eel hesitant when you have to make any decision? I've been there. Indecisiveness was painful, especially on things that don't matter that much.
Recently I started to dig deep into the problem and looked for an answer in neuroscience. It turns out that the same [midbrain's reward system](https://www.maray.ai/posts/morning-ritual) is responsible for the decision-making process and 10 effective ways that I'll explain, can help you to become more decisive using rationality.
The deliberate practice and the mindful approach I am about to tell improved my decision-making and allowed me to use my attention where it matters the most.
Additionally, I journal my decisions and reflect upon them in the future. You can copy the [template](https://www.notion.so/maray/Decision-Making-Journal-Template-015a6eea73bd40a1a8e1ec5bf8af7d5a) and use it to improve your decision-making skills.
## The Neuroscience of Rational Decision Making
Decision neuroscience is a young field that started about 20 years ago.
Daniel Salzman, a neuroscientist at Yale, [describes](https://www.brainfacts.org/archives/2011/the-neuroscience-of-decision-making#:~:text=Research) the decision-making process as **assigning a value** on what we are seeing, which is a whole economic decision making. Rewards that are considered valuable by the midbrain's reward system, promote easier decision making.
> In essence, decision-making thinking is a prediction process, where you simulate the outcomes of different decisions, rewards, and risks, and try to choose one with the highest reward.
Prediction is based on your **experience and knowledge**.
Reinforcement learning is capable of changing synaptic connections between neurons. Learning by trial and error can lead to profound changes in your behavior. Dopamine, the reward signaling neurotransmitter, plays a substantial role in changing neural synapses and, thus, your behavior.
Even simple decisions, such as choosing a dish on the menu, require placing a value on each choice. The value is determined by prior experience and memories. The more rewarding experience would factor in a higher value score and vice versa.
To make decisions easier, you have to work on the prediction, compare the outcomes, and choose one that is the most beneficial to you.
## 10 insightful ways to rational decision making
If you understand the decision-making process and learn how you make the most of your decision, you can shape your destiny in the way you want to.
Instead of relying on the automatic limbic system, the ancient part of the brain, you take the control of your life using analysis and rationality.
As with any profound change, it takes time and deliberate practice to shift the way you think and operate. It is not a magic pill but a powerful method to base your decision on knowledge and logic.
Let's jump straight into the step by step process. If you are interested in the underlying processes that happen in your brain, make sure to read the neuroscience chapter.
Here are 10 effective and insightful ways to cure and elevate your decision-making process.
### 1. Assign a numeric value to the outcome.
Every decision rests on assigning value. If you struggle to compare and rely on your gut feeling, set a metric, and use it for a simpler comparison.
Numbers can be a clear metric.
For instance, when you decide on the job offer to take, you can compare the salaries. However, other properties are not that easy to evaluate.
Rate each property on a scale from 1 to 10 and then compare the results. A rating can include coworkers, the company's culture, and the distance from home.
The sum of ranks will give you an estimate of different options and easier comparison.
### 2. Identify the root cause of the problem.
The hardship of decision making is a symptom of an **underlying problem**.
Painkillers do not resolve the issue. They alleviate the pain, but the symptoms come back later.
Often you only need to work out an episode in the past to ameliorate its negative consequences.
Think about what can cause you the problem.
Is it perfectionism, high expectations, or lack of experience?
For instance, when I suffered from [maladaptive perfectionism](https://www.maray.ai/posts/maladaptive-perfectionism), I used to expect such a high outcome that it was nearly **impossible** to reach. Once I figured it out and worked out my perfectionism issue, the decisions came much easier.
### 3. Self-reflect: learn what you value and want
The more you know yourself, the easier it becomes to choose the best possible outcome for you.
Most people drift in the current of life without realizing what they want.
I was in a similar boat before. I did not plan my life or set goals. I did not know myself and what I value the most.
Therefore, I could not decide on important topics such as career, family, and self-development.
Once I learned more about myself and planned my life accordingly, I suddenly knew what is best for me and what choice should I take.
For instance, when I set my **guiding principle** to be self-fulfillment and financial independence, every decision gained more weight when those yearnings were among the variables.
Lack of self-reflection, goals, and planning leave you blind and make you indecisive. You just do not know what you value the most and where you want to be in the future.
### 4. Lower expectations.
High expectations, most of the time, lead to disappointment. They also make decisions harder to make because you rely on and hope for the best possible outcome.
In reality, planning and execution often bring different results. It is challenging to take into account every detail and every variable that can influence the outcome.
Lowering expectations can result in a positive experience and make you more decisive.
### 5. Focus on decisions that matter.
Do not waste your resources on things that do not matter. Take ordinary things with ease and focus on essentials.
Your attention is a very limited resource. Depleting it on insignificant decisions leave you resourceless for more important tasks.
Make small decisions fast. Invest your time and resources on things that matter to you the most.
### 6. Get rid of perfectionism.
[Perfectionism](https://www.maray.ai/posts/maladaptive-perfectionism) is a parasite that grows inside and hinders self-growth.
In decision-making, strife for perfectionism makes the outcomes impossible.
None of the outcomes can be perfect. It leads to struggle and hesitation.
Regret is **imminent** because the expectations can never meet reality.
Learn to trade off what matters to you the most. Strive for excellence instead of perfectionism.
### 7. Accept things that are out of your control.
Stoic philosophy teaches us to **accept** events and outcomes that are out of control.
