A Recipe for Making Better Decisions

When is the last time you made a decision? I’m guessing it was probably just a moment ago. You’re reading this right now because you made a choice – albeit a very minor one compared to other decisions you’ve probably made or will make today.

Whether your day is filled with several insignificant choices or a choice that carries enormous weight, it’s probable you have or will experience something called decision fatigue. In fact, if you’ve ever said to yourself something to the effect of, “I’m too tired to think about this right now” well guess what, you were absolutely right! According to science, your brain can get fatigued just like the rest of your body. Supposedly, you have a daily amount of mental energy for the day. The willpower you use when you say no to that Blueberry Glazed doughnut from Dunkin in the mornings is depleting the stored energy in your brain. Who knew right? I hear this is why Mark Zuckerberg wears a grey T-shirt every day. He likes to conserve his cerebral forces for decisions that he deems more critical than deciding what color shirt to wear. Now I know why I’d rather just pick up clothes off the floor and give it the sniff test. Wow, to know I think like Mark… Silicon Valley here I come!

In all seriousness, you and I may not have that much power and influence. We may not have a fortune 500 company to run, but we have decisions to make every day that are just as meaningful. While there’s no shortage of articles relating to systematic approaches to decision making, I thought I’d take a moment and share some practical thoughts that I’ve personally found useful. So how can we set ourselves up to make more efficient smarter decisions?


Employ a minimalistic approach

Think of this as the decision before the decision. It’s a decision that you can make today to make future decisions easier.  What do I mean? Anyone who knows me personally knows that I have thing for shoes. I might even have a prob… Hey, I like shoes what can I say. I’m sure you have that one thing to… or things that if you were to be honest complicates your life.  Simply because you have too much of it. This brings up a choice that we all make everyday – what to wear. Clothes (and shoes of course) can be a great place to start when simplifying your life. Some of the most brilliant people in the world wear the same style or color outfits every day. I’m a blue and grey kind-of-guy myself. For those of you who like to keep your wardrobe hot and spicy, does the variety in your closet create extra stress or consume extra time in the mornings? Ladies, even you can be a minimalist with your clothing and look fashionable at the same time.  Gentlemen, if you like to be Mr. GQ, look at me – I’ve evolved into a simplistic guy, and I’m still swag out of sight!

Actionable Tip:

If you’d like to start simplifying your wardrobe, try putting the clothes you wear in a different closet or designate a different spot for them for the next several months or even over the course of a year. The clothes that remain hanging in your closet that you haven’t worn donate them or sell them. If it’s a name brand or designer item, try selling it on Facebook, eBay, or take it to your local consignor. That’s decluttering and extra money in your pocket which results in one of my favorite things – a Win-Win!


Engage your mind in the mornings

As we’ve discussed, your mental capacity is going to have the most resources at the start of the day. In the mornings, you’ll usually have the greatest ability to deal with complex issues. If it’s later in the evening and you’ve spent most of your day focusing on a particular task, or maybe you’ve just been continually making insignificant choices throughout the day, that’s probably not the most ideal time to try to make a major decision. If time permits, sleep on it and make it a priority when you awake.

Actionable Tip:

Think about the next big decision awaiting you. As you get your day started tomorrow, get in on your mind. Ponder it. Let it roll around your thoughts. See if you find yourself able to approach it with more mental energy as you head out for your morning routine.


Eliminate your options

If you have multiple choices to consider, get your possibilities down to 3 or less. Yes, I know it’s not always that simple, but you need to zero in on what’s going to be most appropriate for you – especially if you want to compare the pros and cons of a decision, so eliminate the things that aren’t as ideal for you so that you can focus on what is.

Actionable Tip:

If you’re the one that’s usually known for being indecisive about where to eat or what to order on the menu, be more assertive when the next opportunity arises. If you happen to be the one calling the shots, give everyone no more than 2 to 3 options. If a decision can’t be made, be ready to name your place. If you’re not the one deciding on the place, but you know where you’re going, look at the menu and pick out an item or two ahead of time. Finally, you can stop being “that guy.. or girl.”


Escape the noise

As you near the end of your decision making process, find a moment of solitude. I know it can be very difficult to do, but it’s critical to get some me time when assessing significant decisions. Sometimes we just need just some personal time to work out the many things that are weighing on our mind.

Actionable Tip:

Try taking a walk one morning or have a cup of coffee while you meditate and reflect before others in your home awake. I personally like to take a book and visit one of the many local coffee shops before heading off to work. I also find a morning work-out to be a valuable mental stimulation. You may even want to take the opportunity to phone a friend or have lunch with someone whose counsel and wisdom you trust. Again, find a place or a moment where you can spend some quality time mentally engaged on the matter at hand.


Evaluate your answer

I’ve got my decision made – now what? I’m glad you asked. Maybe you’ve already simulated this throughout your decision-making process – and if so, I’m impressed – but if you haven’t already, it’s time to travel in to the future.

Actionable Tip:

Whether you’ve got your decision made or can’t quite seem to decide between two realistic possibilities, imagine the impact that your choice will have on your finances, family, happiness, and personal fulfillment. Try to visualize how you will feel about the decision you’ve made and what your life will look like. This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of what it feels like to be on the other side of your choice. This may sound strange, but engage as many of your senses as you possibly can. Play out scenarios that could occur as a result of your choice. I can’t tell you how many times this simple act of traveling through time has nudged me in one direction or the other.

So, there you have it.

You may have your own things that you do when you’re making a decision.  Do what works for you, but if you’re not doing anything, try one or all of these approaches.  The goal is to do something to enable yourself to make better decisions.

Employ. Engage. Eliminate. Escape. Evaluate.

An easy peasy approach for lemon squeezy decisions.