What to wear, what to eat, should I go out with Mr. Maybe, should I ask for a raise, each of us makes hundreds of decisions every day. Some big, some small.
How do we avoid making choices that invite regret, resentment, or erode our well-being? Though there’s no surefire way to avoid making mistakes, paying attention to signs we’re on the road to a bad decision can help us switch course before it’s too late. Be prepared to step back if you encounter these six major red flags.
1. Your gut is telling you “no.”
Our instincts aren’t always 100 percent on point, but if you’ve got an uncomfortable feeling about someone or a situation, process these feelings before making a final decision, says Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. “We’re less likely to feel secure with our choices when we haven’t resolved our internal conflicts about them.”
Carmichael suggests making a pro and con list about big decisions (think: Should I end my relationship? Should I take that new job offer? Should I move in with my boyfriend?). Seeing your fears and expectations written down can help you make a well thought-out decision.
No matter how overblown our apprehensions (your boss might not have it in for you after all, nor might your S.O. be cheating), clarifying them helps clue us into who we are and what we need, Carmichael says. Acknowledging and accepting intense emotions or dread helps us feel more grounded, an essential component of making wise choices.
2. You’re super emotional.
Don’t let your emotions make important decisions in your life, says counselor and couples therapist Melody Li, LMFTA. When we’re overly emotional from anger, anxiety, or other intense emotions, we’re more likely to make poor decisions. So before you hit “send” take a moment to cool down and reassess what you’re doing. Think about the consequences of calling your boss an a-hole before you utter the words.
Lower your chances of making bad decisions by not making any long-term commitments or choices that impact important relationships in the heat of the moment. Just five minutes of mindful inhaling and exhaling triggers your body’s relaxation response which begins to clear your mind for making better decisions.
3. You’re totally exhausted.
Sleep deprivation will have you making horrendous choices because your brain is too exhausted to adequately compute risk. Too little sleep also limits our ability to focus, revise plans, and communicate our wants and needs effectively.
When making decisions that will affect your life in a major way don’t be afraid to “sleep on it” and wait until you’re more rested to say yes or no. An overnight mulling allows our unconscious to weigh in, which, research shows, can lead to more satisfying and good-for-us choices.
4. You’re not telling the whole truth.
Keeping certain information about the decision you’re about to make, mean you’re NOT really okay with it. “Lying is often a sign someone hasn’t fully accepted his or her situation,” Li says. It may also indicate we’re not too proud of our choices—because if we were, wouldn’t we want to share it with those we love most?
Granted, there are exceptions such as sparing the feelings of someone you love. But when you find yourself telling half-truths, ask yourself if you’re doing so to avoid another person calling you out on your choices—if so, that’s a bad sign.
5. You’re moving too quickly.
“The urge to get something over with is often a sign something’s off-keel,” says Gina Ryan, an anxiety coach and mindful eating expert. Yes, we live in an age where instant responses are par for the course. But when we make a decision without taking the time to process whether it’s something we actually want, we’re only inviting further confusion and unrest into our lives.
“It takes practice to break the habit of responding right away, but it really is just a habit,” Ryan says. Break it by requesting more time to think if someone’s pressuring you. (A simple “Let me think on that and get back to you” usually does the trick.)
Ask yourself, ‘How would I feel about said decision 10 minutes from now, ten months from now, and ten years from now?’
Keeping the future in mind helps you resist the allure of short-term rewards that don’t lead to lasting satisfaction, Carmichael explains—such as staying involved with someone who makes you feel insecure because you don’t want to feel lonely, or accepting a promotion without considering how it’ll limit quality time with friends and family.
6. You haven’t talked it through.
Make sure you have enough facts to make an informed choice or a backup plan if things don’t go as you planned. Talk to a trusted friend or friends who will not be affected by your decision. Schedule a lunch date; come up with three-to-five questions related to the decision you’re trying to make. Get their input.
Even if you only take some, or none of their advice, viewing your future through the eyes of others helps you discover solutions you may never have come up with by yourself.
Many of the choices we make will have an enormous impact on our health and happiness. A wrong decision can have disastrous consequences. So make sure when you make important decisions you’re in a good position to make an intelligent, though-out choice. -Lisa P.