The act of decision-making was always my undisputed Achilles’ heel. From the most trifle decisions like choosing a restaurant to the big-ticket ones like choosing a college, every situation that forced me into decision-making posed a conundrum of gargantuan proportions.
The character of Chidi from ‘The Good Place’, was undoubtedly inspired by the likes of me. I was one indecisive wreck! For the uninitiated, Chidi is an endearing yet chronically indecisive, moral philosophy and ethics professor, whose incapability to make decisions causes far-reaching repercussions for him and his dear ones, one of the rather exaggerated repercussions being Chidi’s own death.
I read some archetypal, run-of-the-mill self-help books, watched some videos, none of which got me very far in my attempt to be a better and firmer decision-maker.
Note: This article is 1600 words long. If you want the simple decision-making template + checklist, you can download it here. It’s free.
Why is decision-making so hard?
Choice Overload — We all want the very best for ourselves from all the options on the table. Unfortunately, too many choices make their own availability counterproductive.
Over-thinking — To make the right choice, we tend to go on a wild goose chase to dissect the heck out of every available alternative. We do terabytes of research -thank you Internet- discuss endlessly with our friends and family, fall so down the rabbit hole that we get lost inside our own heads.
Indecisiveness — Choice overload and over-thinking both lead to indecisiveness. We are scared of choosing something lesser than the best for ourselves.
Add to this process of decision-making, the fear of failure or repercussions of our decisions, unclear priorities, and mounting pressure, and just about any human being would be ready to explode.
How do we make decision-making simpler?
So glad you asked. A few years back, a friend (prefers to remain anonymous) of mine whom I hold in high esteem, taught me the art of introspection. There are several levels of introspection with various nuances to them. But, if done correctly, introspection will make your life simpler and sleep sounder. So roll up your sleeves and get ready to dig in within.
What is introspection?
Introspection is the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings. In psychological terms, it constitutes the observation of one’s mental state; in spiritual terms, it entails the self-discovery of one’s soul.
Introspection for decision-making involves both logical analysis and perceptive analysis of any given situation. Logical analysis, as the name suggests, is based on pure, cold logic. Perceptive analysis, on the other hand, unfolds from how you feel emotionally about certain decisions.
Your logical analysis might steer you in one direction. But sometimes, if your heart is set in the opposite direction, no amount of reasoning and cajoling can make you happy about choosing the former. Knowing when to listen to your logic and when to close your eyes and follow the heart can be challenging. That’s where introspection comes in, to clear the fog.
Writing vs. Typing vs. Thinking
First things first, if you are a newbie to introspection, always do it in writing as opposed to doing it mentally (thinking). Writing creates a visual that aids in the decision-making process.
Call me old-school, but I am a big proponent of writing longhand in comparison to typing. So, by writing I mean writing by hand.
As we introspect, we take notes from our brain, mind, and heart. Writing allows you to process the information better than typing.
Research on recall and recognition of words has demonstrated that writing serves human memory far better than typing. You remember your process of introspection, and the decision it enabled you to make, much better if you write it. I find that it helps me “stick” to my guns and confidently follow through with my decisions.
In conclusion, the best way of introspecting is writing, followed by typing, followed by thinking.
How to Introspect
- Identify the problem: Clearly and succinctly state the problem statement. You may realize you have more than one problem at hand; introspect on each one at a time.
- Outline all options/ possibilities: In laying these out, you’ll realize which ones seem feasible and which ones look absolutely preposterous. Eliminate the latter.
- Weigh your options: Write the pros and cons of remaining options; some more might get eliminated at this stage due to their specific drawbacks. You can also create a points system in which you award points to create a scorecard.
- If-then-else diagrams: Use if-then-else logic for all the options that are left.
- Re-visit your analysis: By now, the process of elimination and your in-depth processing of the data at hand would lead you to the most optimal solution. Re-visit your study to ensure you didn’t forget or skip any vital inputs.
Below is a recent example of my written introspection, which helped made nail down my problem, concerns, options, and reach a decision, all in under half an hour.
Levels of Introspection
Often the decisions we make are not isolated; they affect the people around us. So, you need to gauge if your problem and hence the decision, is personal or something that affects a larger group of people. If it’s the latter, you need to expand the purview of your introspection to include your family, extended family, relatives, and friends, and if you’re really influential, even society. You need to consider their points of view and how your decisions will impact them.
Example: If you are job hunting and you need to decide between a job offer in your current city versus a job offer in another city, you cannot overlook the fact should you choose the latter job, the relocation will impact your family as well.
But if your decision is a personal one (the one in the above image is an example), and does not impact others directly, their inputs should be considered as just that. Inputs! Don’t let their personal opinions become deciding factors.
Once you’ve made your decision, you also need to strategize on how to handle repercussions if any and deal with negative reactions from your family, friends, colleagues, etc.
So, introspection can oftentimes have the below levels/ nuances:
- Immediate family (whom you live with or those, dependant on you)
- Extended family and relatives
- Colleagues (especially if the problem is work-related)
- Large society (example: increased number of thefts in the neighbourhood)
Benefits of Introspection
- It enables you to make decisions in a structured way; it becomes a process that you can lift and shift to re-use for making any life decision.
- Some decisions can be taken with cold logic, and some have emotional nuances. Written introspection assists you to tell one from the other because as you write, clarity of thought ensues.
- Writing is believed to be cathartic, and it can bring out those deep-seated emotions that will help you understand what you really want or don’t want. It can also help you heal.
- It helps declutter your brain and unburden your mind. Writing helps you clearly visualize any situation so that you can figure out your best feasible option.
- It gives you the satisfaction of having considered all aspects of making decisions and hence increases conviction in your decisions.
- After you have mastered written introspection, your ability to reason and take decisions on the fly (whenever necessary and written introspection isn’t possible ) improves too.
How to Do It Right
- Find a quiet place where no one will bother you.
- Never start doing the exercise of introspection when you are agitated, no matter how urgent a decision you need to make (an exception to this rule is, of course, life-threatening milieus).
- Take the first ten minutes to invite peace into your mind; a calm mind is a centered mind.
- Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience explains how anxiety disrupts prefrontal cortex functions that are essential for flexible decision-making.
- To get rid of your anxiety, practice deep breathing or meditation, or take a walk to clear your head, whatever floats your boat. I never skip meditating before delving into my introspection.
- Research indicates that meditation leads to better decision-making since it modulates brain activities associated with cognitive control, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- Meditation also puts you in touch with your intuitive senses and allows you to dig deeper into your consciousness to see more clearly the available choices and their consequences.
- Once you make a decision, stop second-guessing and stick with it.
The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” — Deepak Chopra in The Book of Secrets.
- In any given situation, imagine the best and the worst thing that could happen. Let your imagination run wild; let it free fall. If you can make your peace with being able to deal with both the opposite extremes, believe me, you can deal with anything that unfurls from the gamut of possibilities in between.
- No one is perfect. Allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
In reflecting on my few bad decisions in the past year, I recognized a common thread. The bad decisions were the ones I had made without doing written introspection.
I always keep a small diary at hand. I’ve trained myself to think in a structured way and filter out the noise by meditating. I go through the process of written introspection for all important life decisions. I have now become a better and firmer decision-maker. You can too!
This decision-making cheat sheet changed my life.
Manasi is an IT Project Manager and a freelance writer who likes to laugh, inspire, and help.