“The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
By Mike Konowitz
These days, with an ever-growing abundance of options and stimuli at every turn in our day and life, and an analytical society that can get us stuck in our heads, many people struggle with analysis paralysis and how to be better at making decisions. So let’s talk about why decisions are so hard for some people and how you can start to be better at making decisions today.
I’ve definitely fallen victim to indecisiveness myself: My personal big one was (ok, sometimes still is) trouble deciding on the “perfect flight” or “perfect hotel” at the perfect price.
I’ve spent hours and hours at a time agonizing over travel decisions.
Another common one I used to struggle with noticeably compared to friends was making decisions on what to order at restaurants.
And certainly, what to say to that beautiful woman! Or how to confront a friend about an issue. Or how to handle a disagreement we were already having.
Christ, those last ones. Ever kept you up at night?
Now that I think about it, tossing and turning over how to best handle this kind of stuff was probably part of the beginning of my chronic sleep problems I developed seemingly out of nowhere sophomore year of college. 🙈
Besides my sleep issues, indecisiveness lost me a lot of money (ie: airfare and hotel costs going up), time, relaxation, and opportunities entirely because I couldn’t make a decision.
I’ve skipped social outings because I didn’t get enough work done thanks to overanalyzing travel decisions, for example. Or I waited too long to talk to that pretty girl and she left the room, or things got really awkward because she could tell I was in my head, hesitating.
One of the litany of life lessons Brian has taught me here at FEARLESS is the importance of decisiveness: to often give up analyzing decisions much at all, and be ok with making the “wrong” ones sometimes. Because making a decision is taking action that you can then continually learn from and course correct.
That’s moving forward. Sitting in indecisiveness and overanalysis isn’t. You’re not going anywhere. You’re standing still.
A space shuttle is off course most of the time. It’s just making tons of little course corrections. The same is true of driving down a long stretch of “straight” highway. It’s not actually straight – you’re making tons of tiny course corrections you probably don’t even notice.
If you worried about never getting off course at all, you’d never leave the driveway.
In a Psychology Today piece that inspired this one, Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D writes about “Maximizers” vs “Satisficers.” Basically, the maximizer is your logical perfectionist who tries to get the best possible outcome with every decision they make.
“…they are willing to engage in an exhaustive search of all possible options, investing substantial time and effort in the process.”
Time and effort aside, the problem with even getting the outcomes maximizers are after is that, as behavioral economists have shown, it’s “almost impossible to examine each and every available option due to the limitations in human cognition.”
But, as Brian often talks about when coaching students at events, it’s hard to give something up when it has actually served you in one way or another. And according to studies, maximizers statistically achieve better outcomes than satisficers, who are happy with deciding on a good option, “not necessarily the very best outcome in all respects.”
But satisficers are better at making decisions in terms of time and effort, satisfaction (they’re less likely to have regrets even if better options pop up after a decision’s been made), happiness, and self-esteem.
“For example, a study found that recent college graduates with high maximizing tendencies accepted jobs that paid 20% higher starting salaries than their satisficing peers. Despite higher salaries, however, these maximizing students were less satisfied with the jobs they accepted. Why? Once maximizers have made a choice (e.g., a job offer), they are likely to second guess themselves, and wonder whether they could have made a better choice. They are more prone to make social comparisons in order to gauge the optimality of their decisions.”
I’d like to see a long-term study on the lives of maximizers vs satisficers, because I’d be shocked if maximisers’ entire lives aren’t anxiety-ridden, disappointing, and less productive.
It’s just going to hold you back in so many ways.
So how do you actually start to be better at making decisions?
As Heshmat writes, it’s about trusting your gut and letting go of obsessing over whether you’re going to get the best possible outcome every time. Because that’s impossible anyway.
Take one low-stakes area you could be better at making decisions in – ordering food, for example. Commit to making quicker decisions. If this is really hard for you, set a timer on your phone for 60-90 seconds and when it goes off, the first thing that comes to mind is what you order (or the option you choose if it’s not food you’re practicing with).
Remind yourself it’s ok not to get the best result every time, and that letting go of your perfectionism and even failing is going to lead to more happiness as well as success in the long term. Because making quicker decisions means you’re moving forward and learning more quickly. It’s also better for your stress level and self-esteem.
Start to notice all the areas you hesitate. And start practicing making quicker decisions in more areas.
Trust your gut feeling.
Another thing that’s important to be better at making decisions is your attitude around making the decision and fully committing to it. Brian talks about this to a group of students during a weeklong intensive in Romania in the video below.
Dating, Decisiveness, and Being Attractive to Women
Speaking of confidence, learning to be better at making decisions – even the tiny, every-day decisions – influences how you are throughout life. “How you do anything is how you do everything,” as the saying goes. It can even really change your personality and how you are with people.
Besides not missing out on opportunities to meet and talk to women when you’re decisive, being decisive in itself makes you much more attractive to women, because a confident man isn’t afraid of making quick decisions. And he knows he can handle whatever comes of those decisions.
Brian talks about this, being calm under pressure (another element of confidence), and some more practices you can use in the video below.
I still struggle with my travel decisions at times, but I’m starting to be better at making decisions there when I think about all the opportunity cost of overanalyzing them and being a perfectionist.
Sometimes it is about just doing it. Taking my hand and clicking “book now.” Then, relief!!
I usually order food at restaurants a lot quicker. And I’m much more decisive with friends, women, and strangers alike. People really do respond a lot differently to you, enjoy you more, and respect you more. I feel so much more confident in myself when I make quick decisions vs when I’m trying so hard to ensure I make the best decision.
And I’m just more relaxed and happy going throughout my days.
Read the original Psychology Today piece here: Satisficing vs. Maximizing: The downside of rationality