What to choose? – A guide to better decision making


We have all been there; the moment where we can’t seem to decide and are asking everybody for advice, playing different scenarios in our heads. When it comes to decision making we don’t have it easy, we live in an era where we have so many choices at our fingertips, that we end up not making one at all.

Decisions are part of life and can not be avoided. Not being able to make decisions can leave us tossing and turning at night and adversely affect our moods, creativity and mental health. So, what can we do to make the process of decision making easier? We asked the expert. Kristin Skotnes Vikjord is a clinical psychologist and answered some questions and provided us with tips to make better decisions.

Why do you think we find it so difficult to make decisions?

When we are in situations that trigger us to making decisions, it can be that we are not ready. And this is what creates the tension or difficulty in making a decision. It can be external factors that instigates the necessity to make a decision, like loved ones, or people around us, finances, or other. Or opposite, we might feel internally, emotionally that something needs to change, but we might feel we don’t have the external factors in place required to be able to make the decision.  

What is the psychology behind decision making?

To feel enabled to make a decision, we need to have cognitive congruence. Or at least that the cognitive incongruence isn’t too big. We need to be able to think and feel ourself on the other side, where we’ll be when the decision is made. This is why visualisations can be helpful in the process. However, its not helpful to push yourself, but to be patient to your process. There is something called Readiness for Change, which is a multiple stepped process to understand the psychological mechanisms behind making decisions. We usually jump back and forth in the different stages, from pre-evaluating our options, to evaluation pros- and cons, to starting to process both emotionally and cognitively what is needed and possible hinderances. When all that is more or less aligned, or sufficiently aligned, cognitive capacity is freed, and we are ready for action. And then we spend time in implementing the change, on all levels, emotional, cognitive and behavioural. After that, we use our energy mostly on maintaining in the new.

Are there certain decision making styles?

Decision making styles are informed by our personality, how much predictability and planning we thrive best with, what was modelled to us when we grew up, and external factors. Feeling sufficiently safe is the strongest predictor of how we make our decisions. The pace of our decision making is informed by the intensity in the need to make a decision. Neither ways are better or worse. What is most important is how you feel when making your decision.

What are the methods we can use to make better decisions?

  • Asking for help/support is very beneficial, especially if the decision entails more complex matters or life intervening changes.
  • Be kind and patient with yourself during the process.
  • Getting clarity on your situation is never wrong, like writing it all out on paper.
  • Use perspectivizing, I explain this process in my book, as a way to get some space from the situation, lifting the gaze and see the clearly from above.

How can we cope if we make a bad decision?

It s not helpful labeling decisions good or bad, as we usually have reasons for why we choose what we choose. Even if what we choose isn’t necessary what we need or can even be unconstructive, it’s not helpful to add judgement to it. It helps adding a whole bunch of kindness and understanding. Instead of judging yourself, try understanding what lead you to it, and what you wished it could do for you. And you can always make a new decision. Take new direction, and move towards something else.

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What to choose? – A guide to better decision making