We make a wide variety of decisions every day — which route to take to work, what to have for dinner, what show to binge watch next. Most day-to-day decisions are unexciting and can be figured out easily without much debate. There are occasions that prompt a much more involved thought process. Heavy decisions that affect your life far beyond that day (or maybe even that year) have to be thoroughly thought through. Even then, the answer may not come easy. So how do you come to the right decision? We’ve come up with a list of some of the most effective methods for decision making.
Sleep on It
The old adage of “sleeping on it” may have started as simple advice, but today neuroscientists have proven that there is scientific merit to it. Sleep is a crucial component in our physical and mental health. While most scientists prescribe the recommendation of eight hours per night, the average person only gets between six and seven.1 This lack of sleep can lead to fatigue, unhappiness, depression, memory challenges and more — all factors that can greatly affect your decision-making process.
While the act of sleeping won’t solve your conundrum outright, it will provide a platform for you to work through all the angles from a clear-headed perspective. Additionally, scientific expert Matthew Walker says that the problem-solving area of our brain is active during the REM phase of sleep, suggesting that we form connections amongst these pieces of knowledge.2 The REM cycle is also where our ideas develop and recombine into fresh, imaginative thoughts. In this stage, you are unconsciously sorting through this decision, and by sleeping on it you are making yourself a more effective decision-maker when you arise. Improve your quality of sleep (and decision-making) with these tips.
If you’ve thought through your decision and are still feeling very unsure, try looking at it from a new perspective. It is easy to let our personal biases weigh in (and sometimes you need to), but that can cloud our judgement and maybe limit us to possibilities that only we can imagine. Instead, take a step back and try to rethink your opportunity from a new angle to help balance out your bias. For example, you’ve been approached for a new job and are deciding whether you want to pursue the opportunity. You’re enticed because sales have been low this last year. But what about if sales go back up? Consider things from all perspectives.
By reversing roles, you’re giving yourself a more objective point of view, one that can be easier to commit to and be confident in.
Pros and Cons List
There is a reason that pros/cons lists are such a common way to work through big decisions. By listing all the good things on one side and all the negatives on the other, you can truly visualize which way your decision is leaning. The only drawback is that not every pro or con has the same weight. If you use the pros and cons list, it’s a good to use it in conjunction with the score system.
As you evaluate all angles of your decision, you’ll realize that some areas outweigh others. Let’s say you’re looking at two car options. One car has heated seats, which is great for winter but only useful for half the year. The other car has much better gas mileage, which matters all year long. While both are positives, the second car’s pro is stronger than the first. Before you start deciding between two options, write out a list of the five things that matter to you most and rank them from six down to two, with six being the most important. He’s a list using the car example:
6 points: Good gas mileage
5 points: Side-impact airbags
4 points: Lots of cargo space
3 points: Extended warranty
2 points: Bluetooth enabled
Next, start scoring each side according to your list of top priorities. If there is something that isn’t on your list but you would consider it a perk (e.g. Wi-Fi enabled, heated seats, leather interior, etc.), assign it a value of one point. It should be included in the count, but shouldn’t affect the final count as much as something like your top priority.
No matter what you decide, be confident in the thought process you chose to arrive at your answer — and when in doubt, sleep on it!
1Dreams Ltd. (15 September 2016). This data shows a shocking worldwide lack of sleep. Retrieved 12 April 2018, from https://www.dreams.co.uk/sleep-matters-club/data-shows-a-shocking-worldwide-lack-of-sleep/
2Mubeen, J. (4 March 2018). Why ‘sleep on it’ is the most useful advice for learning – and also the most neglected. Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://medium.com/q-e-d/why-sleep-on-it-is-the-most-useful-advice-for-learning-and-also-the-most-neglected-86b20249f06d