Decision Time: Confessions From A Waffler

What are your top tips for making tough decisions? Share them, please! (At least one of us could really use some help.)

Confession time: as I have gotten older, I have become more indecisive, not less.

I am the woman in the restaurant who spends 20 minutes deciding what to order. Deciding to change jobs takes me months, not weeks. I'm currently househunting with my husband—it's fortunate (for me) that he has the patience of a saint, because I've waffled on everything we've seen since last August, and so we still haven't found a new place to live.

I do not want to be like this. I want to change. Obviously, my goal is not to become a reactionary person, but I do want to get better at making big decisions.

Yesterday, Fast Company ran an excerpt from Chip and Dan Heath's new book, Decisive: How To Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

"It’s easy to lose perspective when we’re facing a thorny dilemma. Blinded by the particulars of the situation, we’ll waffle and agonize, changing our mind from day to day," wrote the Brothers Heath.

Yep, that's me.

The Heaths suggest a decision-making process invented by the writer Suzy Welch, the 10/10/10 method:

"To use 10/10/10, we think about our decisions on three different time frames:

How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now?

How about 10 months from now?

How about 10 years from now?"

It's sound advice and I'm taking it to heart, though I'm not sure it is relevant to every waffley moment in my life. So I turned to our readers and asked them for advice. Here are some of their suggestions:

Even my friends chirped in, on Facebook:

Brian Mihok: "Imagine if you have only 3 seconds to make the decision. What do you lean towards if you can't over think it?"

Jessica Hullinger: "Ask for advice from people whose opinions I trust. Sometimes it helps to get out of your own head for a bit."

Reading all the advice that came in via our social networks led me to ask myself: Why am I bad at making many big decisions? Nik's comment reminded me that I do worry too much about pleasing everyone. Brian and Jessica reinforced what I already knew to be true—I tend to overthink things and get stuck in my own head, which is definitely not always a good thing. It also occurred to me that what holds me back the most is fear—fear of making the wrong choices. Clearly I need to find a way to address that fear if I want to become a more decisive person.

So how about you? What are your top tips for making tough decisions? Please share them with us in the comments section below!

[Image: Flickr user Sandra M. Martinez]

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  • JuliaHidy

    You are an editor, and an extremely accomplished one at that.  You don't get to
    work for without making millions of
    decisions about words, context, and other things.  I commend you for
    being so vulnerable.  It takes a lot of courage, and for that I admire and
    respect you.  I'm a writer too, so apologies now for the long post.  Perhaps the words will help.       

    You already make thousands of decisions - even when you think you're not.  Each time you don't make a decision, you decided to NOT make a decision.  What you are not doing is trusting yourself, your intuition or the people around you that your decisions and their input help you to make the 'best' decisions. 

    Get past right and wrong and do what is best -- for all concerned.  Jane Fonda in an interview on OWN said, "We're not meant to be perfect.  We're meant to be whole."  You don't need the perfect house.  You need one that is the best for you.  Ask your husband if he honestly enjoys the process you have gone through thus far to find a home?  Or not.

    Ask you husband to help you moderate your behavior and cap the amount of
    time or outings you are given to make decisions.  Don't resent him when
    he does hold you to getting past what has now become a habit.  You live
    for deadlines.  Your entire working life is one big deadline.  It's not
    surprising that in your personal life, not making a decision may be a
    subconscious form of rebellion.  

    In restaurants, you waste the time of the waiter and cost the restaurant owner money every time their staff person has to circle around to wait and check on you again.  You don't have to believe in it, but consider that you are creating karma that you really don't want to have to pay back in another lifetime.  On the other hand, all those people may have owed you their time, so you're even - for now. 

    In restaurants, set a 3 minute timer on your phone when ordering.  If you can't make up your mind in 3 minutes, order the last OR the first item on the menu within the next 3
    seconds.  No exceptions.  And  eat whatever you
    do order.  That will tie in your decision-making to consequences that really aren't that bad.  Currently, you don't fully grasp or relate to the fully consequences
    of your indecision.  After one month, set the timer to two
    minutes.  Month 3, decide in one minute.  Do it and do not be anxious.  

    With awareness comes responsibility:  now that you've become even more aware of what you are or are not doing, learn to master time and your energy relative to it.  Realize the energetic and time impact of each thwarted decision you make or believe that you defer or you don't or won't make. 

    Does what you do bring you and others joy by deferring decisions.  Or consider the quote from John Wayne, "Daylight's burnin!"  Allow your brain to connect to the consequences that have
    occurred as a result of each time and moment that you don't make a

    Ask yourself:  will my indecision make myself and others unhappy.  If even one of you is unhappy with your indecision then you have to get your head out of your pocket.  Think of decisions as liberating rather than fear-filled moments.  If every decision you made was tied into an editorial deadline, would you get the decision made before the ten minute deadline to go to press or to post?  You and I already know the answer to that question (I've worked with many trade editors). 

