8 simple ways to start making better life decisions, according to psychologists

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I have a confession to make – my wardrobe is insanely boring. I subscribe to the Mark Zuckerberg school of thought that “less is more” when it comes to clothes. 

You see, as someone who takes forever to make decisions, I’d do anything to make the process faster. Decision-making, for me, eats up a lot of time and energy because, well, I’m indecisive! 

I’m the type that gets easily overwhelmed when faced with too many choices. Or two equally good or equally bad choices. 

I mean, if someone offered an app that can make foolproof decisions for me, they can go right ahead and take my money. 

Fortunately, psychologists offer the next best thing – insights into how to start making better life decisions. 

If decision-making is hard for you, too, stick around and discover 8 simple ways to make it much easier and more effective. 

1) Know your values

First up, self-awareness is key. A lot of the items on this list are going to be related to that. 

After all, if you don’t even know what you want and what you stand for, then yeah, making a decision will be quite murky. 

This is precisely why, when faced with the exact same conundrum, we can have wildly different decisions.

For instance, consider two people being offered a great job in a different city. 

One might have their career as a priority, so they’ll gladly accept. The other might prioritize staying close to family, so they’d probably decline. 

We have different values, and our decisions are going to be based on that. 

So think about your own – what matters most to you, what will make you happy and at peace. That should help clear the path and narrow down your options. 

2) Know your heuristics

Don’t be fooled by the technical sound of this word, it’s just a fancy term for the mental shortcuts or “rules of thumb” we take when we’re making decisions. 

According to psychology educator Kendra Cherry, “Our brains rely on these mental strategies to simplify things so we don’t have to spend endless amounts of time analyzing every detail.”

Heuristics can be very useful when making complex life decisions.

For instance, if you have multiple job offers and need to quickly decide which to accept, you might use the “satisficing” heuristic

This means you’ll choose the first job that meets all your basic criteria – such as salary, location, and work-life balance – without trying to determine if it’s the absolute best option possible.

Now, I’m not saying this is the only approach you should take. It’s definitely helpful, but it does have its downside – it can lead to cognitive biases. 

Which brings me to my next point…

3) Identify your biases

Biases are another form of mental shortcut that we use to make sense of the world around us. They are shaped by our past experiences, as well as social and cultural influences. 

The problem with biases is that they are sneaky – we almost never know we’re biased! And unfortunately, they can lead us to make poor decisions. 

Here are some of the most common cognitive biases that often influence the way we think: 

  • Bias of overconfidence: we overestimate our abilities and underestimate the situation
  • Confirmation bias: we listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs
  • Anchoring bias: we become overly influenced by the first piece of information that we hear

Sitting down and identifying your biases can help wipe the lens clear.

Of course, we might not be able to evaluate our every single thought and check if it’s unbiased, but a little awareness goes a long way. 

This next one’s easier to recognize, though…

4) Resist impulsive urges

I have a friend who, after a really rough week, quit her job with nothing else lined up. Her reason – she just couldn’t take it anymore. 

I can totally understand that, as I’ve found myself in toxic jobs before. 

But – what feels good in the moment might lead to regret further down the line. On the day she quit, she felt instant relief. She was free – no more stress and exhaustion! 

A few weeks later? Panic and anxiety. 

Now, don’t get me wrong – sometimes the impulsive choice is the right choice. 

What it comes down to is this: how much are you risking and how much are you gaining? 

Author Mark Manson has this to say about it: “A good decision is risking little for the opportunity to gain a lot. Similarly, a bad decision is risking a lot for the opportunity to gain little.”

In that light, I’d say a little pause before a giant leap is always worth taking, don’t you think?

5) Gather as much information as you can

As they say, knowledge is power. And when it comes to making a decision, the more information you have, the better. 

Psychology Today defines informed decision-making as the ability to think critically and figuring out what knowledge you lack, and then obtaining it. 

I’m not saying to dismiss your emotions completely, but the best decisions are those that are grounded in facts rather than just intuition. 

6) Write things down

To that end, one really helpful tip is to write things down. Make a pros-cons list, or just free-write and flesh it out on the page.

I am a writer, so of course writing things down is par for the course for me. But even if you’re not, writing things down helps. 

It’s all about articulation and structure. You’re giving form to those thoughts swirling around in your head so that you can put them in order. 

Research shows that a structured approach to decision-making leads to better results. 

So go ahead – use pen and paper to articulate it all: 

  • The problem
  • Your assumptions
  • Your motivations
  • Your criteria
  • The costs and benefits
  • The alternatives

I guarantee that you’ll see the answer much more clearly. 

7) Identify at least four options

Finally, unless you’re faced with only two choices, Better Up suggests coming up with at least four alternatives. 

The point of this is to get you thinking creatively. 

“The more alternative decisions you know about, the more you can make an educated decision,” researcher Maggie Wooll writes. 

“On the other hand, if you only consider two options, you may miss out on another decision that would have gotten you close to your goal.”

That totally makes sense, don’t you think?

When you’re making a life decision, you don’t want to fall into tunnel vision. You want to think wide and deep. 

And who knows? You might end up making an out-of-the-box decision that’s absolutely right for you! 

Which brings me to my final point…

8) Trust your gut

I know this might sound contradictory to everything we’ve discussed so far, but look – we can’t deny the importance of intuition. 

It shouldn’t be the sole basis for your decisions, of course, as your intuition is influenced by clouding factors like biases and emotions. 

But you do need to take it into account. After all, a decision should make logical sense and FEEL right for you.  

This is especially helpful for those times when you’ve gone through every single detail, weighed every pro and con, and still can’t land on a decision. 

The key is to use your intuition as just another piece of information instead of relying completely on it. At the very least, it can guide you to what feels right – meaning it aligns most with your goals and values. 

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