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How to best prioritize and eliminate options

Sep. 27, 2017
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We face stressful decisions every day… and we typically exaggerate the stress they force us to take on. That’s understandable, though: it’s hard not to blow things out of proportion when  decisions can have huge impacts on our lives. What college should you attend?  Should you move to a new city? Should you go for the mango frozen yogurt or the matcha cookies? These are big decisions, people!

The most valuable skill you can hone is the ability to trust your gut, but there are other factors that can help minimize the stress of decision-making. Not sure where to start? Here are some tips and exercises to help make decision-making less daunting.

1. What’s the matter?

Think about what problem this decision is solving. Why is there a decision to make in the first place? Ideally, the purpose of the decision will be clear. Think in very plain terms. Try to limit yourself to one sentence.

Example: You need to decide between sweatpants and jeans. The simple purpose would be “I need to choose an outfit for today.”

2. Why is this choice important?

Think about why this decision is important. What is the reason this decision must be made? This is another plain-terms kind of question.

Example: “I have to pick the best outfit for my schedule today. I plan to run errands and have lunch with a friend.”

3. What’s your first impression?

Next, start to list the options. Examine each path by its pros and cons. Don’t think too long. Write down your gut reaction.

Example: “I really like comfy clothes. I’m really feeling my black sweats today, but those bottoms can make me look really bummy because of how baggy they are. I really like how my jeans fit. They complement my legs, but limit my range of movement.”

4. What are the facts?

After finishing your list, recognize the facts of the situation—the information which cannot be impacted by your feelings. Make a note of whether each fact is positive, negative, or neutral. If, say, a college you’re considering is two hours away from your home, you could mark that fact as positive, negative, or neutral, depending on your situation—but your designation won’t change the fact that that college is two hours away.

Example: “The weather will be rainy today (negative). My sweatpants soak up more water than my jeans do (negative). My jeans are with the laundry that is not done (negative). It takes two hours to finish the laundry (neutral). I have four hours until lunch with my friend (positive).”

5. “What could possibly go wrong (or right)?”

Now you’ve made it to part that needs a bit more brain power. Try one of these exercises to create a better idea of which option would be best for the situation you’re in:

Ripple Effect: This exercise is for widening your tunnel vision. Imagine the other aspects of your life that will be affected by each choice. “If I do (option), then (aspect of life) will (change in this way).” Remember to predict short-term and long-term effects.

Visualization: This is to figure out if you will really be comfortable in the environment you will place yourself in. Imagine a scene. Describe where you are. Don’t think about how you feel, only what is around you, and maybe how you look. Once you finish setting up the scene, then you can think about how you’d feel being placed in that scene. Construct the setting, then add the feelings.

Mind Declutter: What is your biggest problem with the each option? What are the things that keep stopping you from making that choice? What is stealing all your attention? Once you identify the problems, try to find quick solutions. Even if you think the solution may not be the best, list it. You want to eliminate as many problems to see where the real, lingering problems exist.

Do you have a better idea of how to approach decision-making from a stress-free standpoint? Do you feel more confident in your ability to face your current decisions? Let us know in the comments!