Most people hate making decisions. Why is that?
They overcomplicate it. Fear of picking the wrong option leads to a period of limbo where nothing gets done and the issue seems to grow bigger and bigger.
That kind of procrastination hell is something I’ve gotten to know intimately through my work as a decision coach. (Yes, that’s a real job.) I’ve seen people take what should be an easily and straight-forward decision and turn it into an impossible one—all out of fear.
Here are four things I’ve learned that will help you make any tough choice better and faster (and without those knots in your stomach).
1. Get Clear on What You Really Want
Decider, know thyself. I’ve learned that waiting around often means you’re not happy with any of the options—because they’re not right for who you are. Let’s say there are two choices that make sense on paper (e.g., picking between going back to school and going for a promotion). The real reason someone might be unable to make up his mind is that neither option is what he really wants. Maybe he truly wants want a job in an entirely new field. Maybe the prospect of two more years of school fills him with dread. Maybe he’d most love to be a stay-at-home dad.
So, when you find yourself stuck between possibilities, think about what you really want. For example, if you’re unsure about a career change, ask yourself what it is that appeals to you about your current position and the one you’re debating.
If your answer is that your current work appeals to you, but the salary of the new field sounds awesome—your answer isn’t necessarily to choose between the two, but to ask your manager for a raise. (And obviously take the necessary steps to make that happen.)
2. Don’t Choose Something Just Because You’re “Supposed To”
Once you identify what you really want, you’ll need to quiet the voices in your head—or of skeptical people in your life—that tell you that you should want something else. For example, I had a client who was offered a prestigious fellowship in Colombia, which was an opportunity she’d been dying for when she’d applied. But by the time the acceptance came through, her job at home was revving up, she had a great mentor who was invested in developing her career, and she was feeling excited and happy about her current situation.
As a Type-A personality used to succeeding, it was ingrained in her to pursue opportunities like the impressive fellowship. Together we realized that she no longer wanted to go, but she felt bad declining the offer. In the end, she decided to stay, and to make sure she had no regrets, we made a plan for her to really focus on maximizing her opportunities at her current job.
So, if you’re feeling pressured into making the decision that looks good, step back and examine your reasoning. If you can’t come up with a good answer, you know it’s not for you.
3. Remember That Doing Something Trumps Doing Nothing
This is true 99% of the time. I have clients who have been paralyzed by their inability to figure out what they want to do for a living. So they work jobs that pay the bills, but aren’t doing anything for their career trajectory. They’re so afraid of taking the wrong job that years go by and they’re still working in a coffee shop or suffering through the same job they held in college.
Now, picture an alternative scenario. Imagine someone takes a job that she’s not sure is in her dream field, but she builds on it. She advances in the company, leads projects, and develops her resume. Two years down the line, she decides that career isn’t for her and that she’d like to try something else. Now, she’ll start her job search with quantifiable skills and achievements—which she can use to bolster her application for the next job she applies for. Yes, she’s worked the same number of years as the person at the coffee shop, but she has new and different skills to show for it.
4. Practice Being Decisive
The same clients who trouble with the big questions (e.g., should I quit my job and start my own business?) often spend the whole day deciding when they should go to the gym. You know who you are: You spend more time scrolling through Netflix than watching that half-hour show. Or you keep telling the waiter that yes, you still need more time before you decide what you’d like to order.
If you’re chronically indecisive, build that decision-making muscle by starting small. Give yourself 30 seconds to decide what you’ll have for dinner, what movie to watch, or whether you want to go out tonight. Follow through on that decision. Repeat. Then work up to bigger things.
Does this give you anxiety? Ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is if you pick wrong. In other words, if you choose a movie that isn’t great, you can turn it off or choose a different movie the next time. If your lunch is lackluster, have something different for dinner. Making small decisions in a timely fashion will help train your brain to think through questions more quickly.
No one makes perfect decisions 100% of the time. We date the wrong people, we stay in a job longer than we should, we order the wrong dessert. But action works in your favor, while inaction never does. When you delay making a decision because you’re afraid of messing up, nothing changes. But when you’re proactive, you’re choosing to move ahead—and that’s one of the best decisions you can make.
Photo of man walking courtesy of Shutterstock.