How decisive are you? If you’re like most of us when faced with a decision, you soak in your anxiety, weigh the outcomes, push the whole thing away, get confused, come back to it, and just pull the trigger at the very last moment. Indecision is something almost everyone can relate to.
I remember the first day of secondary school as it was yesterday. My teacher playfully told us that “your life is the result of the choices you make.” At the time, it didn’t resonate with my fellow students and me at all. I remember we made fun of him for saying that. Because he often repeated himself, we thought he wasn’t making sense. We called him “choices guy.” He literally mentioned that everything in life comes down to our decisions every class. Years later, I still remember what my teacher said—probably because he repeated it so often.
I’m glad he did. As any adult knows, our lives are truly the results of our decisions. That means we can shape our lives by making conscious decisions. While this is a fact, it can be overwhelming. We often put too much weight on our decisions, and as a result, we become indecisive.
While it will never be easy to make decisions, I have found 3 things that have made me more decisive in life. Here they are.
1. Avoid Outcome Think
Here’s one thing investors often say: Good decisions can lead to bad outcomes, and bad decisions can lead to good outcomes. One of my favorite books on investing is The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks. His investment strategy is largely based on the fact that humans are emotional beings.
Think about it. If we all made rational and unemotional decisions, we would always have a perfect economy. If the people who caused the subprime mortgage crisis in 2007/2008 made rational decisions, they wouldn’t let it come that far. So that’s the first thing a good decision maker acknowledges: We’re emotional and it’s not in our nature to make rational decisions.
One of the best examples of that is what I call Outcome Think. In my experience, this is the biggest thinking error we make. So many of us obsess about outcomes. In fact, many decision theorists encourage Outcome Think. But as Howard Marks says:
“The correctness of a decision can’t be judged from the outcome.”
The outcome of your decisions has nothing to do with your process. That’s because we don’t control outcomes; we control our actions. To become decisive, stop focusing on outcomes.
2. Keep It Simple and Limit Your Options
There are a bunch related behavioral science theories that one must keep in mind when making decisions:
- Analysis paralysis1: When overthinking leads to non-action.
- Decision fatigue2: The quality of your decisions deteriorates after making multiple decisions in a short time.
- Information overload3: When too much information confuses you and harms the quality of your decisions.
- Overchoice4: Difficulty making a decision when faced with many options.
Based on these cognitive processes, I’ve created a simple rule for every decision I make: Keep it simple and limit your options. The more you think, the more complicated you make things, the more options you create, and the less you understand the situation, which deteriorates your decisions.
When you keep things simple, you’re making it easier to be decisive. Life is already complicated enough. Why make it even harder?
I know all this theory and science is really dry. But decision making is one of the best topics for science because it’s just like an experiment in real life as well. We don’t have all the answers. But I do know one thing: Simplify, simplify, simplify. You can’t go wrong with that.
3. Detach From The Situation
A big part of making decisions is what comes after the fact. “Did I make the right decision?” “What if I decided to go for that other option?” “No, I definitely made the wrong decision. What now?!”
The fear of regret leads to a lot of indecisiveness. In science, it’s also called buyer’s remorse5, which is a sense of regret after you made a purchase. It’s frequently associated with the purchase of an expensive item, such as a car or real estate.
Scientists believe that buyer’s remorse is caused by cognitive dissonance that arises when we must make a decision we’re heavily invested in. This is paradoxical, but the more time and energy you spend on a decision, the higher your chance of regret—regardless of the decision. You will simply get attached to the decision too much.
But buyer’s remorse is not only related to purchases. The decision to pursue a career or degree is exactly the same.
At a time, my decisiveness came more from impatience and a lack of interest in education, but I pulled the trigger and got on with my life. I thought to myself, “I like business, so we’ll see what happens. It’s just a degree.” That strategy worked so well for me that I’ve always made my decisions like that. I’ve become more patient and calculated, but the detachment is still present with me.
Too often, we put so much pressure on ourselves to make the right decision, and we fall for Outcome Think. For most people, the right decision is a decision with a good outcome. But as we already established, outcomes have nothing to do with making good decisions.
You must have a sense of detachment from the situation if you want to avoid buyer’s remorse and regret. If something doesn’t work out, so what? You can always adjust. When it comes to most decisions, your life will not end when the outcome of your decision doesn’t live up to your expectations. However, your life and career can end when your decision process is bad.
What’s that saying? Something like, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a second to destroy it.” That only happens when our decision-making process is faulty.
Being Decisive Matters
I’ve met people who said they destroyed their lives because of their indecision. You see it with relationships, careers, businesses, and so forth. Indecision is not a positive personality trait. In general, most people associate it with a lack of confidence.
If you have a bit of indecision in you, I encourage you to address it head-on. Decide to become a decisive person. And before you say it’s not that simple, remember everything we talked about in this article. You’re making things too complicated.
Make the decision and get on with your life. It can be as simple as that. But only if you make it so.