Why decision making is hard and what we can do about it

Decision making is hard for most people. So many choices, so much uncertainty, so much to gain or lose… how can we possibly make a decision?

We keep changing our minds. We decide one thing, then undecide. Or we procrastinate, trying to keep our options open and putting off the decision until it’s forced on us. Or, even worse, we convince ourselves ‘we can’t do otherwise’ and continue with damaging courses of action. We regret our decisions. We blame ourselves for what we decided.

What holds us back and what might help?

We’re often held back by one or more of these things:

❖ We want to make the ‘perfect’ decision that means we don’t lose out on any front, but life is not usually like that and we often have to choose between competing values.

❖ We’d like to have a cast-iron guarantee that it will all work out for the best, but life is fundamentally uncertain and we can never be sure it will.

❖ We give some decisions much more importance than they really have. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter that much.

What might help?

❖ Understanding that the problem is the human condition, so we can never have everything we want or know in advance how things will work out.

❖ Aiming for good enough rather than perfect.

❖ Doing our homework, which means working out the likely consequences of each option; checking what values are at stake; asking ourselves what gut feelings are around and whether they are telling us something important or misleading us.

❖ Having a plan. If we come to a conclusion about what we should do but are still leaning in the opposite direction to some extent, how can we help ourselves to stick to our decision?

❖ Not spending too much time on unimportant decisions.

❖ Trying not to revisit a decision unless circumstances change.

❖ Once a decision is irreversible, trying not to dwell too much on whether it was the right thing to do or not. We will never know and can’t do anything about it now, so time spent on this kind of post-mortem would probably be better spent doing something else.

❖ Talking it through!