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Brain Power

Effective Decision Making Process: How to Make Wise Decisions

Written by Tracy Kennedy
Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.
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Mastering the decision making process is key in both life and leadership. Many people are overwhelmed by choices, plagued by indecision, and stressed by analysis paralysis. However, it’s possible to overcome all of this and learn to make great decisions.

You want to make the right personal or business decision, and, in many cases, the sheer amount of options you have to wade through sets you up to question the very decisions you make.

Research from Cornell University suggests we make over 200 decisions per day on food alone[1]. Imagine how many decisions we must make in general!

If you find you’re struggling to make a specific decision, often second-guess yourself or have post-decision regret, or would like some additional resources in your decision-making toolkit, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive into the decision making process.

The Three P’s of the Decision Making Process

The 3 P’s of the decision making process are as follows:

  • Perspective: what to think about when making a decision
  • Process: the steps for making a decision
  • Preference: identifying your best strategies for decision-making


As you now know, we make tens of thousands of decisions daily. So much of making good decisions lies in the way we think about the decision itself. Here are some things to consider:

Put the Decision in Context

How important is this decision? Sometimes we agonize over the smallest decisions, like what to have for dinner or what to wear.

Next time you get stuck on a decision, take a step back and ask yourself to rate the importance of the decision. Use a scale of one to five, with five being a very critical decision to your life (career change, who to marry, or whether to have kids) and one being fairly innocuous, with smaller effects (what meal to order or whether to comment on a social media post).


If it’s a four or five, you’ll likely want to spend more time on it, but if it’s a one, you can quickly make the decision and move on.

Know Yourself

Many ancient philosophers from Aristotle to Socrates touted the benefits of “knowing thyself”. This applies to decision-making, too. We make decisions through our own perspective and lens and it’s critical to know yourself: your style, values, beliefs, fears, stories and what works for you.

When you have strong self-knowledge, it makes many decisions much quicker and easier. For example, when you know your values, and, for example, know that you value family, it’s easy to decide to miss that work event for your kid’s soccer game.

Learn to Satisfice

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the power of satisficing (yes, it’s a word) instead of maximizing.

Maximizers want to make the absolute best decision. They exhaust all alternatives trying to find the one right choice. This often leads to analysis paralysis, stress about the decision, and regret once a decision has been made.


Satisficers seek to find what is “good enough.” They know there is never a perfect choice and seek to find a decision that meets most of their needs or requirements.

When you learn to satisfice instead of maximize, you can make better, faster decisions with less regret.

Accept That You Won’t Always Like Your Decision

Often, people hesitate to make a decision because they don’t like the decision–even when they know it’s the best decision to choose. And just because a decision is right doesn’t make it any easier to make.

I come across this with clients all the time. They tell me they don’t know what to do; but as we talk, they actually do know exactly what they need to do; they just don’t like the answer. This is especially prominent when people have a true dilemma, when all options are equally terrible, but a choice is unavoidable.

Identify Which Decisions to Streamline

The more decisions that are made, the more energy is used. Ultimately, this comprises your ability to make wise decisions. This is called decision fatigue.

One study, for example, showed that “patients who met a surgeon toward the end of his or her work shift were 33 percentage points less likely to be scheduled for an operation compared with those who were seen first”[2]. The surgeon’s were experiencing decision fatigue and were less likely to decide to operate on a patient, even though the patient may have needed it.


There are many areas in your life where you can automate decisions so you don’t have to make them at all. This leaves more mental bandwidth for the important decisions.

Think about decisions you make in your daily life where you could streamline the process and set up an automated choice instead. Perhaps it’s what you eat. Could you simplify and have eggs on toast every morning so you don’t have to make that decision?

How can you reduce or eliminate choices in your life so that you make space for those that are most important?


In 2007, Pam Brown of Singleton Hospital in Wales created a 7-step decision making process. Many others have followed in his footsteps, with hundreds of different adaptations of this same formula.

Here are the 7 steps:

1. Outline the Goal and Outcome

What decision are you trying to make? What are you trying to accomplish with this decision? Get crystal clear on the problem and decision.

2. Gather Data

Here, you need to gather relevant information to make an informed decision. What do you need to know before you choose?

3. Develop Alternatives

Brainstorm and identify your options. You want to make sure you have enough options that you can make a good decision, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed.

4. List Pros and Cons

In this step, weigh the evidence and identify the advantages and disadvantages of each. You can also consider how likely it is that each option meets your goals.

5. Make the Decision

It’s decision time. Here, choose among alternatives based on the information you’ve collected.

6. Immediately Take Action

You’ve picked your course of action. What’s your first step? Do it as soon as possible—no excuses!

7. Learn and Reflect

Now, it’s time to review your decision making process, understand the consequences and results of your decision, and use that information to improve future decision-making.


Once you have perspective and understand the process, you can proceed using the strategy that works best for you.

Listen to Your Inner Voice

Trust your gut to solve the problem. Stop listening to everyone else and what they say you should do, and get clear on what you believe.

For more on how to listen to your inner voice, check out this article.

Identify the Risk and Reward

Is the reward worth the risk? Is the benefit worth the cost? There will always be trade-offs in life; are they acceptable?

Phone a Friend

It’s hard to make decisions alone, so get some help! Consider a best friend (who knows how to listen), a coach (who can walk you through the relevant questions to reveal your thinking), or a mentor (who has been in that situation before).

Be cautious about who to involve. Part of the challenge in decision-making is to not get swayed too far off your own beliefs. Everyone is going to have an opinion. Don’t let someone convince you otherwise when you know something is best for you.

Use Your Learning Preference

Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic decision-maker? How do you know? Think about a decision you’ve made recently that went well, and put yourself back in the mindset when you went through that decision making process. Did you make it based on the picture you had of what it would “look” like (visual), your internal self-talk or dialogue (auditory), or on a feeling you had (kinesthetic)?

Take Action

Sometimes you don’t know until you’re “in it.” When you’re faced with two choices, make the best choice with the information you have and what you feel is best, and then start moving. You’ll know if that choice is right for you if you feel good as you move forward.

Leverage Your Emotions

Our emotions affect our ability to make decisions. When you are aware of and understand your emotional states, you can make better decisions.

On the flip side, when you aren’t aware of your emotions and whether they are truly connected to the decision itself, then you can make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons.


See the graph below for details on how to identify and read your emotions[3]:

Use emotions to help you through the decision making process.

    Sleep on It

    If you have a big decision to make, think about it before bed, but wait to make the decision until you wake up the next morning. When you sleep on it, you make better decisions with a clearer mind[4].


    Sometimes we pressure or put false deadlines on ourselves, and we don’t have an answer because we’re not ready or it’s not the right time…just yet.

    If you have the freedom, sometimes the best thing you can do is wait until the right decision emerges on its own. Sometimes this could be as little as a few minutes or hours, and other times it could be months.


    The Bottom Line

    Making decisions can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. If you use the strategies outlined above, you can make the decision making process work for you in the long run. Find what helps you the most, and incorporate it into your own process to make decisions that will lead you to a better life.

    More Tips on the Decision Making Process

    Featured photo credit: Brendan Church via unsplash.com


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