How to make the right choice every time

Making difficult decisions is something that we all dread, and yet when we understand how our brains make tough choices, we can make the whole process a lot simpler and less painful just by trusting ourselves. Here’s the secret that makes difficult decisions easy.

The decision secret

The first step in making a difficult decision is to understand a very surprising secret. Scientists scanning the brains of people making decisions have found that we don’t use our conscious thoughts to make tough choices. They can see that the part of our brain that does the conscious thinking lags a few thousandths of a second behind the decision-making process.

What does this mean? It means that our brains make decisions unconsciously, and then our thoughts catch up an instant later. When we feel like we are thinking through a decision, what we are actually doing is mentally justifying a choice that has already been made by deeper parts of our mind.

So what is this science telling us about making decisions? It tells us that when we are in the agonizing position of trying to think through a difficult choice, we are using the wrong part of our brains to try to solve the problem.

We can’t think our way to the right answer. It’s just not possible.

What’s the easy way?

Some decisions are easy to make. Do you buy the five dollar wallet, or the fifty dollar one? Do you buy the chocolate ice cream or the strawberry? When there are only two or three options, it’s a simple matter of weighing up the numbers, or choosing the flavor you like the best.

Increase the options however, and things rapidly get a lot more complicated. Take your cell phone contract. How many free texts do you want? What about free minutes? Twelve months or more? What if they throw in a better handset? All of these choices will affect the price, and you want the package that’s going to give you the best value for money. How do you work it out?

Researchers have looked into this very carefully. They found that when people try to think through all the possibilities, they almost always choose the wrong contract for them. The truth is that the human brain can’t think through problems with so many choices.

So how do we make the right choice?

Making the right choice

These same researchers asked another group of people to do something different. Rather than try to work out what was the best contract, they asked people to read through all the options carefully and think about what they wanted the most. After having looked at each offer, they were then given a list of all the contracts, and asked to say which one their gut feeling told them was the best.

Amazingly, people then managed to choose the best contract for themselves nine times out of ten – the one that the manufacturers had designed for people with their lifestyle, income and phone habits.

The magic of intuition

We often get a sense of feeling right about things. A hunch that we know what to do and a feeling that things are going to turn out right.

These scientists had shown just what this is: the unconscious mind making decisions for us and then communicating them to us through our feelings.

Putting it into practice

So here’s the method – the way to make complex and difficult decisions. It works just as well with complicated contracts and business deals, or emotionally difficult choices about family and relationships.

First, write out all the options and all the pros and cons of each choice. What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks? What are the payoffs? What are the costs? What will probably happen down the line if you make each choice. Note down your hopes and your fears. Take plenty of time to consider the list.

Don’t try to make any judgments about which is right. Just let all that information sink into your brain and let it do its silent, secret work.

Then, put all the pros and cons to one side and just look at the list of options. Which one does your gut feeling tell you is right?

That’s your answer.

It really is that simple.