“All too often we question our intuition, even when we know something in our hearts to be true. Decide for yourself what is right, not what others expect of you.” –Rose Caiola
5 tips to help you make the correct choices
Do you break up or repair the relationship? Take up the lucrative six-figure job or go to grad school? Decisions can be hard to make – whether they are minor, such as choosing where to eat dinner, or life changing, such as whom to marry.
Decision-making is serious business in the brain. “Decision making is a complex process involving higher level executive functioning, cognitive skill and personality, mostly arising from the prefrontal cortex,” Sanam Hafeez, a New York State licensed neuropsychologist, tells Rewire Me.
But there are different types of decisions. “How we decide what to get for lunch and whether we invest in the stock market, are two very different processes,” Hafeez says. “What we decide to get for lunch involves simpler and less evolved mechanisms than the complex decision making that goes into weighing the cost benefit assessment of investing your funds into the stock market. The brain may use more primal and hunger cues for the former, while delving into research and deep analysis for the latter.”
Your personality type can also play a role in how you decide. Harvey Langholtz, professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary, says, “Some people are comfortable with a degree of risk, while others prefer to make a decision based on a sure payoff – even if that sure payoff is smaller than what they would probably have obtained under risk.” Similarly, some people prefer instant gratification over long-term happiness.
The good news is that you can help your brain get smarter about making decisions. Confused about whether to buy a car or continue to take the subway to work? Here are five ways to help you make minor and major decisions:
- Get varied opinions: When confused, most people will instinctively approach people they like or are likely to approve their initial choices. The trick is to get a variety of opinions – ask people who may not necessarily share your viewpoints.
In an interview, Aimee Bernstein, psychotherapist and author of Stress Less. Achieve More: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure Into a Positive Force in Your Life, says, “Include different personality types in your decision – making process instead of just consulting with people who usually think like you.” Bernstein adds, “Instead of immediately dismissing perspectives you don’t agree with, pause, take a deep breath and say, ‘Isn’t that interesting?’”
- Make yourself a priority: Don’t waste time fretting about what others might think. “Make sure your motive in decision making is focused on what is best for you,” Sari Shepphird, sports psychologist, explains to Rewire Me. “If you are too concerned with making an impression on another person – being accepted, gaining approval, avoiding conflict – you may make a decision that will be counterproductive in the long run.”
- Trust your gut: Remember that feeling when you want to pursue an activity, such as take home a guy you have just met at the bar, but something doesn’t feel right? Hafeez says, “I always say, trust your instinct. There’s a reason it’s there. But that doesn’t mean you ignore red flags or obvious facts.” If you’ve always enjoyed cooking and have a gut feeling you might make it as a chef, then go ahead and quit the boring banking job, even though it may appear like a risky step.
- Focus on now: While it’s natural for you to take into account your past decisions and future outcomes while making a choice, don’t become obsessed with them. Shepphird explains, “Often decisions are over-complicated by piling on concerns about the future that may actually be irrelevant to the current decision at hand. And while it is wise to learn from the past, and especially from past mistakes, present-day decisions can be hampered by dwelling on the past so much that it paralyzes you in the present.” Instead, she suggests focusing on the moment. “What does the decision boil down to in the moment?” she asks. “Focus simply on that question, and do not get too far ahead or stay locked in the past.”
- Face your fears: When you have a tough time making a decision, ask yourself this question: what am I afraid of? Bernstein advises, “Once you’ve answered this question, then peel the onion, so to speak, by asking yourself, ‘Why is that important to me?’ Keep asking this question until you identify what personal concern is at the root of your reluctance.”
Making right decisions is important. But once you make a big decision, don’t waste time brooding over its potential consequences. Even if it was a mistake, you will have plenty of opportunities to make amends.