How To Be More Decisive

by Stephen Mills on April 10, 2010

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In in my previous article I explained Why You Should Be More Decisive.  In this article I will give you my suggestions for just how to do that.  They are:

  1. Make Fewer Decisions
  2. Identify a Single Owner for All Decisions
  3. Feel the Decision
  4. Create Decision-Making Guidelines
  5. Identify the Essential Factors
  6. Treat Most Decisions as Trivial Because They are Trivial
  7. Practice Near Instantaneous Decisions on Trivial Issues
  8. Use Your Unconscious Mind for Complex Decisions
  9. Set a Deadline for Important Decisions

Make Fewer Decisions

This almost feels like cheating, but let others make as many decisions as you possibly can.  Delegate, Delegate, Delegate.  There is something incredibly freeing about letting go of decisions.  Mark Victor Hansen wrote:

I told my assistant, “Get me a cell phone.” She asked, “What type?” I said, “I really don’t care; you figure it out.”

Beautifully done. My wife hears “You decide”, “It’s up to you”, “Do whatever you want”, etc. all the time.

Identify a Single Owner for All Decisions

Avoid joint or group decisions whenever possible.  There is no greater cause for indecisiveness than joint decisions.  Even decisions most people think have to be made jointly don’t.  Couples are notoriously invested in joint decision making about everything.  This is our culture and many people have known no other way.  I know many will disagree, but I promise you that if you somehow divide up decision making you will be better off.  For really important decisions that involve another, one person can set a few basic requirements and let the other person make the decision as long as it satisfies those requirements.

Feel the Decision

Bright people who score well on IQ tests, but who have had brain damage that prevents them from feeling emotion, have a problem.  They can’t make decisions.  They are truly paralyzed by analysis and seem to never stop analyzing long enough to make a decision.  Whether you admit it or not, you have to use your emotions to make decisions.  So the best way to shorten the decision making process is to get to the feeling faster.  Pull the trigger and go with your gut.

Create Decision-Making Guidelines

Creating guidelines for how you will make decisions is a great way to streamline the process.  Have some rules in mind that you consistently follow.  Maybe you are frugal so you can go with the least expensive choice that satisfies your requirements.   Maybe you are a novelty seeker and so everything has to be different than the last time; a new experience.  If you are indecisive you can choose the first option you see, you can flip a coin, you can go with your gut or whatever.  If you are having a hard time deciding something because there is no obvious choice, then there is no obvious choice.  Just pick one and decide to have no regrets.

Identify the Essential Factors

For decisions you deem more critical and that you want to spend more time analyzing, limit the number of factors to analyze to only the few that truly matter.

For example, when buying a car do I really need to consider the comparative value of all the bells and whistles?  If I am going to buy a car, I’m going to assume they all have wheels that rotate forward and backward on demand and they have a steering wheel, a gas pedal, and a brake pedal that work.  Aside from that all I truly care about is 1) reliability 2) comfort 3) sound system.  I have all kinds of stuff on my loaded car, but as I drive it around I seldom use any of them.  They really don’t matter.  Comfort and reliability are what I care about and that is what I should base my decision on.  The rest is noise that clutters the decision and creates post-decision second guessing.

Treat Most Decisions as Trivial Because They are Trivial

Identify up front the kinds of decisions that are of life-altering importance and then categorize everything else as trivial.  This is where many people are going to have a problem.  Almost everything is trivial to me and the older I get the bigger the trivial bucket gets.  I’m sorry but those decisions you agonize over just don’t make any difference.  The color you paint your house, whether you should let your child do x, where you go on vacation, etc.

When you analyze something to death you are being extremely arrogant.  You are assuming that you can predict the future, that nothing will change to mess it up, and that you actually knew what you were doing in the first place.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but none of that is true. Someday you are going to realize that micromanaging your child’s life drove them away and all that other stuff just didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  You made yourself miserable trying to over decide yourself and your family to a perfect life.

Practice Near Instantaneous Decisions on Trivial Issues

Force yourself to just pull the trigger quickly on every decision you possibly can.  Everyone will draw the line differently, but the more you can push over the trivial line, the more decisive and the happier you will be.  Try to decide these trivial issues in seconds or a minute or two for the less trivial, but still trivial.  Just pick the first thing that comes to mind or use an instant gut feeling.  Practice the habit of not analyzing and whatever you do don’t consult someone else, even your partner.  If you feel you must consult them, then just turn the decision over to them.  Let them own it.

