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Five things you need to know about making decisions

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Last time we talked about the terrible trouble people have making decisions. The ambivalence, the endless back and forth of indecision. So here we keep our promise: here’s how to look those decisions in the eye and just face ’em and make ’em. As patients and clients I’ve had some of best—and worst—decision makers in world. Literally! We’ve written the go-to books about decision making. We know what we’re talking about.

The REAL reason you and I get stuck in indecision is that we don’t trust ourselves to make good decisions. Either because we feel we have a history of making bad decisions or because certain decisions seem overwhelming. Either way, decisions are scary for us, so we step away from them.

I get it. Look, I live in LA and we have these fearsome freeways and if you want to get on them you have to merge. And no one wants you to merge. So you just have to floor it and go.

And face certain death? NO! Every day, people who—shall we say—probably wouldn’t ace their SATs successfully manage to merge into on-coming traffic. They’ve learned how to look for an opening and pull into it. They do it, gain confidence, and do it more, and with less delay. And the rest of the world doesn’t have to wait hours for them to freakin’ MERGE!

So I’m going to give you what you need to have trust in yourself in the land of decision making. All you need to do, then, is jump in. Follow these rules, and you’ll be all set.

First. Get clear in your mind what’s the most important thing. Now you already know this in your particular situation so you don’t need to agonize over it. For example, you’ve wasted a lot of time in relationships with guys who’ve turned out to be assholes. Fine, welcome to the club. Well, you know what happened. You gave them your heart before you used your head. So now be clear: the most important thing is No Assholes. Right? Meaning, go slow, check them out carefully, hold tight to your heart, and at the first sign of assholery you bail, no matter how rich or glamorous the guy may be. How did you make that good decision so quickly and easily? Because you knew what the most important thing was and you acted on it.

Second. Follow the rule of smart people. For the love of God, stop asking your friends for advice. I know: they’re lovely people. But they’re idiots. (Nothing personal!) More time has been wasted, and more bad decisions have been made, by people chattering their lives away with friends who know as little as they do about the problem you’re dealing with. INSTEAD, ask yourself, “Who would be the world’s leading expert on this?” and if they’re not available go to the next best thing. I knew a woman who agonized over whether to sell a ring she’d inherited from her mother with a big-ass diamond on it. Friends were all like, it might be worth a lot of money. Yeah, but sentiment. Back and forth. Finally, finally, she went to a certified appraiser. Oh! It was worth a boatload of money. She sold it.

Third. Beware of the bad things that will stink up the good things. People screw up here all the time. You’ve been searching for that perfect house. Now you’re tired of searching. But then...there it is. Mr. Dreamhouse! Perfect in every way. And you’re like, oh, gotta have it. But there are things, yes, that give you pause, maybe the neighborhood, maybe the cost, maybe the work the house needs, but you pooh-pooh that. Well, you may be about to screw yourself over very badly. The key question is: Will this or that negative become a bigger and bigger drag over time? You’ll get used to the wonderfulness of the house, nice as it is, but you may never get used to your obnoxious neighbors and their loud parties. You may never be able to really enjoy your dream house in the face of mortgage payments you can never quite afford. It’s the same issue when it comes to getting involved with a person with baggage.

Fourth. Is there a fundamentally stupid premise underlying the decision you’re thinking of making? We see this all the time with people who have affairs. Yeah, they get involved with someone who’s “wonderful,” while meanwhile their spouse is a drag. Got it. Now here are all the stupid premises underlying this fantasy heaven:

“My partner will never find out.” They will find out.

“We’ll be able to go on like this forever.” Your lover will bug the hell out of you to end your marriage.

“My lover is SO much better than my spouse.” No they aren’t.

Or let’s say you’re thinking of buying a stock. Everyone is talking about it and it’s been going up and up. But what reason in the world do you have for thinking it will keep going up?

Fifth. Choose it or lose it. One great decision maker, at least when it came to business, told me, “Look, I get paid to make decisions. That’s what you do. You just go ahead and make them. I make lots of decisions that aren’t so great. But I don’t let myself get trapped. The minute I see I’ve made a bad decision, I bail on it. Take my loss and move on. Never hang in there with a bad decision.” What this means for you is this:

  • Follow the rules I’ve outlined here.

  • Don’t chew up the clock.

  • Make the best decision you can.

  • If you’re faced with two choices—two jobs, two houses, two people—that you can’t make up your mind about, flip a coin. Seriously. Better to just decide between two equally good choices than to stay stuck.

  • If you find you made a bad decision, that’s okay. The BAD bad decision is to double down on it. To stay stuck in it. Don’t. Move on.

For more help, check out:

NOTE: The photos here are of real women of all ages and places who are leaders and decision makers in their fields.


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