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How to Know if a Decision is Good

I can’t tell you if a decision is right, but I can give you a simple measuring stick to know if a decision is good.

But first, a little background…

In life, in work, in our careers, in our communities, we are faced with countless possibilities of ways to spend our days, our nights, our love, our effort, our money, our time and more.

In our busy, modern, app-driven & time-crunched lives (and quarantine seems to have only made it worse over time) the challenges of dealing with both information overload and the resultant FOMO, the fear of missing out, if you should choose the wrong thing are a constant struggle.

Why is Decision Making so Hard?

Primarily, “one of the big reasons we all hesitate to make decisions is FEAR.” says Lynn Leigh Neild. This is definitely the case when making a decision seems to be between too many good options:

  • What if I pick the wrong one?
  • What if the other choice is better?
  • What if I don’t know enough information?

The gridlock of these conflicting influences often leads to analysis paralysis, or worse, feelings of anxiety that can spiral out of control, if unchecked.

What is Anxiety?

“Anxiety is caused by an over-reaction of the human fight-or-flight response.” explains Manuel Krause, a mindfulness and anxiety expert (MS Applied Psychology) and founder of Pocketcoach, a cool-looking chatbot* that can help you manage anxiety.

“This innate reaction has developed over more than hundred thousand years of evolution in order to protect us from danger. It’s a biological process that kicks in whenever the brain detects something dangerous.”

How Can You Overcome Mild Anxiousness?

Combating the anxiousness that can come from indecision is hard. Breathing can help (here’s why), and managing deep anxiety from a psychological level is beyond the scope of this writing, but for those who feel bodily tension, perhaps in your shoulders, around the eyes or other places in your body when it’s time to make a decision, a few things may be able to help:

Move & Breathe to Help Anxiety Move, Too

It could be thought of that anxiousness is emotion taking place in you, or having a physical effect on you. It has been said that “emotions need motion”. When you are feeling anxiousness, it is often helpful to move around to help the anxiety move along.

Further, breathing, walking or even just standing and stretching can help your body regain some regulation over these feelings.

Tips:

  • Got an apple watch? Use the Breathe app to grab some quick mindful moments.
  • My.Life (formerly Breathe) provides quick as well as deeper mindfulness tools for android and apple devices as well as Alexa.
  • Put your walking shoes on and take a brisk walk around the block or building (or house). Count your steps and think about how the ground feels under your feet with each step to bring yourself to a present state of mind.

For deeper resolution to anxiousness, I have used headspace to help me regain a feeling of centeredness and calm.

How Do You Combat FOMO?

FOMO, the fear of missing out, is increasingly common in our social-media driven society. The constant barrage of how great other people’s lives create an intensive mental challenge that is not easy to overcome, and can lead to even more decision-making gridlock.

When it comes to the fear of missing out on something, William Bednarz notes in The Conversationalist that “What you DON’T want to do is let the FOMO get the best of you and allow it to consume your mind. If you keep thinking about what you’re missing out on, it will manifest itself in your mind and dominate your thoughts to where it seems much more than it actually is.”

Some research reported by Psychology Today notes some surprising effects of FOMO relative to social media use in that, people who experienced FOMO experienced the same amount of it, no matter if they learned of the missed activity online or in person, and even if the thing they chose to do instead was fun:

In the research, “FOMO was a commonly reported feeling, which created negative emotions and feelings of distraction. Adding to this, the results showed that FOMO was felt no matter how the person found out about the alternate social activity on which they were missing out. Hearing it from a friend versus social media produced the same amount of FOMO. And finally, it was also felt even when the selected activity was an enjoyable (social) one.” #

Psychology Today, The Science of FOMO and What We’re Really Missing Out On

In light of this, it’s important to note that experiencing FOMO after you have made a decision is almost guaranteed. And experiencing FOMO is not an indicator that the decision you made was the wrong one, because you are likely to feel it anyway.

How Do I Know if a Decision is Good?

Okay, so, how do I know when a decision is a good decision? This simple measuring stick will help you, or at least give you confidence it is not a bad decision.

A good decision will impel you to be intentionally willing to turn down other choices that you also see are good.

In economics, this would be called opportunity cost, and is a real measuring stick that economists use to help understand human behavior:

“…Opportunity cost, also known as alternative cost, of making a particular choice is the value of the most valuable choice out of those that were not taken,” explains Abhishek Kothari in The Opportunity Cost of Everything. “In simple terms, when you chose to do something, you give up something.”

In practice, you can be confident a good decision is good, if the alternatives you must give up are also good.

  • Choosing between two excellent job offers.
  • Hiring one of two excellent candidates.
  • Choosing to move to a new home or stay in a home you love.
  • Deciding which great university to attend.
  • Picking an AirBnb by the beach or one in the mountains.
  • Choosing between two cars with a great payments and top safety ratings.

Why this works

This works for three deceptively simple reasons:

  1. The downside is almost nonexistent.
    Reality is, if you are choosing between attending two great university choices, the downside for you becomes vanishingly small. Really, what’s the worst that could happen? That lit class will bore you to death no matter which campus you are on (or which zoom room you are in)
  2. The upside is huge.
    Jim Rohn used to say “Indecision is the thief of opportunity.” and it seems the second you decide something, the universe aligns to help you make it happen.
  3. Choosing something creates momentum.
    And momentum makes any task easier. Objects in motion, of course, tend to stay in motion

Still Stuck? Try ‘Ooching’.

If you stilllllllll just can’t make that choice, then you might try “ooching”. It means taking incrementally, but intentional steps toward the thing you’re trying to do to see where things lead.

Ooching “allows you to experiment with a decision while minimizing the risk, which can be helpful with choices large and small,” according to Kristin Wong at Forge, referencing the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath (Amazon).

Wong continues with some examples: “If you’re thinking of moving to a new city, for example, maybe first you ask permission to work remotely for a month in that city. If you’re thinking of buying a new car but unsure if you can make the monthly payments, set aside a couple hundred bucks each month in a separate savings account to see if you can swing it.” #

*Disclosures:
– I have never used Pocketcoach, but it looks appealing.

By @AskRobMerrill

I'm Robert Merrill. I am the founder and principal consultant at ConnectedWell Recruiting and Talent Advisors, a boutique recruitment consulting agency. I have more than 15 years technical and professional recruiting experience across the US and fourteen other countries, globally.

Beside my writing here, I am working on helping make hiring more human again, publishing a newsletter, and Helping 1 Million people get better jobs in 5 years. The clock is ticking.

I also write on linkedin and medium, answer questions on quora, am funnier on twitter @askrobmerrill and trying to figure out instagram as well. Give us a follow, if you like.

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