    Go back to the last 10 decisions that you agonized over.  List each waffling moment you had and put the comments onto a timeline on a long paper (don't use a computer - you have to activate your hand, body, eye and brain co-coordination for this.  Graph and note each point where you backed off making the decision in the timeline.  Then go back to the very beginning of the timeline, and ask yourself if there was a point where you could have made a decision early in the process that would have saved you from yourself.  THEN...envision what it would have been like and how you would have felt making the final decision early on.  That will help you get back into the habit of making choices easily and readily.  Because making decisions is a habit, just as not making them has become a habit.  Do this for all 10 issues.  Then do them for another 10 until you see the pattern and can release it.  This will help you re-hardwire the pathways in your brain so you feel better, happy, and more confident about your decisions big or small. Get to where you remove judging yourself harshly throughout the process.  Life is an experience to enjoy:  allow yourself to enjoy making decisions because it is possible.    
    Release control and energy attention tactics:  You've lost touch with your intuition, your gut, the part of you that already knows and senses the right answers.  Allow yourself to make a decision in a nano second and then have three seconds, three days or three months left to enjoy it. And get on to what you were avoiding doing by not making the decision.  

    ChefJzy is absolutely correct.  I've reported to several Fortune 500 CEO's.  Most honed their intuition and gut to make thousands of decisions daily.  Create a new habit for yourself and  be patient as you do change.  Accept that with each deferral, you have made a decision.  If you defer, be aware of who else you impact because of your deferral.  Ask yourself if you and they are prepared for the consequences of your going through and making 50, 500 to 1,000 or even 5,000 more ineffective and inactionable decisions.  Decide to decide.  You can liberate yourself from not deciding at any given moment. 

    Happy decision-making, Anjali!  Let me know how it goes...   :)  J

  • ChefJzy

    I've been following and preaching Peter Drucker's management rules for years.  I focused on two for decision-making. (1) it doesn't matter what decision you make, just make it. and (2) It doesn't matter if you make a mistake. It only matters how fast you correct it.  Decisiveness is it's own reward.  Be not afraid

  • Costantino

    The easy answer is to reply with "depending of the decision". Based on that you determine the time that it takes you to decide. For example, if i am in a restaurant I give myself 5 minutes to decide no more. If  I come out of this time without decision I point with my finger a food. If I am not happy with my choice I have to push myself more next time. It is like a game to put myself under pressure. 

  • p2bkk

    Learn to trust your intuition by allowing yourself to make mistakes.

    If you have to make decisions based partially on assumptions then write those assumptions down so you can review and learn later if required.

    Plan the day: 'JUST FOR TODAY I will have a program. I may
    not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests:
    hurry and indecision.'

    Get a mentor to do sparring with.

  • Enlwilliams

    I look at why the decision is so hard to make. Is my trepidation well founded? If it's only fear holding me back I (try) to put it aside and just go for it. (Note: This works for menu selection as well. Forget your fears and order that weird sounding dish. What's the worst that could happen?)

  • SmartiPhotography

    I make a list of what's important to me and give weights to that list.  Then I rate my option against that list and do some math to get an objective decision.

  • Marijana

    I read somewhere a quote .. If you want to make a good decision but quick, toss a coin. Not because tossing a coin will make up for your decision but because while that coin is up in the air you are already hoping what the result will be.. :) 

  • Anjali Mullany

     ! Love that advice, -- makes Brian Mihok's advice make even more sense.

  • Chris Brown

    Both Brian Mihok's advice and the flipping of a coin advice act as a means to force us to listen to our emotions/subconscious. This can be good or bad... 

  • Martha Sanz

    The 10/ 10/ 10 looks like an interesting approach, I might start trying it. I normally I take decisions depending  on the degree of involvement that each requires. It might take me more time to decide on   a house than on a shampoo brand. What I normally try to do, to reach for final decision is:  A. define what are the non negotiable things that I'm looking in the decision to be made. The house for instance, is it big or small? Number of rooms, etc... B. from all of the options available, I try to make an objective evaluation on which one makes me feel at ease, happy or next to normal (depending on the case).

  • Charles Plant

    I don't think tips will work. If you won't let yourself be vulnerable then you won't be able to commit. You have to be vulnerable to allow yourself the possibility that you'll make an incorrect decision. Stop being a perfectionist. Embrace the fear that you'll make a mistake. Be vulnerable.

  • The Phelps Group

    Ms. Mullany, that's because nobody's perfect.  Anyone who tries to achieve perfection will find that they never quite do, and, in the meantime, deadlines have passed and the reasons for undertaking a project/assignment/etc. are no longer relevant and had to go unsatisfied - without cutting corners, eventually production has to take precedence.  We're an executive search firm:  it's our job to present the best candidates who were on the market within an established time-frame - a perfect candidate is our goal; the best available candidate on schedule is our duty.

    Or, as a friend of ours, Sandi at Falconwright fashion, reminded her followers: