How To Make The Right Decision, Every Time

Whether you are trying to choose between job offers, universities or what to do with your $5000 tax return, we can all become stifled when faced with the pointy end of a decision. This anxiety stems from our fear of making the wrong choice, because we all know that saying ‘yes’ to option one means saying ‘no’ to option two. Somehow, we forget that just about every decision – besides buying a house or having a baby – is reversible; heck, even tattoos aren’t permanent anymore. So, if you find yourself at the crossroads of decision-making hell, here are some tips on how to tune out that white noise and make the best choice possible.

A new take on pro/con lists

Our minds have the power to turn even small decisions into large, complicated, intricate messes. The good old pro/con list offers us a way to shape all that mental chaos into one neat and orderly list, however, this classic tool has a fatal flaw: not all pros and cons carry equal weight.

For example, let’s say your Brisbane-based work contract has finished up and you now have the option to move to either Melbourne or Perth. You have a close friend in Melbourne who is looking for a roommate and you’re familiar with the city, plus you have family that live close by. But you don’t have a job. At the same time, a Perth based company that you’ve long admired has offered you a casual position; the downside is that you don’t know anyone in the state let alone the city. That being said, you have always wanted to see Western Australia. If you were to put these facts into a pro/con list, it would look something like this:


Looking at these two lists, it would seem that Melbourne is the better option since it has more items listed in the pro column. But! It fails to take into account the value or level of importance each point has for you. Let’s say you are a highly capable, friendly person who is ready for a challenge. If you were to rate each of these points on a scale of 0 to 10 and then tally those points, your pro/con list may look something like this:

Melbourne 2
It turns out that by rating each of these points the riskier move to Perth comes out above the safer move to Melbourne.

Looking at the Long Game

Imagining what you’ll regret in the future is another way you can clarify a cloudy decision-making scenario. If you are considering making a major change but feel a bit shaky about the risk factor, ask yourself, “In ten years time, would I regret not having done this?”

If not this, then what?

I was living in Sydney, renting a room in someone else’s tiny apartment, working three jobs as a magazine writer, radio producer and waitress while trying to keep a long distance relationship alive and write a book.

Money was tight. After a few months, my will became wearied and my homesickness crippling. During one of those anxious “What the hell am I doing with my life?” phone conversations, a good friend asked me, “What would it look like if you decided to stay in Sydney?”

I answered, “Hard. No money. No creative fulfilment… But it could eventually lead to a full-time position with the company and I’m making some great contacts.”

“What would it look like if you left Sydney?”

My chest instantly unwound: it hadn’t even occurred to me that I could leave.

“Well, embarrassing that I couldn’t make it work, but the financial relief would be enormous. I could live at home again, though there’s no work in my field back there, but at least I’d have the time and energy to pursue writing on my days off… because I’d actually have days off.”

You’ll notice that both scenarios have their pros and cons, but when the options were laid out in front of me like that, the decision seemed pretty obvious. It was time to go home.

Sometimes when we make a decision and it doesn’t work out, we get so stuck in the sucky-ness of the situation that we can’t see our alternative options. When you ask yourself “If not this, then what?” It pulls your head out of the sand long enough for you to realise there’s a horizon out there.

If you plan on living an interesting life, then you’re going to find yourself at these decision-making crossroads from time-to-time, so it’s handy to develop some techniques to better your path choosing abilities. And remember, almost every decision is reversible. Even that misspelt tattoo.

Tara East has a Bachelor of Journalism (JCU), a Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing (USQ) and a Masters in Professional Practice Creative Writing (USC). Her work has appeared in ABC Local and TEXT journal.