How to Make Better Decisions, Faster

Jun 9, 2024

This week’s theme is all about how to make decisions better, and faster. Many of us struggle with decision-making, from small — like what to eat for dinner — to larger, like whether to change jobs or move somewhere.

Because we need to make SO many decisions in a day, this can take a LOT of time and energy — and can lead to exhaustion, something we call “analysis paralysis," and even lack of self-trust. 

This week, we’re going to share 5 strategies to make decisions faster and better — read on!

Tip #1: Practice Making Small Decisions

Not only do successful people make small decisions fast  —  which leaves the time needed for bigger decisions  — but Decision Coach Nell Wulfhart points out that people who find themselves going back and forth on big decisions, generally struggle with the little things, too.

One way to practice making decisions —  like what to order off a menu, or which cereal to buy —  is to set a timer for 30 seconds and make the decision in that time. It’s also kind of like a game — so it can be fun when the stakes are low! 😜

Afterward, you can assess how the decision panned out, while being sure to give yourself credit for having the courage to make the decision so quickly. That’s a big deal for many of us! 

And with that compassion for how it went, we can learn our tendencies and refine how we make decisions. 

Small decisions game 🙂

⏰ Set a timer for small decisions — like what to order on a menu, or what to wear

🤓 Notice how it goes…

💪🏽 Build yourself up for growing your “fast decision-making” skill!

🤔 Learn your tendencies (like “go with the crowd,” or “pick what’s familiar”) & start to hone in on your preferred ways of deciding.

Tip #2: Get Social Support

In our society, we’re often taught that doing things alone and being self-sufficient is the most important thing. While it’s good to feel capable on our own, it’s not helpful to think of ourselves as an island all of the time

We suggest “outsourcing” some of your decision-making.

What does that mean? It simply means finding gentle ways to get social support when making decisions when we’re feeling stuck or confused

The first is just receiving some good listening — especially for those of us who are verbal processors and are able to better organize our thoughts by talking them out. A good listener will give us time and space to hear us out, and occasionally reflect back what we’ve shared. 

The second way to “outsource” our decision making is to consult others to help us find our blind spots.

🙊 Verbal processor questions:

  • Would you be willing to just listen to me talk something through for 3 minutes and reflect back what you heard? I don’t think I need advice, just a listening ear.

👁️ Clarification/blindspot support questions:

  • Is there anything important that I’m not considering about this decision?

  • Can you think of information I don’t have that I might need?

Tip #3: Confront our Inner Perfectionist

Many of us want to make the right decision so badly that we make no decision at all. Sometimes this is a product of too many options that kind of frazzle the brain, something that has been called “analysis paralysis.” This is especially challenging for more complex decisions — at some point, analysis gets one nowhere. 

For these more complex decisions, Stanford professor Baba Shiv and Florida State professor Roy Baumeister — experts in the neuroscience of decisions — highlight the importance of emotions and commitment in decision making, over rational analysis

Why? Because it is impossible to determine in advance which outcome will be optimal.

In addition, when we empower ourselves to choose well — and when we work to make that choice feel like it’s ours — it tends to feel better. It also tends to lead to actually being a better choice, not just feeling like one.

To support making decisions that are complex, these researchers suggest that we envision how we might feel in different scenarios — assess how committed we are to working with the consequences of how each might pan out — and recognize that these efforts actually predict success.

Tips for making complex decisions:

  • Note the feelings and emotions that accompany the decision we’re facing (including, if we can, how we imagine feeling in each future scenario).

  • Ask yourself, “how motivated am I to work toward the success of each option?”

  • Recognize that no matter which option we choose, our efforts to support its success will be more important than the initial guesswork that led to our choice.

We can’t always make the right decision, but we can make every decision right.

Tip #4: Take Some Space

Taking space from the decision can look like taking actual breaks — like drinking water, and getting good rest. 

When we’re feeling stressed out, caught up in a sense of urgency, like our thinking has become narrow, and we’re dehydrated… chances are, we will not make a good decision. 

Another creative way to take space is to imagine that you're giving advice to a friend on the decision at hand. You might even talk to yourself in the third person. It’s amazing how much kinder and wiser we can be when we’re advising someone else 😉

Two ways to take space:

🚶 Take a walk, drink water, do something else for a while, then come back :)

💞 Imagine advising a friend — you can even talk to yourself in the third-person. It sounds silly, but it can be a great way to gain perspective, and additional compassion and kindness for yourself.

Our Final Tip: Align with Your Values

Our last tip on this theme supporting faster, better decision-making is to align decisions with your values. 

Having clear values that you try to live by can make tough decisions easier. You might take a moment to write out some of your core values for this practice

For example, if you’re trying to decide about going back to school, you can consult your values and note whether the decision would be in violation of — or alignment with — your values

These can even be quite specific: maybe you know there’s a certain amount of time you want to spend with your family, or a baseline level of debt you’re willing to carry. Or maybe you highly value credentials, and the freedom they enable.

Checking against values is one of my favorite tips for making decisions — it’s even handy when assessing how we’re spending our time. Is it aligned enough with what we value? 

Anna's Final Thoughts

On average, how many decisions do you think the average person makes in a day?

Amazingly, we make about ~30,000 decisions per day. Some are well grooved, automatic choices, like brushing your teeth (even though this can become challenging for many people, too) while others can be quite complex.

Altogether, researchers estimate that people spend 2 hours making decisions each day — so the weight of making decisions can really add up!

I hope this article gave you some good tips for how to make better decisions, faster. If you see me around some of the sessions this week, feel free to let me know what you think.

Congrats on another week of starting your days with intention!

Anna, focused space host