A day is made up of hundreds of small decisions. I’ll wear this; I’ll buy this; I’ll have this for lunch; I’ll go here at 3’oclock; I’ll respond to this e-mail; I’ll delete this one.

For some people, none of this is a big deal. For others, however, making decisions (big and little ones) isn’t easy. They agonize over what to do, vacillating back and forth, and second-guessing themselves even after the decision has been made.

Emily was in the diner with her husband. After several minutes of reading the menu, she said, “Um, let’s see. I don’t know what to order. Maybe I’ll have the burger; no wait, the pasta seems good. Or, maybe the soup and salad. Don, what are you ordering? OK; that sounds good; I’ll have that too.”

Don gets annoyed. He doesn’t understand why she finds the simplest decisions so difficult. Just decide, he tells her. And stick with it. To shortcircuit her indecisiveness, he sometimes makes decisions for the two of them. Emily does not find this helpful. Indeed, she gets annoyed with him for being so controlling. “But we’d never decide anything if I left it up to you,” he retorts.

Good decision-making is a skill that comes easily to some people, not so easily to others. Choices are confusing. Choices can make you anxious. They can cost you peace of mind, even after you’ve made the decision. Have you ever spent hours in your head trying to “undo” the choice you made? “Oh my gosh, I wish I hadn’t done that!”

The skill of good decision-making has become increasingly important. Why? Because we have an abundance of choices, both with the simple things in life (ordering from a menu) and the serious things in life (choosing your cancer treatment). If you would like to improve your decision making, here are five strategies that might help you do just that.

  1. Accept that you can’t have it all.

    Decisions force us to close the door on other possibilities, small ones and big ones. You can’t order every delicious dish on the menu. And there will be paths not taken, careers not chosen, experiences not encountered. Would your marriage to your old love have worked out better? Fantasize all you like, but you’ll never really know. So, visit the “what if” scenario if you must, but do not invite it to take up space in your gray matter. Let the past be. Live in the present where what you do today will make a difference.

  2. More thinking is not always better thinking.

    It’s often good to think through your decisions. But don’t overdo it. Research can reach a point of diminishing returns, confusing more than clarifying. Many good decisions can be made based as much on intuition as on meticulous assessment of endless data.

  3. Don’t defer decisions endlessly.

    Yes, there is a time to put off making a decision. Perhaps you need more information. Maybe you wish to consult with your accountant, or wait for a less stressful time. Just don’t wait so long that the decision is made for you by someone else (“You didn’t take care of it so I did it my way”), by the passage of time (“Sorry, the application deadline was last week”) or by your being so upset with your own indecisiveness that you make an impulsive decision (“oh, what the heck, I’ll just sign it”).

  4. Trust your intuition.

    Intuition is an impression, a perception, an insight whose origins you may not fully understand. It can be an important source of information. Do not ignore it. But don’t confuse intuition with impulsiveness. Impulsiveness is the urge to do something to meet an emotional need of the moment that often (though not always) leads you down a path you’ll regret.

  5. Some decisions don’t work out as expected; this doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong.

    You decide to go on a cruise. You choose a luxury liner. Everything should work out just right. Only you didn’t count on a bug that spread through the ship, making you and your family sick for five days. You berate yourself for making such a stupid decision. No, no, no. You did not make a stupid decision. It’s just that sometimes the unexpected happens. You’re understandably disappointed. Just don’t be hard on yourself or blame yourself for what happened.

Here’s to happy decision-making!