Maybe...no, scratch that.
Or perhaps... no, nevermind.
One way to improve decision making is to actively broaden your options beyond the obvious.
Another way to improve your decisions is to strategically eliminate options that don't deliver on your objectives as well as other options do.
However, if you try to broaden and narrow your options at the same time, you'll just end up feeling stuck.
Both methods important, but remember to keep them separate.
"What if I made the wrong decision?"
Too often, I see people blame themselves for making a "bad" decision. They chose a certain career path, and while it seemed fine in the beginning, now they're miserable. They wonder whether they can trust themselves to make a good decision now, given the "mistake" they made back then.
The thing is, it's entirely possible that they made a good decision back then. That they knew what they wanted, and made a choice that aligned with that. And, it's totally possible that what they want and need now is completely different. In fact, not only is it possible, it's likely.
At different points in our life, we value different things. While we once longed for freedom and exploration, we may now need stability and consistency. At one point we may value exposure to a lot of different things, then at another point focus on deepening expertise in a single area. When we have the energy and time, we may pursue advancement no matter the cost, but later prioritize efficiency to make time for other important things in life.
Just because the decision you made in the past no longer suits you does not mean you made a "wrong" decision. It simply means it's time to make a *new* one.
There is an exercise I give my clients that always seems to surprise them with its efficacy.
The first step is to envision what you would like your life to be like. The more detailed, the better. Write it down.
However, if it's too difficult to nail down details, at least capture how you would like to feel. Often, my clients are coming from a place of disengagement, stress, burn out, and confusion. Instead, they want to feel excited about their work, capable, energized, with a clear direction.
The second step is to find a small way you can experience the life you want, now.
The third step is to do that every day.
Try it. You'd be amazed at how much of a shift you can make as a result of daily intentional decisions.
Sometimes there are going to be things that you can't directly control in the moment.
Who your kid chooses to date. Or just, your kid, period.
What people think of your idea.
Where the SVP plans to relocate your division.
When natural disasters strike.
Why someone chose to end a relationship.
Which grad school ends up admitting you.
Whether the results of the test your doctor ordered come back negative.
Even in moments when so much feels outside of your control, you still have the power to choose how you view the situation and what you will do in response.
You always have that choice. Use it to your benefit.
I see people avoid making decisions for all sorts of reasons:
They are afraid something bad will happen. But there is a chance of that happening whether or not you decide.
They don't want the responsibility of making a choice. But if you don't, someone else will, based on their objectives, not yours.
They want to avoid closing the door on something. But you'll remain stuck in one place until you choose a door to walk through.
They want to keep gathering information. But after a certain point, additional information is useless.
They don't want to stop analyzing the possibilities. But none of those possibilities will become reality until you choose to do something.
They want to keep time from marching on. But the world won't stop just because you do.
Decide, and you gain the power to make things happen. Avoid decisions, and you let the world happen to you.
When analytically-minded people hear me introduce the third element of any decision, information, they often light up with validation.
"See! So I am right to take my time in analyzing all the information."
Not quite. Good decision making does require an evaluation of information on how various options may help you met your objectives. It doesn't, however, justify putting off making a decision until you've analyzed all the information. This is one of the distinctions between the decision engineering I learned in school and the applications of it I studied in the 15 years since.
In personal decision making, you will never have perfect information. The key to making a decision isn't waiting until you've gathered all the data. The key is knowing how much and which data you need to comfortably move forward.
You're standing at the soft serve machine.
Chocolate or vanilla? Some people will stop there, and choose between the two.
Don't want to choose between chocolate or vanilla? You could have chocolate AND vanilla. That's why the swirl lever exists.
Want to try the chocolate and then if it's not that good, want to have the vanilla? You could do that.
Want something fruity? You could grab some fruit from the salad bar and use that to top a cup of the vanilla.
Don't want ice cream? In the mood for pie? You could walk next door to the bakery. It'll take a little more effort, but may be worth it if your craving is strong enough.
The point is, there are often more options than This or That. Go back to school or continue working. Work all day or see your kid. Do good for the world or get paid enough to live the life you want.
Just because they are the obvious choices doesn't mean they are the only choices. Take the time to explore whether there's another, non-obvious choice out there that suits you better.
When I tell people about how I've spent the past 15 years studying decision analysis and how to apply it to personal decision making, I often get met with some version of:
"Wow, I totally need to learn that! I'm horrible at making decisions. What would be one tip you could share with me to help me make better decisions."
To quote the Spice Girls, I would say, "Tell me what you want, what you really, really want."
It's that simple. Sure, there is a lot I could share about how to make better decisions. (That's what this blog is for, after all.) Yet the most common mistake I see people make is trying to compare their options before articulating what it is that they want in the first place.
So, tell me. (Say it out loud, or write it down.)
What do YOU want. (You. Not what your peers want. Not what society says you should want.)
What do you really, really want. (Sift through the list and identify your top priorities.)
Now use that as your compass.
If you make a decision and the outcome is good, you'll be closer to your goals. If you make a decision and the outcome is bad, you might be temporarily worse off, but you'll learn something for the next decision.
Sometimes people think they can avoid a bad outcome by avoiding the decision entirely. But the world doesn't stop just because you do. At best, indecision leaves you with stress and wasted time. At worst, it'll also leave you with regret and a bad outcome anyway.
"In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." - Theodore Roosevelt
When someone says "I had no choice," it's not because they didn't have options to choose among. What they actually mean is "I saw no other tolerable choice, aside from the option I'm going with."
"I had no choice but to quit" means "I could not imagine choosing to spend any longer in this job."
"I had no choice but to take the job" means "I was not willing to risk holding out for another offer."
"I had no choice but to keep looking" means "I was not willing to settle for what I initially found."
All are fine decisions, as long as you evaluated the options you had and intentionally chose your course of action.
There is no such thing as "No choice." You always have a choice. The more often you recognize that and own your decisions, the more power you'll reclaim over your life.