You make about 35,000 decisions each day. Some of these decisions are so easy they’re almost effortless, like choosing between eggs or cereal for breakfast, picking a podcast to listen to on your commute home, or determining what time to put your pajamas on. However, when it comes to life’s bigger decisions (Do you want to pursue that promotion? Should you move to a new city? Are you ready to end or begin a relationship?), it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of rumination and anxiety that makes it difficult to make up your mind.
While we often avoid making big decisions for a variety of complex reasons, such as a fear of making the wrong choice or feeling overwhelmed by the number of options, putting them off longer isn’t always helpful. In fact, it often backfires: Studies show that feeling anxious while evaluating a decision makes you more likely to doubt your choice.
Here’s the deal: There’s often no “right” choice. There is only a choice that works best for you. It may sound obvious, but acknowledging this truth takes some of the pressure off when you’re faced with an important decision—which, in turn, makes it easier to make up your mind. Here are three strategies to help you make the tough calls:
1. Evaluate the Pros and Cons
Every choice you make comes with a cost: time, energy, and attention. These are among your most valuable and limited assets, which is why your choices should be in line with your goals and priorities. The following technique, known as a value model, will help you evaluate the pros and cons of your options not only against one another, but against the things that matter most to you.
- Step 1) Make a list of your values.
For example, ambition, creativity, and time with family.
- Step 2) “Score” each option from 1 – 100 on how it aligns with your values.
Let’s say you’re considering accepting a more demanding job. Taking the job may get a 100 for ambition and a 60 for creativity, but a 25 for time with family. On the other hand, not taking the job gets a 20 for ambition, a 40 for creativity, and a 60 for time with family.
- Step 3) Add up the value scores for each option.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
|Taking the Job||Not Taking the Job|
|Ambition: 100||Ambition: 20|
|Creativity: 60||Creativity: 40|
|Time with Family: 30||Time with Family: 60|
|Total: 190||Total: 120|
The top-scoring option—in this example, taking the job—wins, and you can move forward with the peace of mind that you’ve made the best choice for you.
2. Take the Sting Out of Uncertainty
Often, when we’re struggling to make a decision, what we’re really afraid of is the unknown. In fact, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that the most common stressors shared the factor of unpredictable outcomes.
Taking action when the outcomes are uncertain (and potentially negative) may feel risky, but remember: Without risk, there’s no opportunity. There’s no innovation. There’s no growth. The key is to understand that uncertainty isn’t something to fear—it’s something to manage.
The next time you’re feeling uncertain, prime yourself for a range of results by asking yourself, “Is there anything I can do to improve the chances of a good outcome?”
- If the answer is “Yes”: Outline the steps to make it happen.
- If the answer is “No”: Take a minute to prepare for the worst. Then, seek out the silver linings—little glimmers of hope or goodness that exist even if the worst does come to pass.
By thinking through the range of possible outcomes and making a plan to manage each one, you can take charge and feel more prepared for whatever comes your way.
3. Do a Gut Check
Experts suggest that intuition is most instrumental in situations that lack a clear answer, or that rely on learned expertise and experience. In situations that require more data, however, trusting your gut can lead you astray. Emotional Reasoning, for example, is a Thinking Trap—a habitual and often inaccurate thought pattern that makes our problems seem worse than they actually are—in which you use your emotions as evidence that something is real: “I’m anxious about this situation. Therefore, something bad must be about to happen.” While emotions are valid and exist to tell you important information, they can also cloud your judgment.
You can keep Emotional Reasoning in check by writing down what objective evidence you have to support your emotions. Then, compare your emotional evidence to the objective evidence in front of you. How do they compare? This test helps you decide whether your emotions are giving you accurate evidence about the decision at hand, so you can remain clear-headed and make a choice with confidence.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.