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How Not to Screw Up Your Decision Making

How Not to Screw Up Your Decision Making
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You have a problem, but you’re indecisive. You can’t even buy a pair of jeans without agonizing—should you get the skinny, regular, or boot cut? Should you get faded or colored? Maybe you want the ones with the holes, or maybe not? Should you do low rider or high waist?

You’re driving yourself crazy, not to mention everyone else around you. Decision-making shouldn’t have to be that difficult, so if you’re ready to say goodbye to the “eenie, meenie, miney, moe” mentality you’ve allowed yourself to resort to, here are some concrete dos and don’ts you’ll want to pay attention to in order to make a solid decision.

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decision making

    DO

    Relax. If you’re stressed, you’re more likely to overlook something important. When you’re relaxed, you can think clearly, weigh your options and make a better choice. Make sure you’re on your “A” game when you make a call, and learn to relax by using deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques and exercise.

    DON’T

    Be impulsive—making a quick decision is never the way to go. Weigh your options, and think things through, since impulsiveness leaves too much room for mistakes. If you have a general tendency toward being impulsive, take note of it and be intentional about slowing down and stilling your mind. Remember, you can’t change what you don’t notice.

    DO

    Consider all the options. This is the old pros and cons approach: if you want to take the old-fashioned approach, get a pen and paper and list all the pros and cons, or, if you like a more high tech approach, get the Great Decisions app on iTunes for six bucks: it will help you analyze your options.

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    DON’T

    Make a decision under pressure. Pressures can come in subtle forms, so watch out for suggestions like this from well-meaning people:

    • I need a decision by the end of the week
    • Time’s running out
    • If you don’t do this, someone else will 

    DO

    Seek wise counsel: this means consulting those whose opinions you value, or those who have faced similar circumstances. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and be willing to listen.

    DON’T

    Over-analyze. This is the part where you agonize needlessly over your decision. Once you make the call, have confidence in the fact that you did your research, thought things through and trusted your instincts. Then chill out.

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    DO

    Trust that even if you blow it, you’ll learn from your mistakes—growth happens when we’re challenged, not when we coast through life. Ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen if I make a wrong decision?”

    DON’T

    Think you know it all, as that can lead to disaster. Adopt a humble attitude and a teachable spirit. Learning from others can provide you with valuable information to augment your decision making process.

    DO

    Have an alternative plan. Remember that things don’t always go smoothly in life, and even our best attempts to make wise decisions can backfire through extenuating circumstances that are no fault of our own. Plan for obstacles, and learn to be flexible.

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    At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that all your decisions will be home runs. However, if you’ve taken time and followed the steps outlined above, you can rest assured that you’ve done all you can to leave your “ennie, mennie, miney moe” strategy behind you.

    The more you practice making small decisions, the better you’ll become when it’s time to make the tough ones. Personal growth and development will be a rewarding part of the process—now go get those jeans!

    Back at You: What do you find is the most difficult thing about making a decision?

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    Featured photo credit: Path by the beach via Shutterstock

    More by this author

    Rita Schulte LPC

    Licensed Professional Counselor

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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