How To Make Better Decisions More Often

by Toria Sheffield

Do you ever find yourself thinking, "If only I hadn't..." more often than you'd like? We've all been there. And if you're there right now, then you might want to consider a few practical ways to make better decisions.

I can't even count the times I wish I'd executed sounder decision-making skills in my life — on things both big and seemingly small. I've wasted (not insignificant amounts of) money on items I never actually ended up using, spent money on my way home from work on dinner instead of waiting for the option I knew I had at home, and handled interpersonal situations in ways I'm definitely not proud of.

And the worst part is, I often feel like I know better. I know I shouldn't buy that overpriced coffee concoction when I should be saving money, I know I'll feel better if I go for a jog instead of sitting on the couch all day, and I know I should be more mature when I'm upset.

The question then becomes how can we encourage ourselves to make better decisions that could make us happier, healthier, and maybe even more financially stable in the long run? In an effort to get to the bottom of it, here are ten scientifically-backed ways to make better decisions.

1. Assess You Weaknesses

This is my one and only personal tip on this list, and while I didn't see it mentioned in any of the sources I read, I still think it's incredibly important when trying to make better decisions. Ask yourself what areas of your life you seem to repeatedly make mistakes. Are you an over-spender? Do you always get into trouble romantically? Do you often get into conflicts at work? Figuring this out is the first step towards change.

2. Pretend You're An Outside Observer

According to a study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, we're more like to make a wise decisions the further removed from the situation we are. It's why you can see when a friend is clearly making a terrible decision but he or she can't. This means that one of the ways to ensure you're making a good decision is to think, "What would I tell a friend in the same boat?" If you'd tell the friend not to get back with her lying partner, or to hold off on that trip to Spain until she has her credit card debt under control, then that's probably what you should do too.

3. Dim The Lights

According to a study featured in The Huffington Post, our environment can actively affect our decisions. The study showed that bright lights can make us have a more intense emotional reaction to stimuli, meaning that you might want to dim the lights when weighing the pros and cons of a big decision.

4. Take A Time Out

A study out of Columbia University found that even delaying a decision by a fraction of a second can improve our decision-making abilities. So if you have the luxury of taking some time to think before committing yourself to a large purchase or something otherwise difficult to reverse, definitely do so.

5. Recognize Decision Fatigue

Studies have shown that the more decisions we make in a day, the less good we become at making them by the day's end. According to the New York Times, this is referred to as decision-fatigue, and it's often a big factor in why we impulse buy candy at the end of a long grocery shop, or why we might opt for the cheeseburger and fries at the end of a stressful day. If you've had a day chalked full of decisions — whether big or small — try to avoid making any more or putting yourself in a situation where your willpower will be tested.

6. Get Advice, But Not Too Much

In a piece for on making the best decisions possible, lifestyle and efficiency writer Thursday Bram noted that getting advice from a few trusted friends of confidants can be extremely helpful in getting some much needed perspective. However, asking too many people for advice can often just leave you as unsure as when you started, so it's best to keep it to a limited and trusted few.

7. Be Confident

Bram also noted that we can often spend a ton of time researching before making a big decision, like buying a new TV, so much so that we become paralyzed and don't do anything at all. In times like these she said to just make a decision and commit. You'll likely be super glad that you did.

8. Do A Cost-Benefit Analysis

In a piece for Forbes, leadership writer Mike Myatt said to always to a cost-benefit analysis before making a decision. For example, it might cost you $70 to buy a new pair of sneakers, but you'll benefit from wearing them almost every day. However, the same might not hold true for that $70 novelty sweater that you'll probably only wear a couple times. You can do the same for more abstract decisions, like whether to take a new job in a different city.

10. Be More In The Moment

This is less about how to make better decisions, and way more about how to move on and make peace once you've made a bad one. According to that same Huffington Post piece, being able to cut our losses is super important — because at the end of the day we're all going to make a decision we regret at some point. So work on being present and not worrying about things you can't change.

We all make bad decisions, but the good news is we don't necessarily always have to. Try implementing all or some the above tips, and you just might find that your decision-making abilities are on the upswing.

Image: Kyle Broad/Unsplash; Giphy (10)