Seven ways to help you make better choices

Originally published July 16, 2019 on psychologytoday.com

My mission as a therapist and motivator is to help people become more empowered, self-reliant, and masters of their lives. Through research and interactions with clients, I have developed several techniques that help my clients achieve self-actualization and life satisfaction.

One of these core techniques is decision-making. Regardless of the size of the decision, it can be an ominous and challenging process for most people to make them. It’s unbelievably daunting because people make an average 35,000 decisions each day. These range from trivial decisions to weighty decisions and it’s normal that people’s self-confidence can backhandedly suffer trying to make the “right” choices.

Using Self-Actualization to Build More Esteem

Self-actualization, originally introduced as a concept by German neurologist and psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein and popularized by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, is the process by which people are motivated to achieve their full potential. I believe that when we’re able to reach our potential, we can also achieve life satisfaction. On the path toward actualization/satisfaction, Maslow notes that other needs must be met, most importantly, our esteem needs. I feel decision making is a vital building block for manifesting self-confidence, which is a critical esteem need.

One issue I find prevalent with most people is their tendency to delegate a good portion of their 35,000 daily decisions to those around them: family, friends or to “the consensus.” We’ve all been in the position of wanting someone else to pick or weigh in on the restaurant to eat at, where to go on vacation, performance objectives, choosing a college major, where to live, whether to rent or buy, making a career change, what diet to choose, how to fix a computer glitch, how to answer a questionnaire or a realistic budget for non-essentials. We do this as a way of searching for the “right” decision, as if there is one. In today’s world of social media, we’re predisposed to believe that there are correct choices that lead to “perfect” outcomes. However, the truth is everyone is guessing, even the people that look like they’ve made all the “right” choices. Our search for a “right” answer undermines our self-confidence and leaves us lacking the competence to trust in our ability to problem-solve effectively.

Placing a Time Limit and Trusting Yourself

This dilemma inevitably rings true in my practice when my clients take deep dives into many questions, eventually surfacing feeling more confident. Yet, seldom do they come up with a better answer than if they have skipped the deep dive and gone with their intuition, previous knowledge, and experience. Trusting in ourselves builds confidence in our reality.

Another problem is that making decisions is the only antidote to decision avoidance. Consistently making smaller and larger decisions develops decision stamina which increases our level of self-confidence. Doing this also decreases the mental exhaustion that comes with the fear of decision-making.

Seven Ways to Feel More Satisfied with Your Decisions

You may be asking yourself if there is a way to learn how to make good decisions? The answer is yes, but it takes hard work. I’ve been inspired in my own decision-making by a simple, but efficient Problem-Solving Model set forth by noted Hungarian mathematician George Pólya in his book, “How to Solve It,” released in 1945. His four-step process to problem-solving include Step 1, Understand the Problem, Step 2, Devise a Plan, (translate), Step 3, Carry Out the Plan, (solve) and Step 4, Look Back and Reflect (check and interpret). I recommend you try it. In addition, I personally encourage you to; Think Ahead, Look for the Grey and Don’t run out of Time.

1. Understand the Problem

If necessary, break the problem down into smaller pieces to make each decision less daunting. This strategy will make problem comprehension easier.

2. Think Ahead

Doing a consequent evaluation of each option is often helpful in narrowing down your options and identifying the pros and cons of each.

3. Look for the Gray

Try to avoid getting stuck in black or white thinking and only looking at two alternatives. Engage in creative thinking. Look for “gray” solutions. Something that may require thinking a little “out of the box.” 

4. Plan

Set deadlines. Make small decisions in 10 minutes and big decisions in 20. This forces people to believe in their innate ability to problem solve and helps to build self-confidence.

5. Carry out the Plan

Check each step needed to carry out your plan of the solution. Determine whether you can see and execute your solution.

6. Don’t run out of time

 If you refuse to decide, you’re deciding. Allowing a choice to be made for you because you abdicated the agency to make the decision for yourself undermines self-confidence and self-respect. Avoid allowing decisions to be made for you that force you to run out of time.

7. Look Back and Reflect

Examine the solution you obtained and decide whether, in the future, you would derive the same or another solution. Determine if you can use the same method to help solve some other problem.

It’s important to remember that decisions are fluid, not permanent and can be changed if the outcome is not as you anticipated. If you have the mental flexibility to come up with an alternative solution, there is a door leading to an approximation of the original choice you could have made. It may not be the same, but it will likely be something organically similar.

The consequence of giving into fear and not making decisions is much greater than coping with a mistaken choice and change of course.

References

“Six Science- backed techniques to help you make hard decisions by

Aytekin Tank, www.jotform.com, October 24, 2018

“Self-Actualization Psychology,” written by Erin Sullivan, Encyclopedia Britannica