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15 Effective Ways to Improve Decision Making Skills

There are great ways to cultivate effective decision-making skills to lead you to feeling more confident in your choices.

Making decisions can be difficult.  Making good decisions can be even more difficult. After all, there are some very tough decisions in life.

In fact, the average adult makes upwards of 35,000 decisions each day.  From the easier ones like deciding how many times to hit the snooze button, what to wear, or what to have for breakfast, on up through the more difficult decisions of when to let an employee go, how to end a relationship or if you should change careers.

The stress that a difficult decision brings can even leave you feeling paralyzed or second guessing your actions.

In a perfect world, we would make the best decisions and enjoy the best outcomes every time.  But knowing that is not reality, and poor decisions, bad decisions and sometimes flat-out wrong decisions are an unfortunate yet normal part of life, what can you do to make more effective decisions or feel more confident in your choices?

Some of the best practices to build more effective decision-making skills are shared in the list below.

Becoming a better decision-maker

The good news for anyone that struggles with decision making is that there are many ways you can improve your decision-making skills.  Good decision makers know that while it’s important to determine a course of action, there are also other key skills and considerations that affect the quality of the decision itself. 

The list below highlights some best practices to you help make a more confident, informed choice when facing the decision making process.

15 Effective Ways to Improve Decision Making Skills

1. Have clear goals

The first step in improving your decision-making abilities is to be clear on what you want to achieve.  The best way to do this is to stop focusing on the decision itself and, instead, understand your desired outcome.  When you keep your focus on the goal it becomes easier to identify which paths or options lead to better decisions or the right choice.

2. Reflect on past mistakes

Good decisions often stem from past mistakes.  Those previous missteps yield tremendous learnings and life lessons.  What learnings can you carry forward in your current situation to help guide you towards the best decision now?

3. Consider possible alternatives

One of the best things about decision making is that you can be creative and think outside of the box.  Take a moment to evaluate all your options and possible solutions.  Challenging yourself to consider different alternatives will make you feel more confident and grounded in your final decision.

4. Consult with others

If you are a part of a team, department, or group, reach out to other team members to talk through different perspectives. 

5. Seek the relevant information

Gather the facts from reliable and trustworthy sources.  Identify the necessary information needed to make a thoughtful decision and push aside anything that is not pertinent.  Too much information can lead you down an unhelpful rabbit hole, clutter your mind and slow down decision-making processes.

6. Avoid analysis paralysis

There is sometimes a misconception that critical thinking requires tons of data analysis.  While data can be extremely helpful in the decision making process, too much data can muddy the water and steer you away from your initial goal.   Keep it simple and stay focused on the relevant data and available information that will support an informed decision.

7. Be aware of any cognitive biases

Good decision-making skills include the ability to check your own judgements and identify when any cognitive biases may be infiltrating the decision making process.  Take a moment to pause and reflect on the situation to assess if any personal judgements may be causing you to misinterpret the information you are using to decide.

8. Use decision-making tools

There are tons of helpful decision-making tools you can use to map out your thoughts.  Depending on the type of decision that you are evaluating some tools may be more applicable than others.  For example, a cost-benefit analysis would be useful when there are financial ramifications to a decision whereas a traditional pro/con list may be more effective when there are fewer options present.

9. Take a short walk

Step away from the decision and clear your mind.  A brief 15-minute walk, preferably outdoors, not only benefits your physical health but also helps you regain concentration, boosts your creativity, and improves your mood.  For added benefit, listen to your favorite playlist or song while you get some fresh air.

10. Reach out to your mentor

When complex decisions arise, your mentor can be a great resource.  Seeking out someone who has strong decision-making skills, or problem-solving skills, can provide multiple benefits including different perspectives, different angles, more options, and past experience.

11. Know your timeline

Time management is key when making decisions.  Some situations will call for quick decisions and not allow much time for deliberation. Understand the deadline from the start so you can map out your considerations in the proper amount of time.

12. Know what type of decision you face

There are obvious differences between mundane decisions and more important decisions.  Some have short term implications while other decisions carry longer term effects.  Take a moment to categorize the type of decision. Determining the type of decision will help you set a more effective plan to move forward and help identify which decision-making tools may serve you best.

13. Let go of fear

Of course it’s natural to worry about making a bad decision or the wrong decision, but a lack of action is likely costing you something as well.  What are you missing out on when you let fear, or even feelings of self-doubt, keep you stuck?  Consider the worst-case scenario for the decision you are facing.  How likely is it that this worst-case scenario will play out?  And, in the slim event that it did play out, how would you deal with it?  Answering those two questions can sometimes be just enough to turn down the fear dial and get going.

14. Be flexible

Some decisions will require compromise.  In these instances, it’s important to recognize the need to be flexible to move forward. There is great value in being able to adapt.

15. Tap into your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is your ability to manage your own responses and emotions as well as influence or manage the responses and emotions of others.  Difficult decisions can be emotional, so it is critical to connect with your own self-awareness and be able to self-regulate. 

Making the best possible decisions

The path to becoming a great decision maker looks and feels different for everyone.  A great way to start is to think about some of your past decisions and which best practices above may have been helpful in your decision making process.