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Best Decision-Making Techniques for Life’s Tough Choices

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

Every single one of us has faced tough decisions before. We make a crazy number of choices daily, some with little conscious thought, like what to wear, or eat for lunch.

You might question whether you should get gas before or after work. People are good at muddling through those decisions without needing to use scientific decision-making techniques.

Other times, though, when facing decisions with substantial impact, these decision-making tools will be beneficial in quieting the internal battle. 

A twist on the classic Pros and Cons list

You have likely made one of these lists before. You know the drill, the reasons “for” doing something go on one side of the piece of paper, and the reasons “not” to do something go on the other. It is relatively simple, in theory, the side with the most things on it wins! 

However, the older I got, and the more critical the decisions became, the less this seemed like a good idea. I mean, I might be able to think of 10 “pro” reasons to move that range from “better weather” to “restaurant choices,” but if “I have nowhere to live,” is on the con side, that should hold a bit more weight.

This is why science has recommended using a value-based approach to these lists. First, write down the problem at hand, and make your list. Then, go back and assign each item on the list a number between 0 and 1 based on how important it is to you. So, “better weather” might rate a .5 or a 3.5 depending on how important that is to you. “Having nowhere to live,” might rank anywhere from and 8-10.

Once you have assigned each factor, a “weight” add up both sides and multiply it by 100. You have now taken the logic of the pros and cons and weighted it with your emotions. This will help you make a more informed decision, or validate a decision your subconscious thought has already decided.

Sometimes, seeing it on paper like this helps to relieve the stress and anxiety about making the decision itself. If it worries you that you might be too emotionally invested, you can always have a trusted third party, check it over for you.

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Embrace Non-Binary Thinking

As humans, we tend to think in very binary terms. When it comes to decisions, we like to think the answers are simple: black or white? But life is full of many shades of gray, not to mention a slew of other colors! What does non-binary thinking look like when it comes to decision making? Here is an example:

I want to live by the ocean. My husband loves living near the mountains, specifically in Montana. For most of our married lives, we would live in one place or the other trying to build a life, but then of us would miss our respective preferred location and would move and start all over. We are currently in Montana and have been for four years. We agreed when we here we would not move again until, at the very least, our oldest had finished High School. 

We had purchased a trailer when we first moved here, and the plan had been to only live in for a year or so, and then sell/rent it and buy a bigger house. However, our payment on the house was small, and we discovered we didn’t need anything more significant, so we stayed a little longer.

The thought process that we could only live by the beach or in Montana is binary thinking. About a year ago, I considered different ways to each have what we wanted. Thanks to that decision to purchase the trailer house, we only owe 11K on our home. It will be ours free and clear soon, and then we will put money aside aggressively. That money will be used to purchase a condo by the beach.

I recently left the brick and mortar field of management to write and consult remotely. My husband is a software developer and programmer who can also work remotely, so we will not be tied to our jobs physically.

When we live in one area, we can rent the other home on Air Bnb or VRBO. Not only will we be able to live near the beach AND the mountains, but we will have multiple income streams. Non Binary thinking looks different from how you have been taught to think most of your life, but with practice and creativity, you can make some of the best decisions.

“Using the power of decision gives you the capacity to get past any excuse to change any and every part of your life in an instant.” Tony Robbins

Be Patient

A big part of my decision-making missteps has been because I want something right now (like I would rather be typing and staring at the waves right now). I have learned that sometimes, even when you know a decision is the right one, the timing might not be correct. 

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I started writing last year and was one of the lucky ones who started making some money quickly. It wasn’t much, but it was a decent hustle income. It occurred to me that I could make more if I had more time to write, but I wasn’t ready to quit my job and become a full-time writer, I needed to see how long I could keep it going.

My income kept growing as I took on more work. Each month I made more than the last, but still, I wasn’t sure what to do. My job offered insurance and a steady check, but I thought it might be possible. The lure of working from anywhere was intense because that would make the dream I had of living near the ocean a reality.

Then COVID struck, and my company furloughed me. I didn’t know how long it would last, so I threw myself into building my writing business. And that ended up being the right time to jump into writing full time. Now, I have to give myself enough time to make other decisions as successful as possible.

“We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do things, we can accomplish those goals.” Stephen Covey

Avoid complacency and following the herd

This one is tricky. Sometimes, we get comfortable with the way things are or how everyone else is doing something. We may put off a decision that we have weighed thoughtfully, out of fear, and then the opportunity passes. Not deciding and allowing the opportunity to pass you by is still making a decision. If you do this all the time, you will miss out on the chance to affect your life.

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Our inability to decide things comes from the fear that we will make the wrong choice. Don’t be afraid; nothing is permanent, and if you make a choice you are unhappy with, you can always make a new one. Sometimes, the fear is based on what other people think, or how they live their lives.

“Not making a decision means forgoing an opportunity.” ― Auliq Ice

Just because most people do something a certain way does not mean that it is the only way to do it. People will give you well-meaning advice, but if you are making decisions based on others’ opinions, you will feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

Roy E. Disney said, “When your values are clear to you, deciding between choices becomes easier.” Ask yourself what you value. Is it time at home? More money? Power? A sense of purpose? Freedom? When you know the answers to those questions, and you make decisions that get align with them; you will find yourself being less afraid.

“Always make decisions that prioritize your inner peace.” ― Izey Victoria Odiase

Just decide

You can write out a value-based pros and cons list, research your options, embrace non-binary thinking, be patient, and decide. After all that, it may not work out the way planned. You might feel like you chose the wrong thing. 

However, anytime you use these decision-making skills to decide something, you learn a lesson and gain something. These skills and experiences will help you decide things in the future. Aligning your choices with your values will always be worth it, even if you think you have made a misstep.

Not every choice will have the desired outcome, and you will occasionally make a ‘wrong’ decision. Don’t be afraid, the fear, and the what-if game will only keep you from experiencing your true potential

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” Michelle Obama

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