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Decision-making: A guide for the indecisive

by Charlotte Hoddge Published on 8 May 2018
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Decision making for the indecisive

How can I best tackle this problem? Should I go for that promotion? Who should I ask to work with me on that project? What should I wear this evening? And where on earth should I go for dinner?

Sound like you? Making decisions can be a bit of a nightmare, especially if the outcome is important. One bad choice could change your life...

But effective decision-making isn't just about being decisive. It's about being able to consider all options, balance many different factors, and reach the most satisfactory solution within a convenient time-frame.

It sounds pretty difficult, but there are some simple things you can bear in mind if you want to improve your decision-making skills.

We talked to Robbie Steinhouse, a trainer with the NLP School and author of Brilliant Decision Making, among other business strategy books.

He told us what defines a good decision, and how you can make them.

Why are decisions important?

Making good decisions is a quality that will help you to lead the life you want. Good decision-makers are sought after in the workplace and can use their skills to excel in their career.

"The decisions we make affect our destiny," Robbie sums it up. "Therefore, understanding how to make effective decisions is very important."

But he warns that, as people assume more responsibilities in the world of work, they sometimes find decision-making harder.

"Often as people rise within an organisation, they believe they need to lengthily analyse all of their decisions," he says. "This creates a bottle neck: it's vital that people trust themselves and don't only rely on external data."

No matter how important or world-changing a decision is, it has to be made at some point!

And it's not only at work that decision-making plays a major role; every choice you make at home sets your personal life in a different direction.

What is a good decision?

You usually don't know if it's the right one until later, so what makes a good decision?

Rarely will you have to choose between one good and one bad option - if that were the case, decision-making would be easy! But there are some simple rules as to what defines a good choice.

"In my view, a good decision is about alignment, when your head, heart and gut all say 'yes,'" explains Robbie. "Often there is part of us that is scared about change, but we sense when it is the right thing to do."

So don't underestimate your powers of intuition and the signals that your body and mind are giving you.

"Likewise, a bad decision is when you know something is wrong, but you do it anyway," Robbie says.

Listen to yourself and don't ignore any 'ifs and buts' that are vying for attention in your head and heart.

Different decision-makers

There's no such thing as a perfect decision-maker, but some people seem to find it easier than others.

Different people have different ways of going about the decision-making process, and Robbie says a balance of natural decision-making attributes is best.

"Some people make hasty decisions and clean up the mess afterwards, while others ruminate for ages, finding any decision-making hard," he explains.

"A middle course of reasonable reflection and then action is what I would define as a naturally good decision-maker."

You might be more inclined to follow your thoughts, your feelings, or your instinct - a combination of them all makes for a better decision.

Most people are also better at decision-making in a certain part of their life, be it work, relationships, health, or anything else. But in areas where you are less confident, reaching a decision can be more of a challenge.

Use negative feelings

OK, so good decisions can mean the difference between success and failure at work, in relationships and even in general happiness. But how can you be sure to make them?

Robbie has some top tips on how to improve your decision-making skills.

His first is to pay attention to what your subconscious or instinct may be telling you. After all, a decision is as much an emotional activity as an intellectual one.

"Notice any negative feelings you have around making a decision," he says, "and don't ignore them."

Ignorance might be bliss, but only until you have to deal with the consequences of a badly considered decision.

You can also use any past negative experiences to inform new decisions. Do you have any bad habits when it comes to choosing a solution? Recognise your usual weak spots and pay extra attention to those areas.

"Notice negative patterns you have followed in the past and identify if the decision reinforces those patterns," Robbie advises.

The congruence exercise

Robbie shares an exercise he uses in training to help people make better decisions, which he calls 'Congruence.'

"I ask specific questions to help someone remember what was going through their minds during firstly a positive decision and then secondly a negative one," he explains.

In retrospect, you can probably tell that a bad decision was the wrong call - maybe you felt rushed, sceptical, or even bullied into making a choice you weren't sure about.

By remembering this, you can recognise the warning signals next time you're about to make the wrong move."When someone is aware of their internal world, they often notice a mixture of pictures, words and feelings which make a decision quite obvious," says Robbie.The more in tune with your own thoughts and feelings you are, the easier these will be to interpret.

Listen to voices

You know that little voice in your head that says something might be a bad idea? And that other little voice that argues it's the best idea ever?

You're not going crazy. We often have oppositional thoughts when we're making a decision, and it's down to us to judge which makes most sense.

"There are often competing 'voices' in our head that want different outcomes," Robbie says.

"To cut to the chase, ask yourself, 'If it was now five years in the future, what would have been the best decision to make?'"

This will allow you to balance the potential consequences of your decision and should prevent you from settling for what's easiest right now.

"I trust our long term sense of vision to be the arbiter of these 'voices'," Robbie concludes.

Ask others

If you're pulling your hair out over a difficult decision, it's worth getting the view of someone whose opinion you respect.

"Consulting others can be a good idea," agrees Robbie. "By saying something out loud to someone we trust, or hearing someone else's experience, we can gain new insights."

Talking a decision through can make it seem clearer to you, and sharing your worries can alleviate the pressure.

But Robbie adds a word of warning. "Often friends have an agenda," he says. "A married friend may encourage us to stay in or start a relationship, while a single friend may do the opposite. This is because it fits in with their lifestyle."

Make sure you're asking for the right reasons, as well. Don't try to justify what you know to be a bad decision by seeking a friend's approval.

"We have to beware that we are not secretly looking for permission to do something we know isn't good for us," Robbie explains. "At the end of the day, we need to trust our own instincts."

Ask others

​If you're pulling your hair out over a difficult decision, it's worth getting the view of someone whose opinion you respect.

"Consulting others can be a good idea," agrees Robbie. "By saying something out loud to someone we trust, or hearing someone else's experience, we can gain new insights."

Talking a decision through can make it seem clearer to you, and sharing your worries can alleviate the pressure.

But Robbie adds a word of warning. "Often friends have an agenda," he says. "A married friend may encourage us to stay in or start a relationship, while a single friend may do the opposite. This is because it fits in with their lifestyle."

Make sure you're asking for the right reasons, as well. Don't try to justify what you know to be a bad decision by seeking a friend's approval.

"We have to beware that we are not secretly looking for permission to do something we know isn't good for us," Robbie explains. "At the end of the day, we need to trust our own instincts."

by Charlotte Hoddge