Use Your Unconscious Mind for Complex Decisions

For complex decisions with lots of important factors, feed your unconscious mind the data and than let it ponder the decision for a while.  It’s very important you don’t consciously analyze or you will interfere with the more powerful parallel processor below.  Think about something else and over a day or two you will start feeling the right answer.

Set a Deadline for Important Decisions

Finally, for important decisions when you are going to take more time, set a deadline for making it and stick to it.

I’ll repeat what I said in my previous article: A decisive person understands all this and takes charge making most decisions quickly and with clarity.  A decisive person understands the difference between decisions that really make a difference and those that don’t.  A decisive person has a lot more time for the important things in their lives and a lot more peace of mind.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills April 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

This was refreshing Stephen. I really resonated with #1 Make Less Decisions. I think this is something I will start doing immediately. Actually, I fully appreciated the value of every single point. Feeling lighter already – Thanks!
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Positive Attitude Anchoring for Instant Access =-.


Sid Savara April 11, 2010 at 3:47 am

Hey Stephen!

My favorite was actually this point:
“Identify a Single Owner for All Decisions”

I think that’s a big problem I see frequently – and especially because everyone assumes someone else is going to make the decision if they don’t act 😉
.-= Sid Savara´s last blog ..The Definitive Guide to Organize Your Life And Get Rid of Clutter =-.


Positively Present April 11, 2010 at 10:58 am

Excellent follow-up post!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..words to live by: staring in awe at our still lives =-.


Mike April 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Perhaps what we are really looking for is the freedom NOT to have to make decisions!

My favorite point you made was how it can help to practice making near-instantaneous decisions to get the process “out of the way.” I think the book “Blink” talks about this unconscious process and why sometimes snap choices are the best ones. I might have the book wrong, but it’s been talked about somewhere!

One of my favorite situations is when my friends and I are trying to decide where to go for food. The back and forth that this creates, “I don’t know… it’s up to you guys…. well, I’m ok with anything…” can be really amusing! I’ve learned now to just say “we are going to x restaurant” and make the choice right away. Everyone has more fun because the painful process of decision making disappears, and they usually like my choice! (I know my friends well.)
.-= Mike´s last blog ..New Workplace Trends: 9 to 5 is So Last Decade! =-.


Bradley Gauthier April 11, 2010 at 6:04 pm

So true! This is something I struggle with all the time but am working on it. Like Mike mentioned, a big indecisive item is eating. It’s easy to say, “whatever” but lately I’ve gotten to the point of giving specific input. And it greatly improves the entire process.

Thanks Stephen!
.-= Bradley Gauthier´s last blog ..Workforce Motivation: 12 Psychology Concepts Every Entrepreneur Should Know =-.


Sandra Hendricks April 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Hey Stephen.

This part of your post is the greatest!

“Use Your Unconscious Mind for Complex Decisions

For complex decisions with lots of important factors, feed your unconscious mind the data and than let it ponder the decision for a while. It’s very important you don’t consciously analyze or you will interfere with the more powerful parallel processor below. Think about something else and over a day or two you will start feeling the right answer.”


Your Subconscious Mind Encourages You

Every dream you have dreamed, every experience you have had, and all the thoughts you have ever conceived, are in your subconscious, waiting to come forth. Our experiences throughout life, as well as our conscious thoughts, program our subconscious mind. It has supported us throughout childhood and is still working strong today. Your subconscious mind encourages you by suggesting what you “should” do – it offers direction. It can help you make good decisions and choose what is right for you, and it communicates with you every second of every day.

Our conscious mind is the part of us that decides and chooses our attitude, behavior, and what actions we will take. In addition, it communicates the things we need and desire to have, to our subconscious. The conscious mind presents thoughts, questions and problems to the subconscious mind. Each thought received by the subconscious is then organized and returned to the conscious mind. In the form of ideas, answers and solutions these thoughts return to the conscious mind to inspire, motivate, and create. What happens in our life depends on the kind of thought, we send to our subconscious.
.-= Sandra Hendricks´s last blog ..Think Positive – Your Body Language Follows =-.


Richard | April 15, 2010 at 10:01 am

Totally agree with the trivial issues part. We so often get caught up considering every option for something that is so trivial it’s just not worth that much of our mind space and time.
.-= Richard |´s last blog ..Tabata Intervals : Day 30 (Post Mortem) =-.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga April 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I really like the idea of determining the essential factors. We can prevent a lot of wasted time by deciding this upfront so we don’t get stuck in frivolous, minute details–even if there’s a major decision to be made.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..What Everyone Ought to Know About Gratitude and Appreciation =-.


