Make up your mind! How to make the process of decision making easier

When you’re faced with several choices, it can be difficult to actually decide which one to select. Your brain can become cluttered with worry and you can get trapped in what seems like an episode of The Twilight Zone, where nothing is what it seems. You may even start doubting yourself when you do make a decision and begin thinking that you should have made a different selection. Or, you may end up not making a decision at all.

A recent article in The New York Times described it this way:

Although it has long been the common wisdom in our country that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.

When your choices are limited, you’re likely to make a better and quicker decision. Why? Because when there’s less to choose from, the process of figuring out what to do speeds up. You’ll be able to quickly compare apples to apples because there are fewer apples, and when you’re calmer you tend to make the best decision based on the information you have.

Of course, in the modern world, we do have a lot of choices. But, we also have a simple tool — a list — that can help us pick a direction a little easier. When you think of making a list, you might think of a collection of tasks you need to take care of or things you plan to get at the grocery store. But, creating a list also can help you make a decisions about almost anything. A pro vs. con list has one specialty (just like the punter on a football team). Its main job is to help you compare the advantages and disadvantages of two (or more) scenarios or points of view. One of the main benefits of using this type of list is you get all your thoughts out of your head (no matter what they are) in a structured way.

Other benefits of a pro vs. con list

  • Helps you think things through. More than just helping you get your thoughts on paper (or in your smart phone or tablet), a pro vs. con list really lets you think about the best and worst consequences of a particular direction. And, you’ll also be thinking about the things that are most important to you. Sometimes, your thoughts will pour right out of your head and, other times, you may need to put your list down and come back to it later.
  • Chance to test drive your ideas. If you need to set down your list and spend some time gathering the pros and the cons, take a day and live as though you have already made your decision one way. Live with the what ifs of that choice. The next day, act as though you made your decision another way. Try out all your options to see how they feel based on the benefits and potential pitfalls for each one. Capture your feelings and experiences on your list. See how comfortable you feel with each decision.
  • Can be used for large and small decisions. You can use a pro vs. con list as a starting point to making very important decisions (when to have a baby, whether to move to location A or B, what college to attend, who would be the best life-long partner), but it can also help you with day-to-day decisions, like what you should wear today or have for lunch. When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, even the most basic decisions can appear daunting. Formally collecting your thoughts can help you regain a sense of calm and move you from the crossroads to a more clearly defined destination point.

Ways to construct a pro vs. con list

  • Paper and pencil. The nice thing about using paper and pencil (or a large flip pad and a marker) is you probably already have these items in your home or office. They’re easy to use and you can get started quickly on making your pro vs. con list. Simply create two columns (draw a line vertically down a sheet of paper) and add the headings “Pro” and “Con.” Or, you could purchase a pre-printed notepad if that is your style.
  • Mobile or web-based apps. If you’d prefer a digital option, there are (not surprisingly) several decent ones available beyond opening a Word document and making your own.

    ProConLists.com is a free, web-based app that lets you create a pro vs. con list without having to download anything to your computer. The site also allows you to name, describe, categorize your decision making project, and to rate each pro and con on a rational and emotional scale. It will also calculate the results (via pie chart percentages), though you will need to sign up to see them. You can also share your list with others and view their feedback.

    Smart phone applications like Pro Con (iPhone, $0.99) and Pros and Cons (Android, free) are similar to each other and can all help you to get to a final decision.

  • Mindmap your way to a decision. A mindmap is often used to brainstorm ideas, but it’s also a useful tool (sort of an pro vs. con list on steroids) to help you look at almost every detail of a particular situation.

Closing thoughts

Decisions can be tricky to make because we want to get them right. We don’t want to risk failing or making a poor decision. Instead of fretting, be organized with your decision making and vet the possible directions you could choose by writing down the good, bad, and ugly aspects of each. Consider seeking out the objective advice of one or two people you trust. And, add a deadline to the process so you don’t re-hash options repeatedly and unnecessarily.