Reducing the Agony in Decision-Making

keep-calm-and-make-good-decisions-6My husband and I were looking at the menu of the Yeti Kitchen, a restaurant offering Himalayan cuisine, for so long that the woman of a table alongside leaned over to ask us: Do you need help deciding?

She knew this was a different cuisine from those we’re typically used to ordering in Delhi (Indian food or Indian-ized Chinese, Thai, or Italian). We’re fine, I told her, just trying to accommodate everyone’s preferences. In India, meals are shared as opposed to one dish per person as is the norm in some other parts of the world. After a lot of deliberation, we finally ordered for the table and ended up having a wonderful meal with family.

This was a simple decision of deciding what to eat, yet it took us time and energy to make, not to mention that we wanted to get it “right.” There are many bigger decisions we face: where to live, what career to pursue, whether to have kids (and how many), whether to move to another country (or not). The bigger the decision, the more we ponder about it, the more we fear the consequences, the more we struggle to make it.

Why is making decisions so hard?

  1. Trying to optimize decisions: Trying to make the “best” possible decision can be time-consuming and effort-intensive and end up leaving us doubtful about whether we indeed made the right decision.
  2. Freezing from fear: Fear of making the wrong decision can keep us from moving forward. We’d rather make no decision than the “wrong” one.
  3. Over empathizing: Trying to make everyone happy can keep us stuck as we look for that perfect solution that will make everyone happy (Hint: It doesn’t exist.)

While I struggle to make decisions as much as the next person, here are some strategies I rely on, or I’m learning to rely on, to make better decisions:

  1. Choose the “good enough” option: Unless you’re actually enjoying the process of optimizing (say, decorating your study just the way you picture it), optimizing is likely to reduce your pleasure. As Gretchen Rubin says in one of her secrets of adulthood: Most decisions just don’t require extensive research.
  2. Consider the cost of staying stuck: Choosing a “good enough” option may not cut it if you’re considering a big, life-changing decision. In these cases, you may also want to consider the cost of staying stuck. Or like I’m trying to reframe it, the opportunity cost of missed adventures.
  3. Remember that there is usually no one “right” answer: If you’re afraid about being wrong, draw some comfort from the fact that there is no one destination and there is no one path. Have the confidence that you can find your way down an uncertain road, one step at a time.
  4. Imagine you are making this decision for someone else: This technique is SUPER helpful. When I’m making decisions for myself, I end up thinking about every little criterion, trying to “optimize” and getting to the “right” decision. But often I just need to think: “What would I advise my husband / sister / friend?” if they were in this situation, and voila, I can cut through all the clutter and identify what is important.
  5. Don’t let other people make your decisions for you: This gem comes from the wonderful Marie Forleo. Instead of relying on group surveys to make your decision, listen to your intuition. After all, do you want to steer your life by other people’s values and judgments, or your own?
  6. Choose the right confidantes: Choosing the right confidantes to help you think through your decisions is important. In general, people who have something to gain or lose from your decision may not be the best confidantes, unless you’re sure they can remain objective and keep your best interests in mind.
  7. Deliberate: Sleep over your bigger decisions. Sometimes sleep over it for the whole month! You may oscillate wildly. Write your journal. Think about the decision. Quit thinking about the decision. Accept your ambivalence and your fear. Accept your enthusiasm and your excitement. Gradually, the fog will start to lift.

I hope you found these strategies useful. What are some of YOUR favorite strategies to make better decisions? Would love to hear them. If you know someone who struggles with making decisions, hates it, or simply runs away from decisions, do share this post with them.

And another thing. Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better Than Before comes out this week. Yay! Gretchen is one of my favorite authors and I’ve found her work insightful and actionable – can’t wait to check it out!

You May Also Like

Are You Listening Too Much of the Time?
“I Don’t Know” Are Wise and Wonderful Words
Why What’s In It For Me Doesn’t Motivate Givers

5 thoughts on “Reducing the Agony in Decision-Making

  1. Insightful, as always. I came across this article today, titled What Netflix Tells Us About Decision Paralysis ( It says pretty much the same things but coming from the angle of paradox of choice.

    While that is a well-researched concept in the consumer world, here is an interesting bit from Louis CK quoted in the article: “[M]y rule is that if you have someone or something that gets 70 percent approval, you just do it. ‘Cause here’s what happens. The fact that other options go away immediately brings your choice to 80. Because the pain of deciding is over.”

    And this one: “Take the ol’ quarter out of your pocket and assign heads or tails. Flick it in the air, catch it, slap it across the back of your hand, and reveal what fate’s determined. Now—and this is the most important part—when the big reveal comes, be conscious of your feeling when you see what the coin’s decided. Did you want it to be heads? Are you sad it landed tails? There. Turns out, you’ve known your decision all this time after all.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I love the quote from Louis CK – the weight of those options lifting from your shoulders is freeing. About the coin toss, the bit about how you “feel” about it – that’s the one that confuses me a little, given my confused relationship with feelings. Is the feeling my intuition, or is the feeling my irrationality. You know what I mean?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s