Lately, I’ve been thinking about life decisions and why in adulthood, some of us continue to make really bad ones. It doesn’t matter if it’s making bad financial bets, cheating on a spouse, or moving across the country for a guy you barely know. We’ve all seen this happen. Heck, it might even be us!
To that end, I’ve pulled together a list of ideas for building your decision-making muscle, from my own school-of-hard-knocks research. It’s not exhaustive, but these practices have truly helped me steer clear of waking up in ditches 🙂
Decision making & Burnout
We already know that burnout is caused by chronic stressed based on a real or perceived lack of control. Our ability to make sound decisions starts with our sense of control and choice. If we feel trapped, we’re likely to make poor decisions, even if other options are available. The challenge is seeing our options when we’re clouded by moments of prolonged stress. However, by practicing the following habits, we can keep ourselves grounded and open to new opportunities that we might otherwise overlook.
- Only say yes to things that light you up. This is hard but vital. If you need help determining your most important values and priorities, pick up the book Essentialism. It’s a game-changer (and I don’t say that about many books).
- Practice being more thoughtful about decisions (big and small) in life. You don’t always have control over outcomes, but you can be intentional about your direction and purpose. If you are weighing a potential decision, consider best and worst case scenarios. Can you deal with the worst case? If so, and the potential gains are worth it, then you should be confident that you’re at least directionally correct.
- Be patient, success doesn’t come overnight. If your long-term goals are that important to you, you will find a way to keep going. If they’re no longer that important to you, then course correct. Sometimes life priorities change, and that’s okay. Just don’t give up on yourself.
- Create daily habits – just small, supportive behaviors that support your big picture goals. People often think that you have to make massive changes to reach a goal. That’s typically not the case. The smaller the changes, the more likely you are to maintain them.
- Know yourself. Make self-awareness an ongoing study so you’re aware of your strengths, weaknesses, fears and desires. Then set your life up to protect yourself from weaknesses. Always practice self-love and acceptance. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be and that’s okay.
- Instead of dwelling on problems, focus your energy on finding solutions. So much energy goes into ruminating on things we can’t change. But if we accept what is and commit to making it better, then you immediately empower yourself. It’s a simple, but important mindset shift.
- If you feel fear, acknowledge it, but don’t let it stop you. Fear is designed to protect you from danger. But most decisions aren’t dangerous. They’re just intimidating. If the risk is greater than the reward, then perhaps it’s not worth it. But if the reward is greater than the risk, then close your eyes and go for it.
A Simple Framework for Better Decision-Making
Sometimes a step-by-step process makes arriving at the right decision so much easier. A good way to go about doing that is to:
- Gather all the objective info you can about the decision.
- Recognize that most decisions are reversible, so no need to freak out.
- Leverage your intuition and gut responses.
- Align your choice with your values and go with what will make you most happy in the long-run. Future self journaling is an effective practice for integrating this into your daily life.
I’d say the one thing that stands out for me about making better decisions is not to overthink outcomes too much. Sure, we’ve all made bad choices in life, but if you’re reading this, you’ve lived through them and learned a ton, so it’s unlikely that any decision you make will turn out badly. If you have a strong feeling that it might, then there’s your answer. Happy decision-making!