How to Make Great Decisions

by Stephen Mills on November 28, 2010

OK, I admit it.  I created that title just to get you to read this article.  The amount of anxiety that goes into most decisions is ridiculous.  Further, the amount of time people spend making decisions, even the most trivial ones, is a life-wasting shame.  See  your typical company meeting for endless examples of how to torture people with trivial decision making.

I watch in amazement as some of my friends stew over what to select from the absurdly long lunch menu at a restaurant.  They are afraid they aren’t going to make the “ideal” choice.  Later in the evening when you are remembering the wonderful lunch you had with your friends, do you have serious regret over what you ordered?   If you do, I suggest you get a life; you missed the point of the lunch.

In a very real sense you shouldn’t ever live with the consequences of your decisions.  Because if you do, it means you have stopped living and started existing.  Any one decision is just a step on your path and no matter where it led you, you can take another step.  If you don’t like the previous step take one in a different direction next time.  It really is as simple as that.

Here is my bottom line on making decisions.  If the decision seems easy you already know the answer.  If the decision seems difficult that’s an indication that it is too complicated for you to figure it out in advance anyway.  In that case all you are doing is guessing, so just make a choice and move on and you can see what happens.  Very few people really accept that, but it is my opinion and I’m sticking with it.

The most profound idea I have ever heard about decision making was the following by Michael Neill.  If you can truly understand this, then your life will be a lot easier and better.  I suggest you reflect deeply on it.

What you decide will never impact your life as much as how you handle the consequences of that decision.

Six Things to Keep in Mind About Decision Making

  1. Accept that there is no right or wrong decision.  There are only choices and the consequences of those choices.  The consequences are neither good or bad, they simply are.  My favorite article that goes deeper into this is my own You Cannot Choose the Wrong Path.
  2. Get comfortable with the fact that you cannot possibly know in advance what’s going to happen; life is too damn complicated.  Get over yourself.  You are not perfect and life is not a mathematical equation you can solve. Just choose something and go.  If you still don’t get this reread the yellow box above.
  3. Treat decisions as experiments.  If you don’t like the outcome conduct your next experiment.   What a wonderful way to navigate through life!
  4. Flip a coin and accept the result.  However, if you find yourself hoping it comes out one way, you already have your answer and don’t need to flip.  If, after seeing the result, you wish it had come out differently, you also have your answer.
  5. After letting a decision percolate while you are doing something else, go with your gut feeling.  Your subconscious mind figured it out for you.
  6. In the end do what you want to do.   What a mind-blowing concept Smile

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

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

helen November 28, 2010 at 8:44 pm

i agree with u, sometimes making decisions is not as important as we thought.so know what u like, and do what u love. once you have made an decision, just do not think it right or wrong, just do it with your best.

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sky November 29, 2010 at 2:36 am

I always trap myself in some boring decisions and they bother me so much. Sometimes, I even forgot to do something really important.
Now I think that the vital thing is not which desicion to make but making a desicion.

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Paul November 29, 2010 at 6:10 am

I agree. Decisions are important but always experiments, and they are linked to accepting the concequences. And linked to this is concience. And my statement is: “My concience once got so sick it died!”.

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CoCreatr November 29, 2010 at 9:41 am

Hmm, shall I comment here? Difficult decision indeed. No way to know what will happen because of this. Anyway…

Indecision may be the attempt to know before we see. This may be dull or brilliant.

Sounds paradox? May be so, but try to refute it. No way to know what will happen because of this. Anyway…
CoCreatr´s last [type] ..Giving thanks to virtual friends- and why we cannot explain twitter

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John D. Buerger, CFP® November 29, 2010 at 11:54 am

My favorite quote is from Roy Disney (Walt’s brother) who said, “When your values are clear, your decisions are easy.” Your values are those things in life that are most important to you. We have found (at my financial planning firm) that helping our clients understand their values is the best way to help them make better financial decisions.

Your point about MAKING the decision and then being willing to manage the consequences is an excellent one, though.
John D. Buerger, CFP®´s last [type] ..Intro

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga November 30, 2010 at 11:11 am

Absolutely awesome! I can’t even start to tell you how much I agree with this. I am still learning to just make a decision and let go, but I completely acknowledge the point of doing so. The worst that can happen is that I learn how NOT to do something in the future. Oh well. I’ve never made a decision that I couldn’t recover from. If a life isn’t at stake and there’s not a million bucks on the line, it’s pointless to stress out so much over what decision to make. I love, love, love, love this article.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last [type] ..Inspiratonal Words- Time to Follow Your Dreams

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Matt Clark November 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

Ah, the great power of decision. One thing I also like to think of when making a decision, is what would the consequences if I don’t act.

This is powerful because a lot of times the lack of decision is fear, push past that and no matter the outcome you are better off making the choice. A quote I like, “Successful people make decision quickly, and change their mind slowly”
Matt Clark´s last [type] ..So You Think You Are Rich 12 Signs Of The Rich

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ChrisO November 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Good stuff – The quote in the yellow box made me realize that it was not so much my decisions were “bad” – rather how I used the consequences of the decisions to my disadvantage. You have Really changed my outlook on decisions.
ChrisO´s last [type] ..A Quick Guide to Black Mold Removal and Cleanup

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Ray @ Halal Meat UK December 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Wow great tips, I will use this great decision techniques. As it is all a technique game. I would love to recommend this to my friends and family. Thank you for the great post!

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Jen March 4, 2011 at 11:14 am

It is quite funny how much weight we place on the little decisions. Thanks for the reality check!

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Fan March 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Hi Stephen,

I just started to read your blog and I absolutely love it! This is a great article. I am probably the most indecisive person on the planet and I always over-analyze everything. I can always make a decision in one second and then go back and forth between decisions until I drive myself crazy. I wonder how can I NOT change my mind after a decision is made? It’s easy to say but for me, it’s really hard not to think about it until I reach the deadline! I would often rather to reach to a point that there is no more option for me any more. Any advice? I understand all theories but they seem not to work when I need to make decisions :(

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