigue and insecurity
- Good decisions are defined by their process, not their outcome
- You can make better decisions with a useful frame, clear criteria and a bias toward action.
A few extra tips
If you're still finding it hard to make a good decision, here are three extra things that might help:
1. Get a second opinion
Sometimes, it can be helpful to get a fresh perspective on your decision. Talk to someone you trust - a friend, family member, or colleague. They may be able to offer insights or considerations that you hadn't thought of before.
2. Sleep on it
Your Mum was right - you should attain a little extra distance if you want to avoid decisions based on emotion or impulse. Come back to it with fresh eyes in a day or two.
3. Trust your instincts
While it's important to carefully consider all the options and weigh the pros and cons, sometimes you know all along what you need to do, and you're simply afraid to do it. Pay attention to your gut feelings and intuition, and trust yourself to make the right decision for you.