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How to make a decision: try the ‘10, 10, 10′ test

It helps to know that we regret more the things we didn’t do than the things we did

Some of us will do anything except make a decision. There’s the mental effort required to sift through alternatives, and then the risk of making the wrong choice; it just feels like too much hard work. Procrastination isn’t a barrel of laughs either. “Sometimes you kick the can down the road and that’s a decision in itself. It’s the decision not to make a decision,” says Susi Lodola, a cognitive behavioural therapist accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. “But if you do that, you are not going to be comfortable about it because it will keep playing on your mind.” Short-circuit this by getting better at making decisions.

Where do I start?

Decision making is a question of weighing up competing personal values, says Lodola. “When you are faced with a decision, what happens is different parts of your values are struggling to reconcile. You might decide you want to book a fabulous holiday because you value travel and adventure. But you don’t want to spend all that money because you also value safety and security,” she says.

Ask yourself which value is more important to you. While one option might be appealing, think about what you need to give to get it. If the trip will leave you skint for half the year, and you really don’t like how that feels, the best option for you may be to delay the trip.

Phone a friend

We can be far better at advising a friend than counselling ourselves. “Imagine your friend is coming to you and asking for your advice,” says Lodola. “What would you advise your friend to do if she came to you?” Another test is to take the option you are leaning towards and let it go for a moment. Tell yourself you are not going to do it. “Ask yourself, how do you feel about definitely not doing the thing?”

The death-bed challenge

If you are swamped by indecision, nothing focuses the mind like death. If you don’t go on the trip or take that high-powered job – will you regret it? “What we know from psychology is that we actually regret more the things we didn’t do than the things we did do,” says Lodola. “Are you going to think, I shouldn’t have gone on that trip, I should have put the money into the house?” If the big job curtails your freedom, maybe you will regret that.

You could try the “10, 10, 10″ test too, she advises. “How will I feel about my decision in 10 days, how will I feel about it in 10 months, and will it even matter in 10 years, how will I feel about it then?”

Go with your gut

Decisions aren’t all about your head, listen to your gut too. “A decision can feel good. You can actually feel that it’s a good idea,” says Lodola. Other decisions, though they look good on paper, can give you the heebeegeebees.

“All of our feelings manifest in our body, anxiety can be in your gut,” she says. “Your gut can start to feel something is not right. This is because your subconscious mind holds the stories of all your experiences, including those you are not even remembering. It sends a signal to your body saying, ‘uh oh, I think we have experience with something similar and it didn’t work out’. It’s sending out this signal, so listen to it.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance