Today's affluent societies often leave us "spoilt for choice". An increasing decision fatigue affects not only leaders but many of us in our daily lives. However, indecisiveness and weakness in decision making are less problematic for smaller decisions, such as choosing clothes or shopping for dinner, than for making important (life) decisions. The far-reaching and often unpredictable consequences that political decisions have on humans and nature are shown by the way climate change or the Covid 19 virus is being dealt with worldwide. The following strategies can help each of us personally to make difficult decisions not only easier and safer, but also wisely, and we will realize that our mind AND emotions play a role in this:
1) Change perspectives and go your own way
We are all influenced consciously or unconsciously in our decisions by countless factors (environment, society, family, friends etc.).
This in itself is not a problem - consulting people who are important to us or competent in a particular area is a very good way to take new information and other perspectives into account.
However, we should not give up the power to make our own decisions. Therefore, it is useful to ask ourselves: What do I really want? Are there factors that I may not have been aware of that prevent me from really making my decision? Am I perhaps unconsciously going in a direction that others (parents, partners, etc.) want me to go?
2) Short, medium or long-term benefits
Very important is the question: where does my decision lead me to? Is the benefit only a short-term one or do I profit from my decision in the long run?
Does this decision serve my goals and values?
One way of doing this is the 10-10-10 method, where you ask yourself: "What are the effects of my decision in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years?” It is important to take the necessary time to be honest with yourself and to think through the different possibilities. It is often wise, although not always easy, to forego short-term gain in favour of a longer-term, sustainable solution.
3) Collect facts and reliable information
In order to make a rational decision and to weigh up the pros and cons well, we should be well informed as possible about the individual options we want to choose between. Care must be taken to ensure that the data is obtained from reliable, qualified sources, and even then, a critical stance never hurts, as facts and figures without the relevant context can also be misleading. We have experienced this in times of Corona: really comparable are only figures in relation to the population of a state and not the absolute figures, which often adorn the headlines of the media in a striking way. Of course, this also applies to the Internet and social media: critical questioning and research of sources is very important for all information that is to serve as a basis for decision-making.
4) Decide holistically
Often, we are torn between our mind, our emotions or our physical needs: we know from our head that we shouldn't eat sweets, for example, but then we reach for chocolate again because our desire for it is stronger or we want to reward ourselves with it and calm down in stressful situations.
Again, we have to pause for a moment and become aware: "What do I really want or need right now?” To stay with the example of chocolate: Can I ensure the short-term benefit (desire for something sweet, stress reduction...) perhaps in another way? For example, with dried fruit or a short break with a few deep breaths?
We make smart decisions not only with our mind but also with the help of our subconscious, which we often call intuition or "gut feeling". By means of emotions and diffuse body signals (e.g. tingling in the stomach), the so-called "somatic markers", it shows us how we evaluate possible future scenarios based on our individual pool of experience. However, the problem often is that we have to learn to perceive our gut feeling and to trust our own intuition. This requires a mindful handling of oneself, a pause and sensitivity, because gut feeling and intuition are quiet and are often drowned out by the "loud chatter" of our mind. With different methods we can get a better access to our inner voice: Meditations, breathing and mindfulness exercises help us to do this. Coaches also work with scenario techniques, kinesiological muscle testing and other methods to support their clients in their decision making.
5) Relaxed and creative decision making
Having only two options or even having to choose between two evils plunges us into a classic dilemma. The assumption that there will always be at least three options helps. A well-known example of this is: "Love it, change it, or leave it." In other words, to either change a situation or option, to let it go or to accept it, make friends with it. When making decisions, creativity is also required, because sometimes it isn’t either one or the other possibility or solution, but neither of the two or something completely different. Instead of the either/or, it can be both or it might be useful to look for a compromise.
“Just wait and see" can also be a legitimate strategy at times, because some minor problems or decisions often solve themselves.
In general, and for big decisions in life, it is especially important not to make decisions under pressure from outside or self-made stress, but rather relaxed. This can mean allowing yourself time to think about things, to take a deep breath, to "sleep on it". Exercise in nature can help us a lot to clear our heads, to get spontaneous insights and creative ideas. Time-outs and especially "offline times" will get us out of the hamster wheel of everyday life, heighten our senses for what’s really important again and give space to the inner voice.
6) Trust in our "psychological immune system”
To err is human: we all make mistakes and these mistakes are of course also made when deciding—but often, in retrospect, the biggest "mistakes" have been our best teachers or even the foundation of a later success. According to Harvard psychologist and decision researcher Daniel Gilbert, we have a natural protective shield, our "psychological immune system ", in that we perceive the world, and also some "wrong” decisions, as it feels good to us.
To become aware that there is not one "right" decision, but that every day brings new opportunities, that we can always realign ourselves to our goals and that some "detour" has helped us to gain new insights, can have an additional relaxing and decision-supporting effect.
Furthermore, no decision is more regrettable than the one of having done nothing. That's why it's best to take the bull by the horns and dare to make a decision, because life can only be lived moving forwards and can only be understood in retrospect.