A dive into decision making

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. — Amelia Earhart

Decisions are a tricky thing.

Many times I wondered about how the decision making process works in our mind. We are constantly deciding about things, whether at work, personal life or shopping. Some decisions are automatic. They are programmed in our brain and we might not even realize about them, however some others awake the full spectrum of our emotions: fear, regret, anger, sadness, obsession. These emotions are amplified according to each individual personality and life experience but we all feel the storm to some degree.

But, what are the differences between these two type of decisions? The automated ones are related to things that we have incorporated as part of our routine, maybe we did it so many times that we don't perceive them as a risk to our survival. On the other hand, the "hard" choices are the ones that in our mind could change our life, we perceive them as a menace to our existence, an option with no point of return, it increases our stress level, anxiety and fires all type of emotions in our brain.

Some things that may happen to us while deciding:

  • As in our mind we perceive the decision as life changing and a menace to our survival, we want to minimize any error and we want to make the perfect choice.
  • We typically don’t account for the wasted time and the mental drain. The mental burden of untaken decisions takes a toll on your mental health in the form of stress, low self-esteem, feelings of gilt, etc. This can be an unconscious process.
  • There’s an opportunity cost associated with every decision, the longer you postpone it the more expensive it gets. You could have done other thing with your time.
  • We think that by having more and more information you will make a better decision but it’s not a linear function, above a certain limit, more data will not help.
  • We may not want to feel responsible for our own decisions and we just leave them to just happen or be made by other person. I can say that it feels way better when you make your own decisions.
  • We wait for a casus belli: “I was forced to take this decision for some external reason”. This way your decision gets justified transferring the weight of responsibility to other circumstance.
  • We wait with the hope that it may become irrelevant in the future. When some matter need your action rarely disappear.

Something I learned is that whenever you have an important decision at hand and you postpone it, it accumulates and compound over time, like the interest on a debt. It ends up taking more and more mental energy. It’s even worse if it’s an important matter you know you should take action on and you got stuck in a crisis of analysis.

But how do we balance impulsiveness and thoughtfulness. Taking blink eye decision every time using your gut feeling is not always the best solution, as some things may need a more through analysis.

So, how do I get the right balance?

  • Search your feelings and calibrate yourself to know when “it doesn’t feel right” or "it feels like the right thing". You can only train it by taking decisions and learning from your mistakes and successes along the way.
  • Focus on the goal of making good decisions not perfect ones.
  • Set an artificial deadline and respect it.
  • After you made a decision look to the future. You can learn from past outcomes but not change them, use it to know yourself better for the next ones.

In the case of lingering decisions I have the feeling that sometimes we know what we want but we pospone it until we find the right story for us to fit it in our mental model, in a way we want to be able to explain why, it's not necessary that the explanation is right, but we need that to move forward.

In my experience most of the struggle has always been during the process of having an open decision, once it's taken the burden is lifted and I feel more energized and happy.


If you liked the article, write me with your hacks for making "hard" choices.