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How to Make Good Decisions

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August 10, 2018
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Making Decisions

We make decisions all day long, every day of our lives, so many decisions that we’d never be able to count them.

Will we skip breakfast because we’re in a hurry or have fresh strawberries and yogurt ready in a bowl in the refrigerator so we can get a healthy start? Do we send our kids off to school in a rush that creates a nervous start to their day, or have their clothes, breakfast, lunch and backpack ready to go, so we can send them off with a smile and self-confidence? Will we try to get our irritable, defiant teenager to see a counselor or just hope it’s a stage that will be outgrown? Will we frown or smile at strangers we pass during day? Will we stay in a job that makes us irritable or sign up for courses that give us a chance to create a career and a lifestyle we truly desire?

Clear Choices vs. Complex Decisions

Some decisions are easy. You’ll watch for the crossing light when you walk across a busy street. You’ll do your best to choose healthy food for your children. You’ll wear gloves in cold weather so your hands don’t freeze.

But many decisions, ranging from personal finances to healthy eating to medical treatment to choosing a life partner, are complex.

One day nutrition experts recommend taking vitamins or other supplements and another study warns that nutritional supplements are unregulated and some may even be harmful to your health. In one generation we are advised to give children strict rules and in another era experts recommend that we allow children to begin to learn to make decisions, and understand consequences, appropriate to their age.

The catch is that in many, maybe most decisions, there’s no clear right and wrong, except in obvious cases of illegal activity or dangerous situations.

Decisions Are Usually Not Black and White

Making a decision can seem extremely complex now because so much information is available on the Internet. We often used to base decisions on the best advice we got from relatives, friends, a school principal, our family doctor or a religious leader. Now if we Google “depression” we might be reading for days, and find contradictory opinions on treatment.

Here are some suggestions that can help you establish some ground rules for making decisions on whatever issues show up in your life.

5 Tips to Making Decisions that are Best for You

  1. Get information: When we have time, the basis of a good decision is getting a wide range of information. If you want to lose pounds and get down to a healthier weight, seek information from your doctor, as well as from other health and nutrition experts about diet and exercise that can help you do that in a healthy way. You have to find a plan that works for you, and only you will know what will fit with your schedule, your family and your lifestyle, or at least what you want to try to see if it helps you meet your goals. Some people can stick with time at the gym, others enjoy walks in nature. Some people are willing to prepare healthy meals that take time, others can buy or order prepared foods that put them on a healthy track.
  2. Avoid habits or biases: One possible ‘red flag’ in making a decision is “that’s the way it’s always been done” by you, your family or your community. New treatments for mental health and medical issues are being developed all the time. Yoga was once considered an offbeat form of exercise based on questionable health beliefs. Now yoga and meditation are recommended as beneficial for a wide range of mental and physical issues. Social norms change from generation to generation and culture evolves.
  3. Be Aware of Crisis Mode: Some decisions are made quickly. A health emergency means you’ll use whatever information you already have, and probably depend on a trusted physician, and perhaps your family, to help you make whatever decisions are required in the moment. A hungry person is not likely to turn away fried chicken or white bread in hopes of getting grilled chicken or whole grain bread next week. If a loved one is depressed and at-risk for suicide, you’ll make that call to the crisis line today and consider long-term treatment when the life-threatening emergency has passed. The important thing is to understand that in some cases, perhaps many cases, you can take time to weigh the options and think it over, so you make the best decision possible.
  4. Take Your Decision for a Test Run: You’re fortunate if you have time and the opportunity to make a tentative decision and see if begins to unfold in a positive way. If you’re offered a job in another state, away from family and friends, and in an environment or climate you may or may not like, experience as many of the potential factors as possible. Visit the place. Look at the cost of housing. Research the community as a far as your interests. Is there a symphony or are there professional sports teams? Is it urban or rural? While you’re there, go into the library, the grocery store, the gym or a school your children might attend. Meanwhile, keep an open mind about the potentially positive effects of change. Will the new job offer sought after challenges and will you find new interests in that community?
    If you’re on a new exercise plan, get a trial membership at the gym for a couple of weeks. If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be like most of the people who join a gym at the New Year and quit going three weeks later.

    Now many couples of all ages live together for a short time, or a relatively long time, before deciding whether or not it’s long-term relationship like marriage.

    You’ll get a good idea of what fits your personality and lifestyle if have the luxury of giving your decision a test run.

  5. Be Comfortable with the ‘Mostly Fine Decision’: In an article “How to Finally Make a Decision” in The New York Times, the concept of people who are “maximizers” and “satisfiers” is explored. Maximizers want to get every possible piece of information, every option. Once they make their decision they sometimes feel there was “just one more” better option. That can lead to sense of discomfort.
    Satisfiers often made a quick decision, whatever satisfies the need of the moment. A reasonable, happy medium is to go with the “mostly fine decision.” You’ve checked out some dinner options, for instance, on what’s available at several nearby restaurants that’s reasonably healthy and quick. There’s also the possible choice of grabbing some less healthy fast food, because you’re just hungry. The “mostly fine decision” is to find the best, nearby, reasonably fast and “most healthy for the moment” dinner. It won’t be gourmet farm-to-table, nor will be the greasy spoon on the corner. Maybe it will be a salad and a grilled chicken sandwich from the corner deli. It’s going to be good, fine for today, and you’ll get a chance to make a decision about dinner again tomorrow.
    The best strategy for everyday decision making is to get as much information as possible, think it through, and trust your instincts and your trusted family and friends. Know that whatever decision you make is the right one, and the best one, you could make at that moment.


    Herrera, Tim, “How to Finally Just Make a Decision,” June 5, 2018, The New York Times, June 5, 2018

    Soll, Jack B. and Milkman, Katherine L., ”A User's Guide to Debiasing,Social Science Research Network, June 17, 2014

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