6 ways to make better decisions

One of the most famous movie scenes is from the first Matrix film, when Keanu Reeve’s character, Neo, decides which pill to take: the red one or the blue (apologies if you haven’t seen the film). For Neo, the decision is a momentous one, but the power of that scene, for me at least, lies in its ability to capture the enormity of the decision-making moment in real life. Not every decision we have to make is seismic, obviously. What we have for breakfast is less consequential than who we work for. Still, many decisions are far-reaching and having an effective strategy to increase your chances of making good decisions can only be a ‘good’ thing, which is the subject of my blog, 6 ways to make better decisions.

6 ways to make better decisions: photo of Mark Evans, blog author, coach and therapist who is skilled at helping people make better decisions.

1. Conversations

When we have a decision to make, who we talk to is clearly crucial, and it is essential not to forget that we talk to ourselves. An obvious starting point is our current level of knowledge and experience. If we don’t have enough, we need conversations with those who do; conversely, if we do, then our reliance on others is reduced. So far, so obvious, but I suggest avoiding choosing either ourselves or someone else based purely on knowledge and experience, however crucial they are. It doesn’t matter how expert someone is. If they don’t show interest in you, is it likely they are ‘interested’ in your decision and its outcomes?

I think there is a broader set of criteria to consider that, when found, add up to what I call a ‘conversation with impact’. A CWI is one that contains the qualities and characteristics we need to make the difference we are after and is far more likely to help us make better decisions. While my blog, 6 ways to make better decisions, looks at a range of approaches, having the right conversations is perhaps the most important of them.

6 ways to make better decisions: The CWI Questionnaire

When scoring your conversations, consider the importance of each quality or characteristic to you. Choose a number between 1 and 7 (1=none at all, 7=all that you need) that reflects the degree to which a conversation possesses each quality or characteristic. If one is not essential to you, i.e. it makes no difference one way or the other, give it a 7. For those that are important to you, score it appropriately.

  • I trust the person
  • They understand me and what I need from them
  • I feel respected by them
  • They have the ideas, skills and knowledge I need
  • They do not judge me and accept me for who I am
  • They have the ideas, skills and knowledge I need
  • The conversation follows my agenda, not theirs
  • They believe in me and my potential for change
  • They give me the time that I need
  • I feel challenged by them in a good way
  • They respect my need for confidentiality
  • I feel they genuinely listen to me
  • I can say what I really want to them
  • They are truly interested in me
  • They help me to make sense of my situation
  • They help me set clear, realistic goals and strategies
  • They help me find solutions
  • My conversations with them make a difference
  • They have the X-Factor

What did you discover? Are you having conversations that are helping or hindering your decision-making? If you are then great, but if not talk to your existing support network to find more of what you need, or if that isn’t an option find someone new to talk to.

2. Thriving and surviving

If there is one ambition for all of us to achieve, it is to know how to thrive and survive, and the best decision making is that which supports this goal. In evolutionary terms, all decisions are about thriving and surviving. Achieving this ideal state allows us to make hay while the sun shines and tough it out when it stops. But how do we know if we are making the right decisions? Luckily, we have an in-built system that can tell us: our emotions. Emotions are really messages sent from our ‘emotional self’ containing important information about how we are handling life.

Whether you are in a good or bad place emotionally, get into dialogue with your emotional self. Stress, anxiety and depression are how our emotional self expresses its concern that we are drifting further away from thriving and surviving. In contrast, positive emotions communicate its happiness that we are moving towards or sustaining it. Tell your emotional self what it wants to hear:

  • If you are struggling in life, how you will get yourself back on track
  • If you are smashing life, how you will keep it this way

3. Understanding your patterns

Central to the decision-making process are our patterns of thought, behaviour, feeling and relating. Harmonising our patterns helps decision-making, which means it suffers when they are out of sync. Examples of out-of-sync patterns that hamper us in making decisions include:

  • Overthinking (thought)
  • Avoidance (behaviour)
  • Emotional paralysis (feeling)
  • Subordinate role (relating)

Examples of in-sync patterns include:

  • Decisiveness (thought)
  • Committed action (behaviour)
  • Confidence (feeling)
  • Assertive role (relating)

When you reflect on your decision-making abilities, what conclusions do you draw? And which of the above lists do you connect with the most? If it is the first list, commit to changing your patterns to those in the second.

4. The power of acceptance

Decision making is not a perfect science, so don’t expect to make the right decisions all of the time, and don’t regret the ones you do make. Question: how challenging did you find this sentence?

  • A lot
  • To some extent
  • Not at all

How you answered will shed light on how you make decisions and your relationship with acceptance. People, especially perfectionists, who feel pressured to make the right decisions and fear getting them wrong, can have a problematic relationship with acceptance. Whereas those who don’t see acceptance as a given.

The reality for all of us is that getting every decision spot on is impossible. However, suppose we believe it is possible. In that case, we open up what I call a Fantasy-Reality Gap, which is the difference between what we think is possible (getting every decision 100% correct) and what is actually possible (some right, some wrong). Living with FRGs is stressful because they represent unsustainable ways of living. And if there is one thing that impairs decision-making, it is stress. So, if you want to make better decisions, be kind to yourself and close your FRGs – through acceptance.

5. The role of challenge

In the famous fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks chooses which bears’ porridge to eat based on the temperature of the three bowls she tries. A few years ago, I borrowed from this tale to help people establish a helpful level of challenge regarding their personal and professional goals and created The Goldilocks Principle of Challenge: not too little, not too much, but just the right amount. When it comes to making decisions:

  • Too little challenge results in a lack of interest or motivation
  • Too much challenge results in feelings of overwhelm
  • The right amount of challenge means they get made

If you struggle to make decisions, consider whether it is due to the level of challenge you face, be it too little or too much. Either way, making The Goldilocks Principle of Challenge work for you means adjusting your level of challenge until you can make decisions.

6. Personal and professional transformation

Important decisions are often connected to areas of personal and professional transformation, such as health and wellbeing, relationships and where to work and live. Therefore it can be beneficial to have a positive vision of where we are headed in life because we can assess whether our decisions are consistent with it. This doesn’t mean we only make important decisions when we have a clear vision of our personal and professional direction. However, I suggest we think carefully about making them when we don’t have one. Clients often end up in coaching and therapy to undo the damage caused by decisions that were, effectively, leaps into the unknown. A high-risk strategy, if ever there was one. Do the activity below to evaluate whether you know what you want in life to help you make more confident decisions.

Is my transformation on track?

Looking at the categories below and using a 0-10 scale (0=very unhappy, 10=very happy), choose a number that reflects how you feel about each of them. 

  • Identity, their self-esteem and self-worth
  • Home and family life
  • Relationships
  • Career/professional development
  • Health (mental and/or physical)
  • Financial
  • Lifestyle
  • Social and cultural
  • Environment

What did you discover? And what decisions do you need to make to change any lower numbers and maintain any higher ones? Thinking back to the first activity, can your existing support network help you, or do you need to find someone new to talk to?

6 ways to make better decisions: getting support

I hope you have enjoyed my blog, 6 ways to make better decisions. If you would like support, I’d love to hear from you. My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Programmes have helped many people make better decisions.

To book an initial consultation, visit my Make a Booking page. You will have the opportunity to tell me about what you are going through and find out how I can support you. Even if you choose not to work with me, I promise your consultation will give you more ideas, knowledge and insight than you had before.