Decision making 101

Life is full of choices. Some are easy, such as what to have for dinner (cheeseburger thank you), and others, more serious, like, for instance, choosing a career. Regardless of how important a decision is, good decision skills are useful in life, especially if you feel indecisive about something and it’s getting you down. Get tips on how to make good decisions, and find out what to do when you can’t figure out a plan.

This can help if:

  • you’re working through a problem

  • you’re facing uncertainty

  • you’re struggling to make a decision.

Girl looking anxious sitting outside

Why good decision making helps

People make decisions all throughout their day, most of which are straightforward and don’t require much thought. However, when situations are more complicated and have longer term impacts, it’s easy to feel unsure or hesitant.

When faced with a tough decision it’s common to feel:

  • overwhelmed

  • stressed or anxious

  • wound up

  • pressured

  • confused

  • distracted

  • tired

Because indecision can have a negative impact on how you’re feeling, it’s important to learn strategies for making positive decisions in tough situations. While you may not be able to guarantee the outcome of a decision before you make it, at least you can know you put a lot of careful thought into it.

Tips for making decisions

Step 1. Don’t let stress get the better of you. It’s easy to feel stressed out and anxious when you’re facing a tough choice. You might tend to rush your decisions without thinking them through, or you avoid making a decision at all because the stress has put you off your game. If you’re feeling anxious about a decision, try to manage your stress so that it doesn’t cloud your thinking. Go for a walk on the beach. Hit up a yoga class or hang out with friends.

Step 2. Give yourself some time (if possible). It’s hard to think clearly under pressure, and sometimes your first idea isn’t always your best one. Give yourself the chance to sit on a problem for a while so that you can process your options and feel confident about the course of action you choose.

Step 3. Weigh the pros and cons. When faced with a big decision, sometimes we lose sight of the big picture. Write a list of pros and cons for each course of action and then compare them. Sometimes the cons aren’t nearly as bad as we imagine them to be, or the pros might make your options more obvious.

Step 4. Think about your goals and values. It’s important to be true to ourselves and what we value in life. When you factor into a decision the things that are important to you, the best option might become obvious. At any rate, you’re more likely to end up with an outcome you’re happy with.

Step 5. Consider all the possibilities. Making a decision can result in several different outcomes and not all of them may be obvious. When considering each option, don’t just list the positives and negatives; write down any likely consequences.

Step 6. Talk it out. It can be helpful to get another person’s perspective on your issue, particularly if they’ve faced a similar decision in their own life.

Step 7. Keep a diary. If you feel like you’re on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, it might help to keep track of your feelings by writing them down.

Step 8. Plan how you’ll tell others. If you think someone may have a bad response to your decision, think through what their reaction is likely to be. Put yourself in their shoes to help you think of a good way to manage the situation.

Step 9. Rethink your options. If you’re up against a lot of pressure over a decision, or there are some new factors to consider, look over your options again. You might decide that your original decision is still the best one, but give yourself the option of changing course. If a decision no longer feels right for you, go through these steps again to figure out a better solution.

If you’re having a tough time

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with negative feelings because you’re facing a tough decision, it’s important to look after yourself. Take some time out to relax or do something you enjoy.

If you’re finding your indecision over a situation is affecting how you get on day to day, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust, or visit a counsellor. They’ll be able to help you work through the process of decision making, and guide you through different strategies.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to someone you trust about your situation and see if they have any insights to offer.

  • Learn about building good coping skills.