Making Decisions

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Our top tips!

  • Don’t go at it alone
    Seek out people who can offer you unbiased advice. Decision-making is a skill that everyone needs and uses, so lots of people will be able to help.
  • Listen to those around you
    While talking and asking questions are important, you should also make sure you listen to all of the guidance that is available to you. Actively read about decision-making and problem-solving, listen to the people around you and see what experts say about it.
  • Use the four step process
    Take a look at the 4-step process below and have a go at applying it when you need to make a decision.

Why is decision making important?

Making decisions is the part of life that you are usually in control of. It can be as simple as deciding what time to wake up in the morning or whether to buy something new for yourself. Of course, there are also more complex decisions, which require significantly more research, consideration and self-reflection.

Often, decision-making can be confused with problem-solving, which means being forced to make a decision due to conditions outside your control. It is important to develop methods and systems for recognising and making decisions, whatever the situation you find yourself in.

We typically attribute the success of highly successful people to their decision-making, so it is useful to know how to generate positive results from the decisions you are presented with, while avoiding negative consequences and learning from failures.

Everyone has to make decisions throughout their whole life, so it is undoubtedly something you will face – you probably already make decisions very regularly. This also means that all the people around you make decisions too and will be able to provide you with guidance and help if you ask them. 

What is decision making?

Making decisions involves one or more courses of action being taken by choice. Two processes can be used to make decisions:

  • Intuition: Using your ‘gut feeling’ to make a decision. 
  • Reasoning: Making decisions using facts and figures.

Decisions made using intuition take into account a combination of personal values and past experience. These can be helpful, but such decision making is limited by your own perceptions and not necessarily based on an accurate representation of reality.

Unlike decisions made only using intuition, which can be quick and instinctive, those which are made using reasoning require a more complicated approach.

The best decisions are arguably made when both intuition and reasoning are taken into account.

How can I make good decisions?

Keep an open mind

Good decision makers are open-minded when considering potential options. Try to understand other people’s ways of thinking and see whether there are ways in which you can improve your own decision-making process.

Set realistic expectations

Not all decisions will lead to expected outcomes. Consider alternatives so there is always a backup plan. As it is said, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” – where one decision is not required, think of a few and try them.

Be flexible

As a good decision maker, you should be open to new ways of doing things that may be more effective in the end. If you are not open to change or refuse to adapt to the situations you are in, you are unlikely to make effective decisions. 

Be a good listener

There will always be people who know more than you, but you will benefit from listening actively and carefully to their experiences and guidance. What they say may not always be right but, with time and experience, you’ll develop your own gut instinct.

What prevents effective decision making?

1. Involving too many people

Listening to others can be valuable, but involving too many people can work against you. Everyone has their own values and views, and while it is good to understand them and take them into account, one person may be required to take responsibility for making a final decision.

Making any decision is often better than reaching no decision at all, and delegating responsibility can make decision making more effective.

2. Not gathering enough information

Without gathering enough information about the situation and available options, you may end up taking a decision without any basis.

Avoid making decisions blindly if relevant information is available. Every new piece of information has the potential to bring new insights to light, which can change the entire scenario.

3. Not prioritising information

Collecting excessive amounts of information leads to ‘analysis paralysis,’ where it is impossible to process it all and reach a decision. In this situation, you can seek advice to help decide which information is most important and why.

Prioritisation is particularly important when there is a deadline approaching and you have to make decisions under pressure without time to take all the available information into account. Setting a timescale for making a decision may also help you to quickly filter conflicting information.

I think I might need some help... what do I do?

Making decisions is a part of life. Over time you will work out what decision-making processes work best for you but situations can often be very complex, making it difficult to know what to do.

If you are faced with a tough decision and would like some guidance, there are plenty of people who can help you out by sharing their experience and considering your situation.

Get support!
If you think you are worrying about a decision that you have to make, reach out to somebody and get the support you need.
Speak to us

Making decisions can be stressful but there are ways to make it easier. Sometimes all you need is someone to talk it through with you to understand the options and what might be the best solution. Our friendly mentors are always willing to help you work out the best course of action.

Speak to family and friends

Everyone around you will have to make decisions all the time too. They may have tips to share on how to approach particular situations, or ideas of where to look for information or resources. It might help to talk through your options with them.

Look for resources online

The Internet is full of resources that can come in handy when you are researching your options in a particular situation. There will also be guidance on how to approach particular situations. Have a browse and see what you can find!

How should I approach a decision I have to make?

1. Define the goal

In order to make decisions most effectively, begin by identifying your purpose, defining the problem that needs to be solved, and asking yourself why it needs to be solved.

Other questions you may want to consider include:

  • What needs should be addressed?
  • Who is impacted by the decision?
  • What is the value of the decision to those involved?
  • When does the decision need to be made by?
  • What information is available to help with decision making?

2. Gather information and work out the options

Gather information that relates directly to your problem. This can help you better understand the matter, fill gaps in knowledge and generate more ideas.

Additionally, make sure you consider all possible alternatives. You may be able to combine more than one solution, so even if ideas seem unrealistic, they may still be useful.

Try to find and ask experts if they are available to help you. They may be able to offer new ways of approaching the issue, which can inform your decision making.

Some more questions you could ask are:

  • Do you need to come up with a new idea or can you implement one that has been used by someone else before?
  • How many alternatives do you need?
  • Is it a simple problem that requires less information or a complex one that needs more?
  • How long will it take you to gather the information?

3. Consider the consequences, decide, and act

Ask yourself what consequences a decision will have, taking into account the impact on other people and what the the future consequences might be. For example, you may think that a lie now may solve a problem, but it is likely to cause a lot more trouble later.

Once you’ve reached a promising decision, consider how it differs from other options. Have you spent enough time and effort making sure it’s a quality decision? If you have, then you can commit to the decision and move forward by working out what needs to be done next.

4. Evaluate your decision

People often forget this step. Once a decision has been made, they do not spend any more time thinking about it and do not reflect on what they have chosen to do.

If the outcome of the decision is positive, you should try to identify the reasons why it went well – this will help you the next time you have a decision to make.

If it did not turn out as well as you hoped, think about why this was the case. If you can fix it, try again. Trying more than once enables you to build on your experience and improve your success rate.