How To Make A Decision | Two Psychological Skills You Need To Know

Struggling to find the right way forward or to know what is the best approach to a problem?  Knowing how to make a decision can be difficult sometimes.  Luckily there are two psychological skills you can use to help you make a better decision.  Whilst they won’t do the deciding for you, they should help make it easier for you to do.

Why Is It Hard To Make Some Decisions?

As humans we tend to be more influenced by our emotions than many people realise.  At times where the influence of our emotions is more obvious (for example if we are stressed, depressed or angry) it is clear to see.  HoweHow To Make A Decision - Collage picturever at the other times in our lives we tend to make choices and base our actions much more upon emotional drivers than we do on logical decision making – without even realising it.

If you happen to be faced with a decision to make and are struggling, it is likely that your emotions are more intense, and very often this can make it even harder to make the decision.  We often have particular thoughts about ‘making the right decision’, or doing something ‘perfectly’, and these often just increase the pressure we’re under and increase unhelpful emotions – which in turn can make it harder to know what to do.

Where Do I start?

The first step in making any decision is to clarify what the problem is.  This because wherever there is a decision to be made, first there is a problem.  This may sound obvious, but many people jump straight to thinking about solutions and then trying to decide between them without really taking time to try and clarify what’s at the bottom of it.  Whenever you are wondering how to make a decision, first ask yourself ‘what problem am I actually faced with here?’  A good option is to actually see if you can phrase the problem in one or two sentences.

Often we think of problems as bad things or things that we would rather not have in our lives.  However, let’s try turning this upside down and instead view whatever the problem is as an opportunity or a challenge that will give you something useful at the end of it.  After all, if you think back at the successes you have had in life you are likely to find that they came out of dealing with a particular problem that you were faced with.  For example, gaining a new qualification is the result of solving the problem of completing a course or set of exams.

What Options Do I Have?

Here you have at least two options for making a decision about how to solve the problem you have identified.  There are many different approaches and techniques for doing this, but the two we are sharing here tend to cover most situations you are likely to face.  They are:

1) Making A Decision Where There Are Two Choices

2) Making A Decision Where There Are Several Choices


How To Make A Decision Where There Are Two Choices:

These type of problems tend to be simpler to work with.  Having said that, simpler doesn’t always mean that they are easier!

A useful technique to use here in order to help you make the best rational and logical decision, rather than an emotionally driven decision is to consider the pros and cons of each option.

Take a sheet of paper and divide it into 4 squares.  In the top left square write down the title ‘Pros Of Taking Choice “A”‘, in the top right square write down the title ‘Cons Of Taking Choice “A”‘.  In the Bottom 2 squares repeat the titles, swapping them for “Choice B’.

Take some time to consider all of the possibilities you can under these areas.  It’s important at this stage to keep two things in mind.  Firstly, when you are writing down either a pro or a con try to keep it as factual as possible, rather than hypothetical or based upon guess work.

For example, a pro of ‘getting married’ might be ‘being closer together’, this would be a useful thing to write down.  However, something like a con of ‘they might cheat on me in future’ would not be as useful as it is not fact based, but instead is much more uncertain, fuzzy and unclear.  A second point to remember as you are writing down pros and cons is to keep an open mind to each whether you like or don’t like that particular thing.  Some of the possible pros and cons might not be acceptable to you, but if they are factual then they should still be added to your table.

Once you have considered all of the areas you can try totalling up each box.  Which option has the most pros and least cons?  It is likely this is the best decision to make.  You may find that you don’t want to take this option – which is ok too.  However if you find yourself going against the option in your table it is often a good idea to ask yourself why, and maybe pause making the decision for a while if you can.

How To Make A Decision Where There Are Several Choices: 

A useful skill for making a decision where you have lots of different options is know as 7 step problem solving.  Try out each of the steps below in order and see which option seems like the best decision for your problem…

1) List every single option you have – even ones that seem less realistic.

2) Do a pros and cons table for each option, just like above.

3) Rank the options starting with the option with the most pros and least cons.

4) Pick the top option…

5) Plan what you need to do in order to make that option a reality now.

6) Do it!

7) Review how it went…  If it solved the problem you can stop.  However if it didn’t solve the problem then go back to step 3 and repeat the process with the next best option in your list.

Yes, these two ways of making a decision can seem a bit heartless and structured, but they’re meant to be – this way it can help you reach a rationale decision.  Of course there are times in which decision making is about emotional matters, and of this si the case you might find some other posts on our site helpful.

If you have found either of these techniques useful, why not share your experiences and any other tips for others below?

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