What are some Tips & Tricks for making big decisions?
December 14, 2015 7:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm at some major crossroads and need to make a big decision. Got any decision making strategies?

I'm having a hard time listening to my gut, and am definitely experiencing analysis paralysis.

I need to make a major decision this Friday (move for love, stay for a promotion, or leave both for a lifestyle change). I think I'm kind of being a chicken about the process, but I really want to make the right choice. How do you make decisions? Spreadsheet of pros and cons? Flipping a coin? Gun to the head?

"Everything happens for a reason, but sometimes that reason is that you're stupid and make bad decisions." - unknown
posted by mannermode to Human Relations (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When I have to decide between two things and can't make up my mind, I flip a coin.

Then I catch it, put it in my pocket, and do what I was hoping would come up while the coin was in the air.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [18 favorites]

Flipping a coin?

The one I've always heard is flip a coin; if you find that you don't like the result, you do the other thing.
posted by phunniemee at 7:20 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

I can mention some things you may not have heard of (or maybe you have):

Steven Covey: Begin with the end in mind
Your personal risk avoidance tolerance (commonly used with financial investment decisions)
Missed opportunity cost (which can easily get overlooked in a simple pro/con spreadsheet)

And if you want to take a drink from the decision making theory fire hose, I had this link stored in my bookmarks archive.
posted by forthright at 7:31 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Always choose love.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

move for love, stay for a promotion, or leave both for a lifestyle change

If you are willing to leave love for a lifestyle change, then love is not the one you want. So, the choice is between stay for promotion or leave for lifestyle change. One has a time limit, the other doesn't as you can always leave anywhere for a lifestyle change. So that leaves stay for a promotion.

How does that sit?
posted by Thella at 8:39 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

I try to imagine what my life will be like if I do the thing I am trying to decide upon. So, if I'm thinking about moving, I'll picture living in the new place, what will I do in the neighborhood, how will I arrange things. If the daydream turns out well, I'll feel comfortable, get new ideas, and mentally settle in. I'll know it's a good idea. If it's a bad idea, I'll start seeing all the problems, having to come up with alternate plans, and just generally feel anxious and stressed about it. If you know yourself well, and are honest and realistic about the situation you are considering, this works really well.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I suggest two different ways:

My avoidant-anxious wreck approach: Lie down and stop making decisions until it's the 11th hour, and then go with whatever actually means the most to me.

My more functional version: Go outside and do something else, and let it stew in the back of my head, until the answers become more clear.

If either of these don't work, then flip a coin and go with what you really want/would regret the least.
posted by yueliang at 8:49 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd consider a few things before I feel confident I've thought things through carefully:

1. Advisers - do you have trusted people, who are not dependent on you, who can ask good questions and give you unbiased feedback? Not just career, but on life topics as well? I lean on my advisers to help me not only think things through, but also see things with more perspective or consider new scenarios.
2. What are you passionate about? What are your priorities in life? Do you know your strengths, talents and passions? There's life coach material online, but in general it's about reflecting, getting feedback, clarifying what you would do if you had no financial/geo/etc constraints, setting goals.
3. On love, this is a big one - there's lots AskMes on pre-marriage questions to sort out, which may be too heavy for where you are in your life, but you can take away some applicable ones to help you make sure you're asking the right questions before you make a big change.
4. Career - I've found weighted stack ranking helps give lots of clarity. If you have two choices, and a list of 5 criteria that you stack rank (eg Work/Life Balance = 5, Culture = 4, Commute =3, Growth potential = 2, Salary = 1) and you do weighted scores for choice 1 and choice 2, how do they net out? How much are you willing to compromise if you're choosing 1 that is really worse off?
5. If you were to reflect on an older you having chose one path and not the other, what would you regret?
posted by hampanda at 8:53 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I write out an ask me, which helps me figure out which answer I'm hoping metafilter will support, and then I close the tab.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:55 PM on December 14, 2015 [21 favorites]

I like the pro/con list, and in order to populate it I try to think about worst case scenarios. Specifically, I imagine if I did Thing A and it went to shit, would I regret not doing Thing B instead? Why or why not? I find this helps me understand the choices better, especially when on the surface they seem equally enticing.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:59 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Flip a coin and do which ever choice you think of while the coin is in the air.
posted by bendy at 9:14 PM on December 14, 2015

The more difficult a decision is to make, the less it matters what you decide. If it's a hard decision, it's either because the pros and cons are pretty equally balanced or because it's too hard to predict the outcomes of the different choices. In a case like that, any choice is as likely to turn out well as another, so you might as well just flip a coin. Flipping a coin can be good because sometimes your relief or disappointment at the result makes it clearer to you what you really wanted all along.

