How to make decisions you won’t regret later.
You might have agonised over making decisions — especially ones that involve either hurting yourself or hurting someone else. According to Psychology Today, indecision can stem from anxiety. Fear of making the wrong decision and suffering the consequences often inhibits people.
As a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience established, anxiety selectively shuts down certain connections in the brain, making it more difficult for a person to screen out irrelevant information and make better decisions. Once a decision is made, it’s not possible to turn back. That’s what makes decisions so scary. Their permanent nature makes so many of us avoid making them for an entire lifetime, often locking ourselves up in a shell of self-inflicted despair.
Thankfully, there are some science-backed steps you can follow to make the decision-making process easier. In this post, I’m going to discuss some strategies that will help you make your mind up sooner and stick to the choices you made without harbouring regrets.
Learn to be Immune to Anxiety
Too much anxiety or stress leads to decreased activity in the area of the brain responsible for conscious thinking and planning. This can be countered by practising mindfulness. When you are mindful, the decisions you make would more likely be driven by logic than by fear or emotion.
According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, mindfulness limits the influence of the things that don’t matter, so you can focus on the things that do. It strengthens your brain’s capacity to filter out distracting emotions and helps you make more grounded and relevant decisions.
A lot of research has been done around mindfulness and its effect on the decision-making process, but the benefits of making it a part of your daily routine have been well established. According to Healthline, “It’s great if you can meditate every day, but it’s okay if you don’t. Your approach to practice should be tailored to your individual needs. It may be helpful to keep a brief journal to record any insights that arise during your practice. Stay mindful and bring your awareness back to the present moment throughout the day.”
Though primarily a form of meditation, mindfulness can become a habit after a few days of regular practice. It can change the way you respond to everything that happens in your life and help you be more in tune with your emotions.
How you can do it
According to Mayo Clinic, here are some simple structured exercises to practice mindfulness and learn to make your brain immune to anxiety over time:
- Body scan meditation. Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body. The body scan is one of the most effective ways to begin a mindfulness meditation practice and build your ability to focus and be fully present in your life.
- Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then return your focus to your breath. This is a great way to help you to become clear in the present moment.
- Walking meditation. Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations. This technique has many possible benefits and may help you to feel more grounded, balanced, and serene.
Identify the Core Issue
Mindfulness will help you narrow down the key factors likely to be influenced by your decision. When you take away the excess stress resulting from irrelevant issues, it becomes easier for you to identify the heart of the matter.
How you can do it
Here are a few science-backed steps I usually follow that lets me get to the crux of the conflict and strengthen my decision-making process:
Focus on what YOU want:
According to the Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, you can only truly know what your heart wants by focussing on the desires of your subconscious.
“When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
— Sigmund Freud
A well-established way of understanding what your subconscious wants is by flipping a coin. Heads will dictate you choose one option, while Tails dictates the opposite. You are morally obligated to do what the coin tells you to. Under such emotional duress, you will know what your heart wants even before the coin lands. That’s how you listen to your subconscious. That’s how you understand what you truly want.
Understand you’re not responsible for other people’s feelings:
Sure, your decisions might end up hurting other people, but that is on them, not you. You can’t hold yourself responsible for someone’s sadness, especially if all you were doing was taking care of yourself and your mental health. In life’s journey, each of us is on our own. If you suppress your feelings because you can’t hurt another person, how will you function?
Be Prepared to Face the Consequences
According to a post by Psychology Today, most people are so terrified of making decisions because they attach too much weight to the consequences. A way to get rid of this added anxiety is by mentally preparing yourself such that no matter what happens, you will accept the consequences of your decision and stick by the choice you made.
How you can do it
Be so rock hard in your conviction that nothing can shake you. Weigh the pros and cons and see how they play out. CFI defines a term scenario analysis as:
“The process of examining and evaluating possible events or scenarios that could take place in the future and predicting the various feasible results or possible outcomes.”
Before making a decision, consider the best and worst-case scenarios that can happen as an outcome. As this post by Harvard Business Review suggests, playing out the best and worst-case scenario in your head helps you come to terms with the fact that no matter which one comes to fruition, life will go on.
Decision-making can be stressful, but science can come to your rescue and take care of the worst for you. By using mindfulness to strengthen the brain, you can filter out unnecessary emotion and work with cold logic. When you are aware of what your subconscious really wants, you will have more clarity. Play out the best and worst-case scenarios so your heart will be prepared to handle both, and you will be ready to face the consequences of your decision without giving in to regret.
Follow these steps, and the decisions you make will come easily and be more enriching for you.
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