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How to Make a Decision

Which grad school should you go to?… should you take that new job?… should you quit your current job?… should you stay in science?… should you get married, go for a run, eat that chocolate bar?…..

You have a multitude of decisions to make in your life. But now you are facing a particularly important decision, and you don’t know what to do. You keep mulling through the choices, scared to make a mistake and fixed on the worst thing that could happen.

You feel stuck, frustrated and drained of energy. You’d rather make the decision, yet you still can’t decide…

Why can’t you decide?

Then why is it so difficult to make a decision sometimes? Common reasons are that…

  • You think that what you decide is going to be permanent
  • You are obsessing on making the “best” decision (which incidentally would entail you predicting the future)
  • You don’t want to make a mistake
  • You feel pressurized by what other people think and expect of you.

Wow! Did you just read all that? No wonder you are struggling… too much pressure, too many expectations and you even have to foresee the future!

Here is some simple advice about making decisions

  • You already know what to do. Yes, you do. Either you want it or you don´t. Be honest with yourself.
  • The number of reasons you have for doing something is inversely proportional to how much you want to do it. Think of any time you really wanted something. Did you need any reasons for that? Nope. When you really want to do something you don´t need reasons. If you are giving yourself a list of reasons you are probably trying to justify an irrational decision or action.
  • You can almost always change your mind. We usually think that our decisions are irrevocable, and of course that causes anxiety and struggling. But most of them are not, and it’s fine if you change your mind later.
  • What you decide will never have as much significance in your life as how you handle the consequences of that decision. That means almost all your decisions can turn out well if you know how to deal with the result. Did you make a mistake? That’s not a bad decision, a bad decision would be to hold on to your mistake and do nothing about it.
  • Shift your mindset. Stop focusing on making the best choice, focus instead on the choice that involves the most growth. And if after a while you are not happy anymore, you didn’t make a mistake, you just stop growing.

So what is the simplest way to make a decision?

Easy – just ask yourself these two questions ‘Do I want to?’ and ‘Will it make me grow?’

And what if the options you are pondering are equally compelling? Listen to your inner voice (actually always do that). Try this, a method I frequently use when I’m stuck with two similar options: grab a coin (I’m not joking, keep reading), promise yourself you’re going to actually do what the coin says. Flip the coin. See the result.

How did you feel while the coin was in the air? What result where you expecting? And after it landed? Relieved, disappointed, excited? That will tell you what you want to know.

Will these always lead to making the best possible decisions? No. Nor does it have to be. Remember it´s OK to make mistakes. You learn from mistakes, you grow, you’ll do better next time. How many scientific discoveries came from a mistake…

6 Comments

  1. Aida on March 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you, Emily! Yours is a good idea too 🙂

  2. Emily on March 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    This is a great article, Aida, thanks for writing it! When I’m really stuck on a decision, I try to make the choice that will give me the most options in the future…that way I have lots of alternatives if things didn’t turn out exactly as I expected/hoped.

  3. Aida on March 22, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I had the same thought when I first saw the picture. Great decision Dr Genious, you never need reasons to eat chocolate!

  4. DrGenius on March 22, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Which brand of chocolate is that? I made a decision to buy some as soon as I seen the picture. I have few reasons for this inclination, so — according to the inverse relationship — I’m all the more convinced that this decision is a sound one. I certainly want to eat the chocolate, and if I eat enough chocolate I’m certain it will make me grow too. Excellent.

    • Nick on March 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm

      It’s a Cadbury’s Caramel I believe. Nice choice — it tastes nice, but it will certainly make you grow…

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