10 Ways to Improve Your Decision-Making Skills


“Where should we go for dinner?”

“What movie do you want to see?”

“Should I buy that shirt or save my money?”

We make decisions every day of our lives, but with the wide array of options presented to us, we’re often plagued with indecisiveness and regret over opportunity costs incurred from “wrong” decisions. The following ten tips can help you improve your decision-making skills and reduce indecision in your everyday life. (See also: A 94-Year-Old's Take on Making Good Decisions)

Individual Decision-Making

When you're the only one making the decision, try one of these techniques.

1. Cost-Benefit Analysis

Before reaching the ultimate decision, it’s important to weigh the pros and the cons to ensure that you’re making the best decision possible. This requires a cost-benefit analysis, in which you examine the outcome to every possible route (both positive and negative). This will help you see the opportunity costs, or the things you miss out on when one decision is preferred over another.

2. Narrow Your Options

To simplify the cost-benefit analyzing, limit yourself to fewer options. When more choices are presented to us, the greater the difficulty in making a final decision. More choices can lead to more regret because we consider all of the missed possibilities and worry whether we could have chosen one of the many other routes that were available. As such, narrowing your options will lead to greater peace of mind.

3. Evaluate the Significance

How much time should you spend mulling over a potential decision? Ten seconds? Ten minutes? Ten hours or more? It all depends on what’s at stake. To minimize agonizing indecision, determine the significance of a decision (How great of an impact will it have on my life? How much will it cost me?), and set a deadline accordingly.

4. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

If it’s something as simple as deciding where to go for lunch or what to watch on TV, remember to keep things in perspective and keep your timeframe for decisions to a minimum. This is closely tied with evaluating the significance of a decision — if it won’t affect you or others in a significant way, then don’t waste time endlessly debating between your options.

5. Do Your Research

This may seem obvious, but when it comes to making major decisions — new cell phone or laptop, car brand, etc. — putting in the time and effort to fully inform yourself about your impending purchase can mean the difference between product satisfaction and relentless frustration.

6. Get a Well-Informed Opinion

It’s more than just researching the facts and logistics of a decision — getting a personal opinion can also improve your decision-making by giving you the confidence and reassurance that you’re making the right decision. Whether it’s asking your auto mechanic friend about a car purchase or checking Consumer Reports before buying a new appliance for your kitchen, informed opinions are quite helpful.

Group Decision-Making

Trying to decide with a group? Use one of these tactics.

7. Practice Conflict Management

Making decisions with a group seems to complicate decision-making. Multiple parties heightens the chance of conflict, so to prepare yourself for these situations, it’s always useful to practice conflict management. Identify the difference between a win-lose situation (such as compromises where one side gives up what they want to please another) and win-win situations (such as accommodation, when the two parties agree to give up some things in order to agree on other things).

8. Plan Ahead

When you have a group decision to make, it’s best to decide the details well in advance in order to avoid conflict amongst group members immediately prior to the event. This could be used for movie nights or dinner parties; while it dampers the spontaneity of plans, it improves the decision-making skills of everyone involved and decreases the likelihood of bickering amongst the group.

9. Take Charge!

There’s a time to give in and there’s a time to be assertive. If nobody is taking a firm stance on a decision, take charge! Otherwise, you’ll squander precious time trying to decide on something when you could have been out having fun or being productive.

10. Don’t Dwell on Mistakes

The greatest impediment to good decision-making is beating up on yourself for past mistakes. Living with post-decision angst and regret hurts your ability to decide on things swiftly and efficiently in the future, so instead of dwelling on errors and failures, make a decision and don’t look back once you’ve followed through.

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Guest's picture

Great article. I especially like number 5. Using experience is also a good way to make decisions but not always the best. We actually makd decisions every minute of our lives. From deciding what to eat for breakfast to picking out clothes to what were going to eat for dinner, we are the cumalitive sum of our decisions. As important as what we decide to do sometimes we dont decide to do can have an even bigger impact on our lives than what we decide to do. Whatever your decisions make sure they come from within and not from external factors. YOU have to live with the consequences of your decisions.

Guest's picture

Good advice here. I think the best one is to limit your options and weight the pros and cons. Its definitely harder to make a decision in a group, but narrowing down the choices and deciding between a couple rather than a large amount can really help. I'm a terrible shopper and usually find myself standing in the middle of the store staring blankly pondering a decision to buy something or not running through the pros and cons of the purchase in my head.

Guest's picture

I think that inefficient decision making is faced by many. Your advice regarding decision making is really worth following and is surely going to help people to take efficient decisions.