10 Scientific Facts to Help Take the Drama Out of Decision-Making

woman can't make up her mindOatmeal for breakfast or a smoothie? Scandal or Grey's Anatomy? Boots with heels? Or boots without? Every day, we are deluged with choices. And you know what that means -- you've got a whole hella lot of decisions to make.

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Freedom of choice is lovely, of course. But it can feel paralyzing as well. Here's what science can tell us about decision-making. (Insert your own joke here about CHOOSING to read it.)

1. We make decisions two ways. One is by comparing two different options, then choosing the "best" one based on our research. The second is evaluating the options separately. The comparison strategy is better, in case you were wondering. Gathering that info makes you feel more confident about your judgment.

2. Making decisions is exhausting. Really. The more choices we make, the more fatigued our brains get and the harder it becomes to make a sound decision. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue, and in response to it, our brains will either choose impulsively ... or go into "do nothing" mode.

3. You're either a "Maximizer" or a "Satisficer." Those are the two basic styles of decision-making. Maximizers take their time and investigate a wide range of options to find the BEST choice. Satisficers go for speed and are pretty content with the option that's just good enough. Most people, in case you're wondering, lie somewhere in between.

4. Taking pains to make the "best" decision comes at a price. One study found that maximizers make more money than satisficers. But! They were also more unhappy with their jobs and more likely to be depressed.

5. Happy couples tend to share decision-making duties. You and your man don't need to make decisions the same way. In fact, it's better if you don't. In a perfect world, one of you will be a maximizer and have super-high standards. The other will be a satisficer and just like to Get. Things. Done.

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6. You'll make better decisions for yourself tomorrow than today. It's called the "present bias," and is one reason we do things like smoking or overeating that we know are bad for us. In one study, participants who were asked to choose food for the following week decided on healthy fruit. But when asked to pick a good food to eat that very day, 70 percent decided on ... chocolate.

7. We look for evidence that we made the right decision. No one likes to be wrong, after all. And even worse than that is feeling uncertain. So once we make a decision, we start to unconsciously look for reasons that it was a smooth move. There's a name for this, too -- it's called the "confirmation bias."

8. What you decide depends on what you've done. We rely on our past experiences to make decisions. If something goes well, we're likely to do it again. And if a decision went awry, we're not likely to repeat it. While that sounds good on paper, getting trapped in emotions we felt in the past can prevent us from objectively analyzing a new opportunity.

9.  "Sleeping on it" is sound advice. Harvard researchers found that sleep deprivation makes it harder for us to make up our minds. (And coffee won't help.) In fact, once you're down on sleep, your decision-making won't recover until you've caught up on your zzzs.

10. Imagining what you'd advise a friend can help. Next time you feel torn between two (or more) choices, pretend you're telling a good pal what to do. Taking that small step back can give you the clarity you need to see what's REALLY best -- even if you're only deciding between two different cereals in the supermarket.

Choices are tough -- we get it!

 

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