In general, if the choice is between doing something new and staying with the status quo, I think it's best to try the new thing. Having new and different experiences makes your life richer and more interesting and you learn from it. Even if it doesn't turn out the way you hoped, you'll still have those experiences and what you learned from them, so you will have gained something.

Here's another way to do it: Imagine you're reading a book with a main character who's the kind of person you'd ideally like to be and the character is faced with this decision. Which path would you most like to read about them pursuing?
posted by Redstart at 9:16 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

Always choose love.

Hmm, maybe. If you know it's love (i.e. fair, reciprocal love, thoroughly inflected with mutual respect and acceptance, & etc. - many etc.'s).

I can tell you some don'ts, if that helps:

- Don't choose something to make someone else happy, if that choice wouldn't also make you just as happy. (Go because you want to)

- Don't throw your lot in with someone who wouldn't accept the same kind of risk or loss for you. (This person had better be committed, if you're giving something up for them)

- And don't make a leap primarily driven by someone else without heavily CYA on the job/financial side. This market is ridiculous, so risks/benefits in this area need to be weighed heavily, unless you're a top performer in an unusually high-demand field. The devil is really in the details, as far as this goes. Put some time into researching facts and weighing probabilities. Definite pro/con list here. (CYA re jobs / money)

- Don't ignore or allow yourself to be blinded to important needs by a single shining facet of an attractive option. (Understand and be honest about your real needs and respect them. If you need to achieve, or be creative, or have a family, don't pretend you don't, especially not for the sake or benefit of someone else. Big mistake. You'll probably have to make compromises somewhere along the line, but try to at least be aware that you're making them, and have a plan for compensating for important losses.)

- Don't choose away from, choose towards. (That's assuming your status quo is relatively ok and not toxic or abusive, in which case, yes, run, go away from.) But generally, try to make a positive choice with a specific goal in mind. This means you'll have clarity around your goals, and will be more motivated and better situated to support those goals with discrete actions, make plans, have more control over outcomes, etc. If you're just jumping out of the frying pan, you might wind up in any old fire. Sometimes that can't be avoided, but try to avoid that.

Related: choices driven by fear or avoidance aren't usually good ones (with exceptions noted above). Choices driven by engagement and excitement are likely to work out better.

2nd deathbed regrets - what, at the end of your life, would you really be sad about never having done? (Dying people on that [old].)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

For what it's worth, when I've tried the "flip a coin" thing for something I'm genuinely ambivalent about, I don't really have a strong hope either way while the coin is in the air, and when it lands I'm disappointed, and know I would have been no matter the side it landed on. I don't like having choices resolved, I like having options open. If you are like this, that "flip a coin" advice everyone loves on Ask is poetic but useless. It honestly surprises me that so many people like it.

On the other hand, I really like the "write an Ask" advice from So You're Saying These Are Pants?. You may find that while you're trying to explain the circumstances to a third party that isn't familiar with your situation, it becomes abundantly clear that you are emotionally attached to one or more of the options for reasons that don't make sense. I actually just did this last night - wrote a lengthy Ask about a personal situation, and realized that I knew the advice I'd give myself and I was pretty sure that it was good advice. When you make a pro/con list you often bake assumptions into the pros and cons that you don't even notice. When you explain your choices to a stranger, in writing, knowing that you will have very few opportunities to roll into the thread with additional information or clarifications, you have to really put all your cards on the table and encounter the facts as they are.
posted by town of cats at 10:27 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

I should add, just to make it even more useful: make it an anonymous Ask. Then it's a big old hassle to add anything to the thread at all. That makes it even more key to make sure you've really thought it through in your writeup and covered all the bases.

