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Blog Short #82: How to Make Important Decisions

Photo by RapidEye, Courtesy of iStock Photo

You make decisions all day long, from when you rise until drifting off to sleep at night. And even then, you may wrestle with problems while dreaming and pulling information from your subconscious to help out.

Most of the time, the daily decisions go on automatically. However, the big ones that have a more significant impact are the ones that grab your attention and hold it until you finally decide to take a leap and commit to something.

Sometimes this process doesn’t go easily because of anxiety, fear, or too many choices that circulate in your mind and keep you in limbo. Yet, you still have to decide. So how do you get over that hump?

Today I’m giving you some guidelines to help smooth out the process. But first, let’s talk a little about your brain.

A Little Background

Before you get into the actual decision-making process, it helps to understand how your brain works and what conditions are most conducive to helping it function well.

Your brain has a limited capacity.

I was making celery juice this morning, and as I watched the juicer working on the celery, it likened it to how the brain works when we fill it up. It can only process so much celery at a time, and if you try to jam more in, it gets stuck. If you cut the celery into small pieces and feed them in at a slow pace, it processes everything well, and the motor keeps churning smoothly without a hitch. But if you add pieces that are too large or fill the feed with too much at once, it stops working.

Your brain is the same way. You can overload it and bring it to a screeching halt.

Help your brain function better by doing this:

Get a whole night’s sleep.

Your brain goes through a wash and rinse cycle and clears out extraneous material when you sleep. This is an actual neurological process, not just a metaphor. There’s a physical component to it. When you don’t get enough sleep, brain trash accumulates, and you can’t think well.

Water it.

Your brain is roughly 73 percent water. It takes only 2 percent dehydration to adversely affect your attention and cognition. Drinking water can prevent that and help your brain work optimally.

Feed it.

In addition to water, your brain needs glucose to function. Glucose supplies the energy for your body, and your brain uses about 20 percent of your total body’s energy needs. You need to feed it properly, especially before working on any brain-intensive problem.

Clear mental clutter.

Get all the little daily decisions out of the way. All decisions use energy, even the small ones. When you decide what to wear and what to eat, whether to look on Facebook or check your email, or what show to watch, etc., you’re using up a limited supply of energy.

Do your best to automate and routinize these decisions, so you aren’t wasting your brain capacity on them. Don’t wait to decide what to wear to the office when you get up. Decide the night before. Clear your mental desk ahead.

To summarize – Before working on a big decision:

  • Get 8 hours of sleep.
  • Drink a full 8-ounce glass of water.
  • Eat a light meal.
  • Clear your mental desk.

A note about food:

Heavy, fat-laden meals will make your brain sluggish. Make sure you eat whole food like fresh fruit, veggies, beans, and whole grains, and if you eat meat, stick to a small piece of fish.

My go-to on thinking days is to have a glass of fresh veggie juice followed by a small fruit bowl, and then work through the morning. I wait to introduce food until lunch.

Most people disagree with that approach, but it works well because your digestive system isn’t pulling energy away from your brain.

You do what works best for you. Just make sure you aren’t overburdening your body with heavy digestive tasks.

Now for the Process

1. Identify the problem with clarity.

Get clear on the decision you need to make. Don’t start weighing options until you’ve defined the problem in detail.

2. Do your research.

Gather all the relevant information you might need to make an educated decision. If you tend to go with your gut on decisions, that’s fine, but don’t do it yet. Wait until you’ve gone through the whole process and gotten your ducks in a row. Then consult your gut.

Getting the information might require consulting someone in the know, reading something, or Googling something. Make a quick list of what you need to find out, then do it or schedule it.

3. Organize your information and analyze it.

Don’t do this in your head. Write it down to get it out of your head and see it visually. This helps your brain with processing and analyzing. It’s like cleaning up as you cook, so counter space is available.

4. Whittle down the choices.

There’s a cool video on Youtube about decision-making by Patrick McGinnis where he talks about FOBO – “Fear of Better Options.” It’s worth watching. The gist is that we can paralyze ourselves when trying to make a decision by continuing to entertain more and more options and never narrowing down our choices. You get into an all-or-nothing mindset, and your decision takes on a life or death feel – “If I make the wrong decision, I can never come back or right it. I’ll be doomed.”

For most decisions, this isn’t at all true. You can make the best decision now and later decide to alter it or go in another direction. There are no perfect decisions, but there may be more than one right one.

Whittle choices down to between 3 and 4 at most. Two options can be a little daunting because it creates an either-or mindset, but sometimes you can’t help that. Don’t try to decide when there are eight or nine+ choices. It’s best to keep it under four.

5. Take a forward and backward look.

If your decision pertains to anything you’ve experienced previously, review what you’ve learned that might help you decide.

Conversely, play out the future consequences of your decision. What could happen as a result of the direction you choose? You’re evaluating risks versus gains. How risky is the decision, and what’s a backup plan if you decide to change your mind down the road? If this is a big decision, how might it look a year from now? How could you pivot if you need to?

6. Sleep on it.

Unless you have to make an immediate decision, don’t ever make it until you’ve slept on it or allowed 24 hours away from thinking about it. When you do that, you allow your subconscious an opportunity to scan your brain’s hard drive for information that might help sway you in the best direction. It will enable you to cool emotions that might be getting in the way.

7. Decision time.

Commit to a decision and go forward. Don’t keep vacillating and going through what-if scenarios. Sometimes decision-making feels like a multiple choice question where two answers seem right, but you have to pick one. Pick one. You can adjust if it doesn’t work just like you thought it would.

That’s all for today!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back to you next Monday!

All my best,


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