How to tell the difference between thoughtful analysis and overthinking it
Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible to get better — and faster — at making decisions. Dean Graziosi, a New York Times best-selling author and entrepreneur has come up with three tips for choosing the best option when speed and time both count. Keep these in mind the next time you’re faced with a major decision, either at work or at home:
Understand that decision-making isn’t black and white
We’re conditioned to believe that there are either “good” or “bad” decisions, but in reality, most fall somewhere in the middle. Coming to terms with this is a big part of allowing yourself to trust the decisions you make in a relatively short period of time, Graziosi says. Part of this involves letting go of decisions you made in the past that you weren’t entirely satisfied with and not letting them haunt you in the present, or with regard to your decisions about the future.
“Inevitably, when we hit these proverbial crossroads, when we choose one road over the other, there will be plenty of consequences,” he says. “Our choices do impact our relationships, our home lives — everything impacts everything.” The key to reducing your stress about that is to give yourself a break, and realize that there are positive and negative implications to everything… and that’s ok.
Focus on what could go right
Of course, Graziosi isn’t saying that we should entirely block out any potential negative consequences when making a decision, but it’s crucial — especially when we’re in a time crunch — to focus more on the positives and on what could go right. Though this sounds like a relatively simple switch, in reality, it can make a big difference.
“Focusing on the positives creates, in turn, positive energy, which makes us more creative and more genuinely inspired,” he says. “It encourages clear thinking. It even opens up a more clear line of communication between your mind and your gut — allowing you to feel your way to the right, more correct decision, as informed by your core values and your capital-B Big Goals.”
Similarly, an article in the Harvard Business Review explained that although corporations have spent a lot of time and money on strategic planning, in practice, the process can actually a barrier to good decision-making. The authors don’t argue that planning isn’t important (of course, it is!), but they point out that sometimes we can get so focused on avoiding negative outcomes that it prevents us from making better, faster decisions.
It’s OK to change — or challenge — your core values
Most people don’t hold the same set of beliefs their entire lives — and that’s normal and healthy. It means we have an open mind and are willing to learn about new perspectives. This is also an important part of effective decision-making: Graziosi says that we have to give ourselves the freedom to change our core values if they no longer make sense.
But beyond simply having the freedom to change our core beliefs, being able to reason and reconsider our positions on something is an important part of being human, as Aristotle writes in Nicomachean Ethics. Exercising our ability for rational thought, and rethinking situations we previously thought we had figured out not only strengthens our character, it also makes us better decision-makers.
The example Graziosi gives is someone staying in a bad marriage because they were raised Catholic and taught that this was an unacceptable way for a relationship to end. In reality, though, this person may rethink their beliefs and make the decision to get a divorce, knowing that it’s the best option for them in the long-run.
The same type of thing can happen in the workplace, too. Let’s say you work for an advertising agency and, as a matter of principle, only represent companies whose products you’ve used and loved. At one point, though, you’re offered the chance to work with a new client whose products you’re unfamiliar with, but who seems like a compelling partner when you meet. In this case, you may rethink your own stance and make the decision to work with them. In either case, it’s crucial to understand that as humans, we grow and change, and our decisions — and decision-making — can and should reflect that.