Human minds, especially the brain's limbic system, is focused on negativity.
Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher, teaches us to stay in the present and accept things that are out of our hands.
"True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing." - Seneca
There is a constant battle between the rational neocortex and the ancient limbic system over your well-being. The former strives for excellence, mastery, and learning while the latter is focused on survival aspects of your life.
To win the battle, acknowledge that negative feelings about past or future events are merely the work of the ancient part of the brain that has little relevance in the modern world.
### 8. Build a new habit.
Doubting yourself and hesitating over a decision is a harmful habit.
Years of such practice formed your thinking patterns to always respond in hesitation. If you want to structure your thoughts and make confident decisions, you have to shift the way you think. To make a room for a new habit, you have to get rid of the old one.
Start small by using and implementing the tips you learn today in your decision-making process. Make the practice as easy as possible. To successfully build a habit, you have to follow a few simple rules.
1. Make it easy.
2. Make it satisfying.
3. Be consistent.
4. Increment the complexity.
If you learn more about building habits you can read how I built [productive morning rituals](https://www.maray.ai/posts/morning-ritual), set and track my [goal system](https://www.maray.ai/posts/goal-system-notion).
### 9. Acknowledge that you cannot predict the future.
Nobody can. Even the forecast specialists.
There are so many variables that are extremely hard to take into account.
The good news is the more you learn, the more accurate your predictions will become.
Analyze the possible outcomes, compare, and choose one. The result will likely alter from your expectation, but that's life. The sooner you realize, the easier you will make decisions.
### 10. Decision Journal.
Analyze your decisions and learn from them.
Knowledge and experience make your predictions more accurate.
Deliberate practice and feedback help you to grow and learn.
The more you know and experience, the more accurate your predictions will be.
Use the [template](https://www.notion.so/maray/Decision-Making-Journal-Template-015a6eea73bd40a1a8e1ec5bf8af7d5a) I prepared for you to journal each decision and learn from them.
- Analyze the outcomes.
- Write the pros and cons of each decision.
- Assign a value and choose one with the most valuable outcome.
- Was the decision successful?
- What can I learn from it?
- What could I do differently?
## Decision Journal template in Notion
I use Notion to track and analyze my past decisions, but you can use a pen and paper if you like.
Whenever there is a moderately complex problem to solve, use the [template](https://www.notion.so/maray/Decision-Making-Journal-Template-015a6eea73bd40a1a8e1ec5bf8af7d5a), and start analyzing the outcomes.
Each entry is a decision. Each decision has a set of properties: outcomes, pros, and cons, questions, and review date.
Decision journaling helps to track your actions and improve on the gained insight.
Here is a step by step process to journal your decisions so that you can reflect on them in the future.
1. Define the best and the worst outcomes.
2. List the pros and cons.
3. Set a reminder to review in the future.
4. Review and define the actual results.
5. Find out what you could do differently and what you can learn.
## Why it is hard to make a decision
Decision making might seem hard for a few reasons.
First, it's a **skill that should be built and improved**. If you can barely walk, running will always be difficult. Sharper analytical skills lead to better insights on the outcomes. The more you practice the easier it gets.
Second, the ancient part of the brain, the limbic system, is **always focused on the negative** part of the outcome. You are afraid of the worst possible scenario. Fear makes you hesitate and be in the horns of a dilemma.
The worst feeling.
I was in the same boat. The worst possible consequences and the feeling of missing out made any decision a nightmare. My expectations were always high and I did not want to regret my actions.
I was curious about where does this behavior originate from. I looked in neuroscience to get an insight into the underlying process that takes place in the brain.
What I found helped me to understand the problem and put the knowledge into building my decision-making skill.
## Benefits of quick decision making
The main benefit is **your time and energy**. After a certain threshold, you will continue to spend resources on the question, but will not gain any more valuable insight or knowledge.
Pareto's principle applies to decision making as well. 20% of pondering will result in 80% of the insight you gain. The rest of the time you spend on the problem will just bring a few additional details that will not mode the scale.
However, the said 20% mean deliberate thinking over the problem to make a weighted decision. Deciding important things with a snap of the fingers means relying on randomness and uncertain outcome.
To spend your time wisely, make sure to check my guide for a decision making process template. Templates are awesome because they create a framework with predefined question and analysis that is easy to go through and gain an insight into the problem.
The more you practice using a template, the more you'll automate the task and integrate it into your thinking.
## How to make decisions under pressure
Decision making is a skill and that you can learn and build. Deciding something under pressure is the **expert level** of the skill.
To learn, you have to start from the beginning and build your way up to the level where you can decide in responsible moments.
Practice and learning will make you more resilient, which means that pressure will elevate. The time limit will turn into another variable in the process.
The outcomes will come easier and more accurate. Seeing values and disadvantages in certain outcomes will be more visible. Making a decision will turn into a process of juggling different variables, such as the value, the outcome, the cost, and so on.
## Final thoughts
Decision making can be frustrating because the ancient part of your brain relies on predictions and the choice to determine your well-being in the future.
The thing is, it exaggerates the worst consequences. In reality, nothing life-threatening can happen.
To sum up, make small decisions quickly, and break down crucial choices and analyze them.
Copy the [template](https://www.notion.so/maray/Decision-Making-Journal-Template-015a6eea73bd40a1a8e1ec5bf8af7d5a) and start building a powerful habit to be more decisive in personal and professional lives.