How to make a decision *fast*

Spending a week in Cusco was the biggest decision learning experience I have ever faced. It was then I realised why people pay other people to plan their trips for them.

I thought it was just me, but from talking to the other people in my hostel, and from even watching my friends on Facebook, it’s not just me who is conflicted with decision making.

Making decisions is hard - how to make decisions faster

It spans across my whole life – from people, to places, to careers choices. On an hourly basis I have to make decisions about where, how and with whom I will spend my time (and money).

No matter how much I just try to force myself into a decision so that I can invest my mental energy on other things, I oftentimes cannot rest until the decision *feels right*. Which sucks because I don’t want to spend my valuable time and energy making decisions.

When I tried to figure out what was holding me back, it came down to fear:

Fear of making the wrong decision. 

Which is actually ridiculous because we always justify our decisions after the fact.

So instead of focusing on the fear, I decided to do a quick day solution-venting exercise on how to make decisions faster:

Use a deadline: On one occasion I had to make a decision to stay or to go by 9.30pm – that’s when my bus was leaving.

Set a fake deadline: If you don’t need to make the decision now, but you can’t stop thinking about it, simply postpone thinking about it until a set date – e.g “I will decide whether or not to xyz on the 10th December” – and just try to put it out of your mind.

Avoid making plans too far in advance: I’ve found it’s best to leave my options open because my goals change every day, but with some things, like flights, I feel the need to book in advance. I’ve learned recently this isn’t always necessary – sometimes the price will fluctuate by a minor 20 bucks, or even stay the same! So make sure to check and give yourself more time to make that decision.

Set a budget: If you can’t afford it, you can’t do it.

Eliminate options: If the paradox of choice is true, then we should be trying to eliminate options. Ask people to tell you where you shouldn’t go, what you shouldn’t do. I found myself trying to figure out if Machu Picchu actually sucked so I could just skip it.

Create a deal breaker: In Peru, I wanted to go on a 4 day trek, but I didn’t want to stay in hostels along the way. I wanted to camp. That was my deal breaker – no camping, no trek.

Listen to people with similar values: If the person you are talking to hates trekking, there’s little point in taking her opinion into consideration on what trek to do.

Get happy: When we are unhappy, we are more likely to logically analyze situations instead of relying on our gut instinct. If you find yourself going in circles, eat something sweet, stick a pencil in your mouth to make yourself smile, or talk to a good friend to push your brain back into System 1 where you are less likely to see the flaws in your plan, and more likely to feel hopeful that you are making the right decision. From Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow.

thinking fast and slow decision making

Use the Magic Eight Ball: It may seem silly, but when you get an answer, like “absolutely!”, and your stomach sinks, then you know your real decision.

Still stuck? Then perhaps your decision doesn’t matter –

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.

‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.

‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

That, or just go back the way you came:

“When conflicted between two choices, take neither” Nassim Taleb


So how do you make decisions? Do you have any more suggestions?


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