This One Easy Strategy Will Lead to Better Decisions

Decisions… decisions… decisions. Every day, we are given the opportunity to make choices, from what to eat for breakfast to whether or not to accept a job offer. Yet sometimes making a decision feels more like a burden than a gift. Do you struggle with decision-making?

If so, the "try-on-the-alternatives" strategy might help. At its most basic level, this technique involves pretending you've chosen Option A, and then observing how you feel. Are you calm? Anxious? Proud? Energized? Or maybe sad? Do the same with Option B and even Options C and D if they're in the mix. Your gut reaction may send a strong signal about which option is best for you.

Latitude in Decision-Making Creates Confidence

Feeling good about a decision can come as a result of comparing your options. A psychological study conducted in 2012 revealed that "when people compare options, they also get more confident in their judgments."

This is especially true for people who make decisions in an area where they may not have a lot of expertise. In these situations, "you need to be careful when making decisions. On the one hand, you are quite likely to rely on comparing the options in order to make a choice. On the other hand, those comparisons will increase your feeling of confidence in the decision."

Should you take the job offer in Madison, Wisconsin, or is it best to stay put in San Diego? Which car should you buy? Do you want to travel to Omaha for the family reunion? Try on the alternatives and put them side-by-side.

Make a List

Comparing your options may take the form of making a list of the pros and cons of each alternative, knowing that each item — regardless if they fall on the "pro" or "con" side of the ledger — is not equally weighted. You could have 10 advantages measured against a single disadvantage, but if that single disadvantage carries more punch (emotional or rational) when you "try it on for size," the 10 items on the "pro" side go out the window.

Do you remember when, during Season 4 of Friends, Ross was trying to decide between dating Rachel or Emily? His "reasons I should choose Emily" list was a lot longer than his "reasons I should choose Rachel" list, but the one disadvantage on Emily's list was "she's not Rachel." As you may recall, Ross goes on to marry Emily, but says Rachel's name when reciting the vows. Ooooops! (Btw, this is probably not the smartest method for choosing a lifetime partner.)

Time It Right

You've had a really bad day at work. Four clients had problems with their orders and one of your co-workers called in sick, leaving you to cover his client load as well. Your normal route home was under construction, and you had to choose between two inconvenient detours. Traffic was terrible. You're hungry because you worked through lunch (your choice; it seemed better than working until 9 p.m.).

This is probably not the best time to make that decision about whether to move to Madison. Any new job may feel like utopia after an abysmal day at work — especially one that required you to make a lot of decisions.

Because decisions involve mental energy, experts caution against making them when you feel depleted. Decision fatigue is explained as the being low on mental energy as a result of making too many decisions. "No matter how rational and high minded you try to be, you can't make decision after decision without paying a biological price… The more decisions you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain…"

So let your brain recharge, and devote the proper mental energy to making a decision when the time is right. On a calm Sunday afternoon, think about what it might feel like to be living in Wisconsin. Try it on for size. If you're not a cold-weather fan, then the higher salary, the company car, or the allure of beer and brats just might not be enough.

Keep It in Perspective

You can avoid decision fatigue by making fewer decisions, but also by devoting the appropriate amount of mental energy to each.

A recent Harvard Business Review article on strategic decision making explains that there are multiple types of decisions, yet when people study decision-making, they often combine the different types under a single umbrella. "The fact is that people need to make up their minds in a great variety of circumstances, and it's a source of confusion that the same word, 'decision,' is used for all of them. When a grocery store customer encounters an entire aisle of breakfast cereals, we say he has a decision to make. When a high school senior considers which college to attend, we say she is facing a decision. When a poker player weighs whether to raise or fold, that's a decision, too."

"Trying-it-on-for-size" is probably not the most prudent approach for a corporate executive forced to decide which employees to lay off in order to keeps the business afloat. But in most consumer and personal decisions, a visceral reaction to one alternative versus the next can send a strong message about which is the better choice.

Do you "try-it-on-for-size" when making a decision? What's your strategy? Decide to share in comments!

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Guest's picture

Ross's list was made when choosing between Julie and Rachel in Season 2. But still, we get the point. :P And yes, lists are great!