How to become a faster and better decision maker

Stop getting in your own way.
Stop getting in your own way.
Image: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

CEOs are known for being quick on their feet—for coming up with the correct solutions to the most pressing problems exactly when they’re needed.

But how, exactly, do they do it?

For most of us, when we have to make decisions, we agonize over them. We wonder what the repercussions of the decision might be years down the line, how it might hurt our lives, how it might affect our business. Then, we look back and think, “Oh, I probably could have done that better.” Sometimes, we’re straight haunted by the decisions we make, holding on to them, obsessing over what we should have done instead.

One reason for this is we conceive of decision making as black and white, consisting of a right and wrong option.

But the truth is, there’s more to it than that. And those who seem to be great decision makers understand that nuance, and they use it to their advantage—especially when making big, life-altering decisions.

Here’s how.

1. You must realize that decision making is not black and white, and that your heart and emotions are attached to decisions.

The choices we make in life—whether personal or professional—are never actually binary. They’re also never simple in their impact. Inevitably, when we hit these proverbial crossroads, when we choose one road over the other, there will be plenty of consequences. Our choices do impact our relationships, our home lives—everything impacts everything.

And you know what? That’s a good thing.

Or, at least, it’s not a bad thing. It’s inevitable. And as such, we shouldn’t obsess over a choice at hand just because it implicates other areas of our lives.

Give yourself a break, in other words. Most choices are going to have unseen implications. That’s just reality. Allow yourself this understanding, and stop focusing on what might go wrong, or what could go wrong.

2. Instead, focus on what could go right.

Let’s pretend we’re back at that crossroads. To the left is the choice to quit your job and start your own business. To the right is the option to stay at your current job and continue enjoying the consistency of guaranteed healthcare.

We have a tendency in such moments—precisely because so much is on the line—to focus in an outsized way on everything that could go wrong. How if we go left and start our own business, we might fail.

But as we know, there are always things that could go wrong—in every single decision we make.

So instead, we should think about and inform our decision making processes with insight into all that could go right.

This is what should drive us. Which path at the crossroads poses more potential benefits? It sounds like a simple switch, but it actually makes a big difference. Focusing on the positives creates, in turn, positive energy, which makes us more creative and more genuinely inspired. 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.

3. Notice if you’re making a decision around what your idea of “perfect” is.

Finally, you must give yourself the freedom to change your core values—your conception of what’s preferable—if they no longer make sense.

For example, it may be the case that you’re staying in a bad marriage because your Catholic upbringing has led you to believe it’s wrong to end a relationship.

What you need in that instance is the confidence and the self-awareness to recognize that those Catholic values? They’re hurting you. I’m not saying you should ditch your conception of morality entirely. Rather, we shouldn’t blindly follow our perception of what’s right and wrong. Humans grow. We evolve. Part of becoming a great decision maker is recognizing when your perhaps outmoded models of thinking and morality are holding you back.

None of this is easy, mind you. It can be soul-testing, trying to reflect on which life-long perceptions of yours might in fact be incorrect, or in need of fine-tuning. It’s hard forcing yourself to overcome your innate tendency to see the worst in every hypothetical as opposed to what’s possible.

As such, you won’t be able to make these adjustments quickly. But you will over time, with constant practice and diligence. And if you work it long enough, and have the self-awareness and acuity of those CEOs we all admire, you will become a great decision maker. The only person stopping you is yourself.

This post was originally published on Quora.