If you find you still don't know what to do, you have your Ask all ready to go and we'll figure it out for you :)
posted by town of cats at 10:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I always try to make the decision that I will regret the least later.
posted by telegraph at 4:58 AM on December 15, 2015

Discuss the fuck out of it with all of your friends. See if anyone brings any new insights to the table. Then make the best decision you can, with the information you have, and move forward.

Understand that even the most thoroughly thought out decisions can end up being bad. That's okay, it's part of life, you take your lumps and you move on.

People make decisions based on fear of regret, rather than hope of reward. Move towards something that excites you, even if it turns to shit later, you can say you gave it a try.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:34 AM on December 15, 2015

Sit down and make a Ben Franklin Balance Sheet. Works every time for me.
posted by raisingsand at 7:41 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I thought about a paperweight on my desk that reads , 'What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?' I pushed that question out of my head to make room for a new question.... 'What’s worth doing even if I fail?'" - Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Which one will you be glad you tried, even if it doesn't work out?

(That's not guaranteed to give you your answer. It's entirely possible the answer to that question is "none of them" or "more than one." But it's something to think about.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:58 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I try to make a decision that takes into account the worst case scenario or the counter-argument I'm most hung up on. "When this decision goes wrong, I will still understand I made it because..."

"Even if I move and the relationship ends, I'll be in NYC (a place I wanted to live anyway) and I'll know I did everything I could to make it work."

"If I make this lifestyle change, when I feel frustrated about not having the money to take the vacations or buy the things my sister does, I'll remind myself 'that's because I've bought time, which is far more valuable.'"

I'm not saying those are the right thoughts to think. I'm saying -- make a list of pros and cons and then see which cons you'll have the easiest time living with and which ones will feel more like serious regrets or like "arrrgh, I knew I shouldn't have done that. I'm such an idiot." All scenarios have downsides, so it helps me to not try to make the perfect decision but the decision that's easiest to live with despite its possible downsides.
posted by salvia at 8:59 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Big decisions - I approach them with the mindset that if I'm feeling *really* torn and all options seem equally ideal even after being truly and deeply honest with myself about my wants and needs, then there really is no wrong path.

Personally the most difficult task is not making the decision per se, but making peace with the decision. Don't pressure yourself to end up with the best outcome because it's ultimately not fair to you, considering the limited information you're working with. Choose in good faith and don't look back.

Best of luck.
posted by tackypink at 11:14 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the "flip a coin and then see how you feel about the flip outcome" tactic. It works wonders.

Re: moving for love, totally do it. I am pro- making choices with the goal of more happiness. BUT ONLY IF:
1. The person you loved has demonstrated commitment to you and your relationship, however you choose to define that
2. You're married, or the relationship is progressing toward a marriage or whatever your eventual goal is
3. The person you love can offer you financial support in the new city until you get on your feet, unless you're certain you can get a job there before you move out
4. You plan to live together in the new city (or never because you're not into sharing living spaces)

Re: staying for a promotion, your new salary should always be higher than your current salary (adjusted for cost of living) when you change jobs except in a few rare situations, so ultimately your choices are "leave for more money" vs. "stay for more money". If this is "leave for money" vs. "stay for my perfect dream job" then it's a different story. Or "leave for a place where there are no jobs in my current field" vs "stay for money and stability".

Re: the lifestyle change as the third option, if you're even serious: don't do it. I'm assuming this is one of those big daydream decisions along the lines of "year-long road trip" or "move to a farm and become a homesteader" or "sell all my possessions and move into a 200sqft trailer" or "become a licensed bartender and make cocktails for a living". I normally find that people consider these decisions as an escape valve rather than a realistic, thought-out alternative pathway. The people I know who have actually attempted something like this have usually given up when the actual reality hits them. I would only say "go for it" if it really is something you understand deeply and have been dipping your toe in the water and considering long-term (much better track record among people I know there). But I'm a fairly conventional, risk-averse person, so answers may vary on this one.
posted by capricorn at 2:06 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, I've found that explaining it to a stranger (instead of a friend, who'll try to coerce you into choosing one of it) forces you to take a broader/more detached perspective instead of the one or two issues your mind is currently zooming in on.
posted by kinoeye at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2015

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