How to make decisions

Making decisions is an inevitable part of everyone’s life, both professional and personal.

Wijnand de Jong (43)


Wijnand is an Amsterdam based social psychologist. He’s a lecturer in applied psychology, an inspired career counselor and an experienced trainer in developing social skills.

Making decisions is an inevitable part of everyone’s life, both professional and personal. And to be fair: professional decisions usually are very personal as well, although they don’t necessarily effect your private life directly.

Making decisions effectively is also an important trait of highly successful people. They make decisions rather quickly and don’t do a whole lot of ‘second guessing’ after choices are made.

The most simple and yetmost difficult decisions to make probably are black-or-white choices. To do it or to don’t. To stop or to continue, without any short term backing-out options. Is there a formula to make these decisions with total peace of mind and with the best outcomes again and again? No, there isn’t. But there are some useful insights. And also a quite common myth or at least a mistake.

Let’s first take a look at that common myth or mistake.

Clear and rational

How often do you hear: if you don’t know what to do… make a list of pros and cons and then… well, you know: you count the pros and you count the cons and… you know the drill. This widespread procedure sounds very clear and rational, and in fact it ís. But it usually not the best way to make decisions. Why not?

Research shows (Wilson et al; 2002) that by making such lists we convince ourselves of an outcome, but most people stick to the pros and cons that are easy to mark. Should you end your relationship or not? Well, we do like watching arthouse movies both, so that’s a pro. I hate his mother and the way he eats deserts. So, that’s two cons.

‘It’s perfectly normal to feel insecure about the decision you frankly already made’

Taking a look at such a decision in the – slightly exaggerated – example above is clearly unjustified. But, in fact people who are evaluating their relationships for instance, deep down, know what they want. They delay or avoid making a decision they already – deep inside-made. We know and feel whether the relationship still fits or not. Same goes for work: it’s perfectly normal to feel insecure about the decision you frankly already made, but don’t fool yourself by making lists and in that way rationalizing a personal decision.

Be honest

So what’s the insight? The insight is: don’t rationalize too much and for sure don’t make lists with pros and cons regarding important personal choices. Try to find out what you really feel. Be honest: which option really, knowing yourself and your life so far and without justifying, fits you? And do you mean, do you still really want what you are about to choose when there’s no one around?