How to make a big decision in 9 easy steps

Tough call? Here's how to find the answer that's best for you

(Image credit: Rex)

Tough call? Here's how to find the answer that's best for you

It's decision time, and we're not talking about choosing between the white shirt versus the blue shirt for that work meeting today. It's those pivotal moments when you're faced with a seemingly small decision that could quite possibly change the course of your life forever - or at least that's how it feels when you get caught up in a ball of anxiety and 'what ifs'.

Do I accept this big new job offer even though it feels outside of my comfort zone? Should I call time on this relationship even though the person is lovely but perhaps not right for me? Shall I get a puppy? Or a kitten? Do I quit my job to go travelling? Heck, should I have a Pret sandwich or a Leon salad for lunch? It's enough to fry your brain.

According to psychologist and co-founder of personal development and wellbeing app Remente, Niels Eek, you should take a pause and work your way through these mental obstacles to help you arrive at the best decision for you.

Outline the decision Before you start on the process of decision-making you need to figure out exactly why you are making the decision in the first place. On a piece of paper, write out two simple sentences, describing what the decision is and why you have to make it. For example, if you want to ask for a promotion at work – do you think you deserve one? Do you just want one because you’re bored in your current role or because a colleague has been promoted? Knowing what the motivation behind your decision is will prevent you from making rash decisions.

Accept your emotions While many of us are led to believe that all of our decisions should be logical and not influenced by emotion, it is very difficult to make decisions completely without emotional impulse. For example, if you say ‘I bought this amazing pair of boots because they were on sale’ - the first half of this sentence is an emotional impulse, while the second is an explanation of the impulse. If you want to make good decisions, you have to accept that emotions are an inevitable part of this.

Don't over-research It is always good to be informed before making any decision, however, you should be careful not to over-inform yourself. Most of us will make decisions based on the most recent information that we have processed, so make sure that this is the correct information. For example, if you are trying to decide which car to buy, make sure you only look for information relevant to you – if you are living alone and only need the car for short distances, you don’t need to know about the specifics of a people-carrier or a jeep.

Step away from the decision The closer you are to a situation, the more difficult it can be to make the right decision. Instead, step away from the decision and see it from a friend’s perspective. As friends, we tend to give good advice to our loved ones, primarily because we can see the situation from various new angles. Using an outside perspective on your decision will help you to stay unbiased, as well as considering angles you haven’t thought about before.

Either? Or?

Either? Or?
(Image credit: Rex)

Embrace the unfamiliar When it comes to decision-making, it can be easy to go with what feels familiar and comforting, yet these are not always the right decisions to make. In fact, it is proven that a huge number of the decisions we make are based on previous experience – for example, choosing which clothes to wear, we will go for something that we have previous experience of feeling good in, that has previously been comfortable and appropriate. Instead, remember your biases and preferences and try to view the decision-making process outside of these limiting factors. It's about not instantly dismissing the more unlikely option.

Ask for advice Most of us like being right, which means that we will only seek information that validates or supports what we have decided, ignoring the other side of the argument. This is called confirmation bias and it can lead to poor decisions being made by simply not considering the entire spectrum. Instead, ask someone who you know holds an opposite view to yours for advice, as they might give you a new point of view to consider.

Sleep on it It's an oldie but a goodie. This is fantastic advice, primarily because our brain makes decisions in one of two ways – either snap or calculated decisions. When we are busy and have to make decision after decision, our brain, just like any other muscle in the body will get tired, resorting to the snap-decision method. This can often lead to poor judgement, for example grabbing junk food on the way home from work instead of cooking a healthy meal. When faced with a difficult decision, sleep on it in order to recharge your brain and make it more alert.

Carry out the decision Spending a long time on a decision without actually carrying it out, suggests that you are not happy with the conclusion that you have come to and may revert to the familiar and comforting, thus losing out on a potential opportunity. For example, if you consider applying for a new job but never make the decision to fill out the necessary forms, you will regret it once someone else gets the job. So once you’ve made a decision, carry it out without looking back, focusing all your energy on making it a reality.

Have a back-up plan No matter how carefully considered the decision, it can be affected by uncontrollable variables, which can change the right decision to a wrong one quite swiftly. The important thing to know is that this is a possibility and always have a contingency plan to fall back on. For example, if a work project goes wrong because of a decision you made, always consider how you can fix it quickly and effectively, while still utilising the majority of the completed work.

Tracy Ramsden