Life Advice

Five tricks to make a difficult decision – and not end up regretting it

Paralysed by choice in your work or home life? Here’s five ways to break through the indecision

Everyone’s been paralysed by indecision at some point in their lives. Whether it’s something small, like where to go for lunch, or something huge, like a house purchase or a business judgement, making decisions can take their toll.

Here’s five techniques for becoming a better decision maker, and for minimising the amount of time you spend agonising over the next big decision.

Firstly, minimise the decisions you have to make

Decision fatigue is a very real thing. So why not take a leaf out of Barack Obama’s book, and minimise the amount of small choices you make in a day? As Obama told Vanity Fair in 2012: ‘You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ From sticking to a weekday uniform, to having a go-to sandwich in Pret, cutting out these little choices in your day-to-day life will mean your decision-making energy is conserved for what really matters.  

Use the four second rule

Bestselling author and CEO Peter Bregman came up with this concept in his book Four Seconds. His hypothesis is that to ‘thrive in our fast-paced world all it takes is to pause for as few as four seconds – the length of a deep breath – allowing us to make intentional and tactical choices that lead to better outcomes.’ So when you’re faced with a decision of medium-sized importance, it’s important to stop. Take a breath. And pick the solution that immediately presents itself. It’s most likely going to be the right one.

When in doubt, play devil’s advocate

Struggling to make a tricky business decision? Although it may require a few cognitive cartwheels, playing devil’s advocate can help you to make a better decision. Management consulting firm McKinsey recommends ‘drafting outside directors or a rotating group of senior managers from inside the company to argue for contrary positions,’ to aid corporate decision making. Playing devil’s advocate to your own biases can have a positive effect, making you rethink your whole strategy, or at the very least forcing you to come up with a strong defence for your primary choice.

Set yourself a deadline

Sometimes, weighty decisions require a tad more consideration than four seconds will allow. But, once you’ve got all the info, and weighed up every side of the debate, it’s important to give yourself a deadline. ‘If the choices are equally attractive, and there is still no clear answer, then admit that there is no clearly identifiable right way to go and just decide,’ argues the Harvard Business Review. ‘The time you save by not deliberating pointlessly will pay massive dividends in productivity.’ So stop wallowing in indecision, set a timer for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 12 hours, and just pick one.

Make time to evaluate your decision making

So you’ve set the timer, bit the bullet and made a choice. Now’s the time to evaluate your decision making criteria. Investor and entrepreneur Ray Dahlio incorporated this idea in his recent book Principles. ‘Experience taught me how invaluable it is to reflect on and write down my decision-making criteria whenever I made a decision, so I got in the habit of doing that,’ says Dahlio. ‘With time, my collection of principles became like a collection of recipes for decision making.’ By putting in a little extra reflection after the event, your decision making ability will be all the better for it.