Russ Hamel April 19, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Stephen, this is a funny article for me. It’s one of the things I tease my wife about all the time. It’s also a way that we complement each other (as in complete something that is lacking in the other)

For example, we’ll go into a fast food place for a ‘quick’ bite… um, that’s why it’s called fast food. I know before I even enter the store exactly what I’m going to get. (and no, I don’t always order the same things). My wife, on the other hand will stand in front of the sign – usually with line-ups building behind her – while she calculates the best ‘deals’. (is that combo a good deal, or would it be better if I bought them separately; hey, what if I mixed that combo with this deal), etc. By the time she chooses, I’m finished my meal and ready to go.

Sometimes it can be downright embarrassing, especially when the counter clerk continues to prompt her, “Are you ready to order Ma’am… OK, NEXT!” It’s even more painful when our two daughters join us. Nowadays, I give my ladies a 20-minute head start on the menu before I arrive on the scene. That way, we can all eat together.

Seriously though, my wife and I do recognize that I am good at making quick, reliable decisions where everyone in my family is happy. My wife, being a natural-born pleaser, is terrified at making a ‘wrong’ choice and thus takes forever, if she makes a decision at all. I get to make the bulk of the decisions.

We also recognize that many, if not most, things in life are indeed trivial. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if you get the burger and fries with a coke or the fish fillet and nuggets with a coffee. Decide. Eat. Enjoy. Let’s get on with our lives! And this is just a food analogy; it applies to practically ANYTHING requiring a decision. Most things just don’t matter that much.

The other thing about delegation is to be sure to let go once you’ve delegated. For example, I don’t think it’s possible to simply tell your teenager to vacuum the living room without more complete information… like WHEN to do it (sometime today would be good), mixed in with a touch of HOW (you might want to move some furniture to reach that dust monster back there). Then again, is this really delegating if you are taking away all the decision-making part of the process?

My teen’s favorite line is, “Oh, I thought you meant THURSDAY!” Today is Monday. Or she’ll bring the vac into the living room and go over one spot while watching her favorite TV show, leaving the room looking like it was never touched. “I DID it already!” she’ll lament. And I have to admit, I DID hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner whining incessantly for a full 30 minutes while I tried to catch up on some work in my office. But damned if I can see any results.

All great points, Stephen and a most enjoyable read. My family is already doing a lot of the things you suggest, so I can vouch for the fact that they work.


Sami Paju April 20, 2010 at 5:24 am

One of the most useful blog posts I’ve read in a while! Making decisions is a trait anyone who wants to become a leader should cultivate. I also strongly believe, that this is an important thing for a man to do in a relationship, so I really appreciated your “decision owner” point.

.-= Sami Paju´s last blog ..Thoughts, ideas, and freeing your mind =-.


Sara June 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I would like to delegate this torturous decision I’m trying to make right now. I’m agonizing over it for months on end now. Should I have a baby? (I’m not pregnant yet. This would be a planned, conscious decision utilizing all the wonders of modern medicine.) Husband can go either way. : (
Every single decision, from what to eat for lunch to whether to have a baby creates Analysis Paralysis. It truly is torture.


Alana August 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I have had difficulty with decisions for a LONG TIME. I struggle every day. I am a people pleaser and it takes actual concious effort to NOT consider others with a decision and follow my gut. It is hard to do what is best for me and me only.

I would rather make the decision promptly and confidently and be able to look back and say “I’m glad I chose/started back THEN”. This helps me with big decisions.

My indecision comes from wanting to do everything in life all at once. I don’t like to miss out on things and I pack my day and life with so much that I have no free time. I work fulltime, go to school fulltime, have a clothing company making handmade dresses AND I sing in a band. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

HOWEVER, lack of decision PLAUGUES my life horribly. I feel paralyzed, like Sara mentioned… Thank you for this article, it has given me a few tools to use to combat it. 🙂


Hanreys October 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm

As for the feeling the emotion, well I’m exactly like the way u described. Score high on IQ test (150 – that’s high enough, right?), but my brain couldnt stop analyzing and just couldnt make decision. I either am going to bold it off by the second (yes, second) I’m thinking about it or my brain just wouldnt stop analyzing and figuring out (this even affect my study – though I’m in 4th year of my study, I think I should opt for different field but I’ve never been sure what to opt for or change to). Hurmm am I having some sort of psychiatric condition?


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