The first thing that needs to be understood about your decisions is that they are a valuable resource. One of the greatest favours we can do for ourselves is to take time to understand that our time, effort and personal experience is valuable. For this reason, the choices we are faced with can weigh heavily on us. As their importance becomes emphasised, proportionately so does our stress surrounding those decisions.
I intentionally use the term ‘valuable resource’ indicating that, like any other resource, it is something that can be abused and depleted. In reading Sarah Wilson’s book ‘First We Make the Beast Beautiful’, I came to understand that humans have a limited decision-making capacity. Even the small, non-threatening choices such as morning routines of choosing what to eat and what to wear can exhaust that decision-making threshold before we even leave the house. It has been observed across many successful people that keeping a consistent, minimal morning routine allowed them to ‘save’ their decision making for more important things such as work, studies or their social lives. To reduce the potential of second-guessing oneself, it has been observed as being helpful to maintain consistency by eating the same thing for breakfast every day, keeping a minimal wardrobe, laying out an outfit the night before, and sticking to that. Although food and clothing are important and necessary parts of our lives, they should never receive a disproportionate amount of our attention.
That being said, treat your decisions as being valuable. If you are going to be devoting mental energy to something, you better damn well make sure it is worth your precious time. Treat your thoughts and decisions as a currency, as if they were something to be ‘spent wisely’. While some people may maintain a higher threshold for making decisions, others may have a lower ‘decision income’. But when utilized and treated with high importance, it is possible for someone with a lower decision making threshold to live a high-quality life. I know many people can relate to the experience of having lived on a minimum wage budget. When I was living as a poor university student, I found it was in these periods of cautious spending that we tend to get more creative and become selective with what we spend on.
In an increasingly anxious, stressed, burnt-out society, there seems to be a high correlation between the amount of choices available and our lack of confidence in the decisions that we make. Consumerism is a breeding ground for indecision and a lack of confidence. It makes sense that we second-guess so many of our decisions, as we fear making the ‘wrong’ ones, terrified they will misrepresent us.
But perhaps there is some truth to the idea that in a consumeristic culture we process so much information throughout the day that the lines become blurred between what we actually want versus what we think we are supposed to want. In the vacuum of advertisements and social media, our priorities can all too easily become jumbled and second-guessed, as products and services are constantly trying to be sold to us. Or similarly, our social media feeds can become overwhelming as they give us a disproportionate perspective of what life can and should be like.
A crucial part of good decision making is knowing which decisions to say ‘no’ to. It may sometimes be easier to know what you don’t want before you know what you do want. Starting with that may allow you to make judgment calls as situations arise, rather than feeling like you’re needing to seek out your options. This isn’t to say that it’s easy to turn things down, but people are highly motivated by the power of trying to reduce unwanted symptoms. We would be more inclined to address pain in efforts to relieve it more quickly and with more urgency than we would be to seek out pleasure.
In trying to decide between several options, weighing up and comparing all of the positives of each option may not be as helpful as it would be to identify the potential deal-breakers of each, to see which option has the least desirable elements, and then eliminate that option.
The relief of anxiety we experience once solidifying a decision can be liberating. I’ve come to understand anxiety as being ‘thought without action’, and many stages of the decision making process are spent in our heads, churning through the options so that we can take action. In this sense, making decisions can be a bit of a double-edged sword. The options give us anxiety, and the anxiety perpetuates the decision making process.
But there is a significant part of decision making that requires trust and confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves. More often than not, there is a reason we will usually have an initial first choice. It is not usually until we begin exploring all of the potential options that we begin to question our first choice. This isn’t to say that the first option we come across is necessarily the best and it wouldn’t be worthwhile to explore the other competition. I’ve found it helpful not to overthink things like choosing an outfit or what I should eat for lunch. Just throw on the black jumpsuit you thought of first and go eat that burrito you’ve been craving. Decisions on topics such as moving, studying, family, or work may illicit more attention and thoughtful evaluation.
There is something to be said about backing the decisions you’ve already made with confidence. In approaching a new decision, it could be helpful to reflect on past scenarios where you’ve had positive outcomes. It is important to believe that you have yourself in your best interest. I would find it difficult to believe that you would ever maliciously make judgment calls for your life. Don’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack.
I’ve observed a high correlation between efficient decision makers and confident people. At some point it becomes a debate of the chicken and the egg, as to which came first. Being decisive seems to be symptomatic of confident people. Similarly, the more confident we become, the better we are at making decision. And confidence often results as a product of making a decision that pays off. But in the event that the decision does not work in our favour, confidence can also be found in the comfort that we did the best that we could given the situation we were in. Or perhaps we can become confident that we are able to move forward and learn from the situation.
There is a high correlation between people who can make decisions thoughtfully and well and people who are confident and hold themselves to high standards. The underlying trait between these people are that they either already know what they want to begin with or are willing to get to know themselves better in the process. Learning how to become more decisive is not an overnight practice, but it can absolutely be strengthened with practice. Through trusting that you want the best for yourself and are willing to try, you’ve got this.