From the Magazine

Have a Hard Time Making Decisions? Here Are 6 Helpful Tips

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We make more than 35,000 decisions per day — that’s an exhausting number of “should I’s” and “what-if’s”! Here, experts share how to de-stress from that overload and boost confidence in your choices.

Ask your watch. 

You’ve heard of FOMO, fear of missing out, but you may not be familiar with its cousin, FOBO: fear of better options. Entrepreneur Patrick J. McGinnis, who coined both terms, says the latter explains why we often have trouble making everyday decisions. “We’re drowning in choices; it’s easy to become paralyzed with indecision,” he says. His fix: When you’re deliberating over something minor like what to have for dinner, just look at your watch and tell yourself: If the second hand is on the right, I’ll have chicken; if it’s on the left, pasta. Asking the watch, as McGinnis calls it, puts small decisions on autopilot, melting stress.

Curate your choices.

Our brain can only handle about five options, what scientists call your “consideration set,” before becoming overwhelmed, reveals psychologist Art Markman, PhD. That’s why he suggests recruiting a friend to help narrow down your choices. “If you want to go on vacation, say, and can’t decide where, ask a pal who loves traveling for her top three to five picks,” he says. “Shrinking your consideration set helps you think calmly and rationally about decisions.”

Go with your gut.

Sometimes, it pays to ditch deliberation. “Your gut is focused on short-term, immediate results,” says Markman. “So whenever you have a lot of experience with a certain task or activity, it’s often better to listen to your first instinct because this is what it’s good at: keeping track of the information you’ve encountered in the past to give you a quick sense of what to do again in the future.”

Silence your inner critic.

The biggest gremlin holding us back from making big decisions is fear of being wrong, observes decision-making expert Emily P. Freeman. “We often dread how much we’re going to beat ourselves up in the future,” she says. The antidote to such “pre-regret” is what she calls relentless self-kindness. “I set a timer every morning for five minutes and allow myself to sit in silence releasing negative thoughts and quieting my mind,” Freeman says. “Small moments of self-compassion take away the ‘mic’ from your inner critic, boosting faith in yourself.”

Do one small thing.

“Some of the hardest choices are between two good options,” notes Freeman. “If you’re debating between going back to school or staying at your job, for instance, what’s one thing you can do today? Maybe it’s gathering books from the library or speaking with a mentor. When facing a fork in the road, taking one small step is often all that’s needed to build momentum.”

Sleep (or walk!) on it.

Spending some quality time with your pillow recharges your brain’s emotional center, allowing you to think more clearly about abstract decisions that affect the future, explains Markman. And if you can’t sleep on it? “Activities that let your mind wander, such as taking a walk, are shown to give you the mental break you need to make better long-term choices, boosting both your confidence and resilience!”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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