Through the course of our lives, we’re confronted with a lot of big decisions. Who should I marry? Should I quit the job I don’t like or stay in it? What major do I want to pursue in college?
We worry about such decisions because they have a huge impact on our lives. The major you pick in college will influence the jobs you can get. Marrying someone means making a serious commitment. We want to make sure we make the right decisions.
When it comes to making the right decision, I’ll be going over two major points in this post.
- Why spending a lot of effort finding the “right” decision is usually a waste of time (and can actually make your decision worse).
- What you should do instead of worrying about making the “right” decision.
Is there a “Best” Choice?
Think back to a big decision you’ve had to make in the past – one you worried about. With a wealth of information online you probably looked up everything you could, spending hours digging up every scrap of data.
Most people assume that more information is better. The more informed you are, the better decision you’ll make, right?
Well, it’s actually the opposite. More information often makes decision-making harder and leads to more mistakes.
Here’s an example to consider: let’s say you’re offered a job which requires you to move to across the country.
So you look online to compare your current city to the new one. You consider things like: weather, traffic, cost of living, entertainment, culture, festivals, museums, sports teams, the dating pool, parks, airports, the cost of the move, the crime rate, the pros and cons of the new job, leaving friends and family behind.
Then maybe you start to consider a third option of applying to a job somewhere else and, by this point, it has become a confusing mess.
Here’s why looking at all that information weakens your ability to make a good decision.
1. When we make decisions, we compare bundles of information (in the case above it’s the pros and cons of moving). So a decision is harder if the amount of information you have to juggle is greater because you can’t keep track of it all.
2. The brain pays more attention to the most recent information and discounts what came earlier (It’s called the “recency effect”). This means your mind puts more weight on the last bits of information which are usually the least important.
3. When you keep collecting information, your mind doesn’t get the time it needs to process it all. It can’t just sit back and let it sink in.
Worse yet, putting pressure on yourself to make the right choice can increase anxious feelings about it. The greater the pressure, the bigger the fear of making the wrong decision.
And when you do finally make your decision, you’ll be less happy about it. Here’s why:
Over-worrying about a decision puts too much focus on finding the “best choice”. This makes it harder to fully commit to the choice once it’s been made because there will always be some doubt left over; the mind will question if it was good or not. All this second-guessing makes it hard to be satisfied and happy with it.
There’s a big flaw in trying to find the “best” choice. Most decisions have good and bad aspects to them. Time spent eliminating the ones you definitely know are wrong is good. But after that, more information won’t help.
Rather than seeing decisions as good or bad, see them as a spectrum of possibilities. There is no right or wrong, just different outcomes.
“If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another…There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities.” – Deepak Chopra
What to Do Instead of Looking for the “Right” Decision
Here’s what Scott McNealy, CEO and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, said about decisions in a lecture:
“It’s important to make good decisions. But I spend much less time and energy worrying about ‘making the right decision’ and much more time and energy ensuring that any decision I make turns out right.”
Worrying about the right decision puts too much emphasis on the moment of choice. But the time after you’ve made the choice is a lot longer – and often more important.
Don’t worry so much on making the “right” decision. Spend more time making sure the decision you make turns out right.
Because here’s the truth:
You can spend hours, days or even months trying to make the right decision by researching every piece of information you can find and analyzing every potential angle – and it can still fail.
It’s also true that a mediocre decision can turn out well, with enough effort to make it work.
The decision you make matters less than the follow through. Instead of finding the “right” decision, focus your efforts on what happens after the decision has been made.