Meet our expert: Dannie-Lu Carr is a co-founder of The Five Gateways – a leadership programme to help women to become more dynamic, visit www.thefivegateways.co.uk
Making decisions is one of those things we all struggle with from time to time, be it which cereal to buy or something life-changing such as whether to downsize and leave your family home.
It’s easy to get anxious about making the wrong choice, especially if you’ve always had someone else to make tough calls on your behalf and you’re now having to cope alone. But with a few simple steps you can ensure decision-making is much less stressful. Our guide will help you make confident choices – and stick to them.
1. Keep calm
For small decisions, such as which product to buy at the supermarket, the main thing is not to get wound up. “Often vast choices in shops can trick our brains into thinking the decision is important, especially if the shop is busy and noisy, making you feel overwhelmed,” says Dannie.
Keep your sense of perspective and take a shopping list with you. Try to remember that ultimately it doesn’t matter what you decide – you can always choose differently next time.
When it comes to larger decisions, such as expensive purchases or choices about the future, you can spend more time considering your options. “It’s easy to over-think, so try writing down your top five questions or concerns and answering those,” says Dannie. “You can write down fewer questions if you like, but not more because you need to work out what is really concerning you. Once you’ve answered all your questions or concerns the decision should be straightforward.”
For example, when faced with buying a new car, you might ask: What is my budget range? What do I need it for? What features do I want? How efficient do I want it to be? And finally – which car/cars fit this description? Once you reach the final question, you should have your answer.
Top tip: Ask yourself if what you’re worrying about really matters. Is it something you can easily change if you make a mistake?
2. Trust your instinct
“You should never ignore your gut instinct,” says Dannie. “That initial feeling you get is from your unconscious mind, the part of you which responds to your memories and emotions. Most of us ignore our instincts and worry about the rules and what other people think we should do.
“You can learn to listen to your gut response by taking note of your feelings. It might help to write them down as you notice them, for example: ‘I have a funny feeling in my tummy about this’, or ‘my face feels hot when I mention this’. You might feel silly, but these responses, whether they make you feel good or bad, should factor in to your ultimate choices.
3. Don't worry about other people
So many of our choices are influenced by other people’s ideas – or even just what we suspect they will think of us afterwards. “Asking family or friends for advice can often complicate decision-making,” says Dannie. “It’s best to trust your own instincts and have confidence in them.” Sometimes people have their own reasons for steering you in a certain direction, which won’t necessarily be the best thing for you.
If the thought of making a choice alone is too scary and you feel you want some help, try to be clear on the help you actually want. Make them aware that you want to make the final decision but that you’d like their help to get there. So say ‘Can you help me work out the pros and cons so I can make a choice?’ That way you make it clear that you will have the final say.
4. Be happy with your choice
“Once you’ve made your decision, stick to it then physically do something to help break your thought process,” says Dannie. “Just a simple task such as making a cup of tea, or putting out the bin, is an antidote to over-thinking, as is reading or listening to the radio.”
If you’re feeling anxious about whether your choice was the right one, just remember that you did your best at that moment in time, based on the information available to you.
“Everything always changes and hindsight is a wonderful thing,” says Dannie. “Sometimes it’s impossible to predict what will happen. All decisions – even those which turn out not to be the right ones – are a learning curve and life’s too short to beat yourself up over them.”
5. Stop distractions
“Our brains are like dogs – they like to play and distract us from the task in hand,” says Dannie, “You need to learn to train yours into a calm focused state.
“I recommend practising mindfulness as a way of tuning out the internal chatter which is probably distracting you from reaching a conclusion.” Mindfulness is all about living in the present moment, so it can help you to focus on what you’re currently doing rather than abstract worries – not to mention that it can also help tackle stress and depression and is recommended by the NHS. Your GP or health worker ahould be able to give you more information. Visit www.bemindful.co.uk
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