Making a decision is one of the most exhausting mental processes. Making a series of decisions drains your brain and as a result, the quality of your decisions plummet. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue.
A successful life requires a lot of quality decision making, but we have a limited capacity for decision making. That is a problem and that problem can be solved by optimizing our decision making process. I will discuss several methods to optimize our decision making process. If you have other methods or ideas, please let me know in the comments.
No decision is (most of the time) the worst decision.
Decisiveness is a personality trait of successful people. Successful people make a decision, act on it, and then deal with the results.
- Make a decision,
- Act on it,
- And deal with the results.
You might think that the opposite of that sequence would be
- Don’t make a decision,
- Stay put,
- And don’t deal with the results.
That second sequence might look more attractive to you, because you don’t need to make the mental effort to make a decision. You don’t need to make the physical effort to take action. And most important, you don’t need to deal with the results. This is an illusion.
While you’re staying put, the world is moving in all kinds of directions. Time is passing. Your time on this earth is limited. That means, not making a decision is a decision itself. It has its results and you have to deal with those results.
In some rare cases, not making a decision can be the better decision. The so called “wait-and-see” approach might be the superior approach in some chaotic situations, but most of the time, it’s the worst decision.
Think about choosing between two job offers for example. If you hesitate between two offers for too long, you’ll end up losing both offers as they might be filled with other candidates. If you hesitate between two vacation options for too long, you will end up spending your vacation at home.
I have hundreds of ideas in my notebooks. I pick one every day and write a blog post about it. If I hesitate too long between different ideas, I might end up with no blog post on that day.
In summary, making no decision is a decision and it is most of the time the worse decision. If you can’t make a decision, write down your options, eliminate the less desirable ones, and choose one of the remaining ones randomly. You can find more about that in my post called From Hesitant to Decision Maker in Four Simple Steps.
Automate Your Decisions
You might have heard about Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Albert Einstein wearing the same clothes every day. The reason they are doing that is to eliminate one more decision from their daily routine. Remember every decision you make takes away from your limited capacity to make decisions in the rest of the day.
You can automate some simple decisions such as what you’re going to wear and what you’re going to eat. I don’t wear the same shirt every day, but my shirt choosing process is fairly simple. Just wear the left most shirt in the wardrobe.
You can automate your day further by establishing a daily routine. I have a daily routine where all the activities such as eating, writing, working out are fixed in time and duration. I don’t a have a strict schedule, but I more or less know when I’m going to start that activity, what I’m going to do during that activity, and how long it’s going to take.
Having a daily routine is especially useful at work. You can allocate different chunks of your time to different activities and repeat the same routine every day. That way you never have to think about what you’re going to do next.
Another area I use automated decision making is saving and investing. I have a fixed amount that I save every month and invest that in an index fund and bitcoin. This automated saving and investing system eliminates all the emotions from the investing process and prevents me from making those costly investment mistakes.
Not having to think about what to do next saves a lot of decision making capacity, which you can use in other, more important decisions throughout the day.
The Downside of Automating Your Decisions
The downside of having a daily routine is creating a comfort zone around it and never improving it. Even though it saves considerable mental energy to have a fixed daily routine, you might want to adjust it according to the changing conditions in your life.
You might want to update your processes from time to time. Being too strict results in guaranteed failure and innovation must be a part of your job, business, and life. Daily evaluations are a part of my daily journaling practice and they help me make the necessary course corrections.
How to Increase Your Decision Making Capacity
Using your decision making capacity efficiently is a critical part of optimizing your decision making. Another critical part of that is to increase your decision making capacity.
Decision making is a muscle. You can increase your decision making capacity by training your decision making muscles. Just make a list of decisions to be made and commit to make at least one of those decisions every day.
Remember, not making a decision is most of the time the worst decision. If you can’t decide between two or more options, they are equally good or bad. It’s more important to deal with the consequences of a decision than to make the decision. Just toss a coin if you have to, which is much better than not deciding at all.
Decision making is a muscle and there can be a lot of thoughts, emotions, and distractions weighing in on that muscle. You can make your best decisions when you have mental clarity. You can achieve mental clarity by letting go of your useless thoughts, emotions, and distractions.
North Star, Values, and Clear Goals
Having a north star, an ideal, a well-defined life goal that you are striving towards can make your decision making process extremely easy. Having clear goals and values can guide your decision making process.
When you have more than one option when making a decision, just evaluate each option for how they serve your north star, your values, and your goals. Once you do this exercise and you’re honest with yourself, the choice will be obvious.
It’s one thing that the right choice is obvious and it’s another thing to actually make that decision and follow up on it with your actions. If you’re struggling with that, you might want to work on your self-discipline and courage.
The quality and quantity of your decisions are a critical factor in your success in your life. You can optimize your decision making process with the following methods.
- Know that no decision is (most of the time) the worst decision and make a random decision if you can’t make your mind.
- Automate your decisions by creating daily routines. Don’t forget to update your daily routine as needed to avoid stagnation.
- Increase your decision making capacity by using and training your decision making muscle.
- Increasing your mental clarity with mindfulness.
- Have a north star. Have a clear set of values and goals to guide your decisions.
Disclosure and Disclaimer
I owned some SPY and BTC at the moment of writing this post. This post is for information purposes only and not intended to be investment advice.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.