Best Books on Decision-Making?
January 28, 2021 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I am very indecisive, and it's having serious consequences in my life (relationship, home, and career). I agonize over decisions, and then once I've made the decision, I agonize over whether or not it was the right one. This is something that I'll be digging into in therapy, but because I also love reading: can you recommend a great nonfiction book on how to better make decisions? I'm interested in reading about this as it relates to: anxiety, self-doubt, and/or tools to better make decisions and make peace with them.
posted by sugarbomb to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I am absolutely like this too. I did find The Paradox of Choice really helpful -- it's not really self-help, though the last chapter is about using the principles to help in your own decisionmaking. I wish I'd read it earlier!
posted by heavenknows at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I love Algorithms to Live By as a different kind of choice for this! Science have me a unique perspective on choosing and time.
posted by maya at 9:54 AM on January 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My guess is that you might not need help making better decisions in terms of logically deciding what to do. If you had no anxious about things, you might actually be just fine identifying what to do. So, It might help more to focus on tolerating uncertainty, allowing for risk and being accepting of how things turn out. So, something like David Burn's workbook on anxiety might help or a meditation practice that focuses on allowance and acceptance.
posted by metahawk at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't read this myself, but one of the main characters of The Good Place suffers from serious indecision (so perhaps check that out if you haven't?) and this book looks into the philosophical implications of that, which might help you frame it better for yourself.
posted by music for skeletons at 10:31 AM on January 28, 2021

Best answer: is a really great site that has some tools:

A decision adviser tool.
(user comments: "Without this tool I would still be sitting on my decision for weeks, months or years! Thank you so much!"... "I was able to make a decision I was agonizing over, and I feel good about my choice.")

A mini-course on making decisions (For some reason, can't link to directly, it's near the bottom of the page.

I'm a big fan of this site: their tools tend to be very evidence-based and developed out of a lot of testing.
posted by ManInSuit at 11:17 AM on January 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I agonize over decisions, and then once I've made the decision, I agonize over whether or not it was the right one.

I used to do both of those things until a good friend pointed out to me that I was actually making perfectly good decisions all day every day without even thinking about it, that the ones I complained about having trouble with were all genuinely difficult, that the reason they were difficult is because I didn't actually have a clear idea of which outcome would be preferable, and that given those conditions, all the agonizing in the world was never going to give me a better chance of achieving the better outcome than simply flipping a coin.

So for some months I just forced myself do that very thing. Literally flipped a coin. Anything I'd been stewing on for more than a couple of days got the coin flip treatment and that was that.

Later on I modified the procedure to allow myself exactly one chance to reverse the coin's decision provided I did so immediately. The rationale for that is that if the distress of a decision feeling wrong is stronger than the relief that it's actually been made, then that's my intuition coming through where reasoning has failed and intuition is worth respecting.

I've been handling difficult decisions this way for over thirty years now, and they don't cause me any grief at all any more. If I have a decision deadline looming and I haven't been able to nut out what to do after getting the best advice I can and then sleeping on it, out comes the coin. Call it, flip, optional single reverse, done.

Oddly enough, and quite unexpectedly, even in the training stages of this exercise I also found myself worrying far less about the correctness of decisions after making them. Handing over the weight of responsibility to pure chance is very relieving.

So I'm sorry I don't have a book recommendation for you but I hope these few paragraphs might be of some use.
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 AM on January 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm similar to you. I have trouble making decisions. I've read lots of books on the subject, and I think one of my faves has to be Annie Duke's Thinking in Bets. (Here's my review.) Duke is a former poker player and she writes about applying lessons from gambling to everyday life. In particular, she urges readers to think in terms of likely outcomes. Nothing is guaranteed, right? But how can you increase the odds of getting the outcome you want and then make decisions accordingly? It's a great book. (Duke has a new book out that people like, but I haven't read it yet.)
posted by jdroth at 11:58 AM on January 28, 2021

Along the lines of Thinking in Bets, I recently read and really liked Maria Konnikova's The Biggest Bluff which also uses poker (specifically Texas Hold 'Em) as a way to improve her decision making. She goes from never having played poker to actually winning and placing in tournaments, documenting her lessons learned along the way. She also has a PhD in psychology and studied decision making prior to embarking on this journey.
posted by elmay at 2:19 PM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you are Christian, but there is a (politically, socially) progressive Christian writer named Emily P. Freeman who has a podcast called "The Next Right Thing" and just released a book by the same name. I love the podcast and the book is the next-to-read on my nightstand.

If you have trouble making decisions because of either chronic hesitation or decision fatigue, Emily P. Freeman offers a fresh way of practicing familiar but often forgotten advice: simply do the next right thing. This simple, soulful practice will help you clear the decision-making chaos, quiet the fear of choosing wrong, find the courage to finally decide without regret or second-guessing.
posted by rogerroger at 2:25 PM on January 28, 2021

Something that helps me is a saying I heard when I started whitewater kayaking "The worst decision is indecision." It's reassuring to know that as long as I've decided SOMETHING, it's not the worst possible outcome. Of course consequences are pretty swift in whitewater, but I think it applies to life in general as well.
posted by genmonster at 4:53 PM on January 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

There are many different models on decision making. I think the military uses OODA loop model, and farnum street has a few books on this subject from famous business people like Warren Buffet and his partner,
posted by kschang at 6:14 PM on January 28, 2021

Response by poster: Metahawk, that is a spot-on assessment. I've procured the workbook and The Paradox of Choice at this point. All of these tools and framing devices will be useful!
posted by sugarbomb at 1:20 PM on February 2, 2021

I have enjoyed a lot of benefits, particularly in reduced anxiety, from applying my values to my life. I gained an understanding of how to do this through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I understand there are a lot of great books on it but I learned how to do this through group therapy. Good luck!
posted by saveyoursanity at 12:19 PM on February 3, 2021

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