4 Ways to Become More Decisive

woman thinking

How to be more decisive

By: Lincoln Giesel, LCSW

Many of us reach a point in our lives where we feel overwhelmed or burdened with decisions.  This post aims to help you alleviate this process so that you can feel a bit more adequately prepared for the next conundrum life throws your way.

1. Prioritize

Determine which decisions are worth the effort versus which decisions could be more streamlined.  Living in a large city like Chicago requires many quick everyday decisions around which route to take to work, where to take a date, or when to schedule errands when it will be the least busy.  Make sure you have not created a false equivalency around decisions in your brain, thinking that decisions in general are to be dreaded.

By reframing some, if not the bulk, of your decisions as relatively inconsequential, it will save you time and energy that could be better spent on more important decisions.  By having a planned rotation of ten outfits you wear to work, think of the time and energy you could gain that you previously spent stressing during your morning routine.

2. Objectively view the pros and cons

While this recommendation is simple, the actual process of creating a pros and cons list may quickly become a bit more complex.  When you do complete a more thorough pros and cons, try to create one for each potential decision to make sure you have viewed the consequences from every angle.  If the list becomes too extensive and overwhelming, try adding “weight” or a degree of importance to each of the points.  One “pro” may be so important to you that it outweighs five smaller “cons.”

Another helpful approach to working through your pros and cons list is determining which points serve you in the short-term or may be more emotionally-based.  Let’s say you are making a pros and cons list for a gambling habit, and all of the pros of continuing to gamble revolve around temporary feelings of excitement, fun, and hopefulness around striking it rich.  If the decision feels too impulsive or based on fleeting emotions, this could indicate that you need to reevaluate your decision.

3. Revisit your values

I like to think of values as a means to explain how we are oriented.  We never fully “achieve” our values, they just serve to guide us towards more ethical choices in the short term, and ideally a more fulfilling life in the long term.  While the ethical choice in some scenarios can be very straight forward (such as whether to help a lost and scared child at a grocery store), others can be a bit murkier.  Do you pursue a more creative career in line with your passions, or take a more pragmatic and low-risk job route?  How do you support a close family member with substance use concerns who is resistant to change?  Do you want to have a child or not?

Your family, your friends, and your therapist cannot tell you what matters most to you.

You must continue to explore and establish your values throughout your life, as well as confront the internal struggle that may arise when these values inevitably compete against each other.  Your values may have conveniently aligned with your family or community for some time, but there will inevitably be a moment where you must take inventory and assert your own needs or desires.

4. Take a self-esteem perspective

Sometimes, a lapse in decision-making abilities is more related to our current emotional state, particularly if we are feeling acutely anxious or depressed.  However, if you notice that your indecisiveness is not necessarily mood-dependent, and fairly persistent across contexts, try taking a deeper dive to see why decisions feel so overwhelming.  Were you not encouraged to make your own decisions, even if it involved the risk of making a mistake?  Was your school or home environment overly strict and rigid?  Were you in a formative romantic relationship where your judgment was regularly questioned?

Human beings are capable of critical thinking and decision-making based on our complex needs and desires.  If you find yourself regularly questioning your decision-making abilities, you may have internalized a false belief that you are unable to engage in this process.

I believe we essentially “behave” our self-esteem.  A degree of regular self-doubt is healthy and helps us from spiraling into narcissistic or delusional thinking.  However, if the self-doubt is too overbearing, it becomes corrosive and keeps us in a loop of mistrusting our decision-making abilities.  One approach to challenge these self-doubt thoughts is to think of someone in your life who appears consistently confident and imagine how they would hold themselves in a scenario where higher stakes decision-making arises.

This does not mean you would make the same decision they make, but rather that you would practice managing your internal discomfort and asserting yourself regardless, much like this person you admire would.