This is a big topic.

If you run a business and agonize over making decisions, you know what I’m talking about — making decisions can be really hard.

But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you make it.

Current research is now backing up what you may have always known — we make our best decisions when we use our intuition and are not given too much time to think about them. Imagine this: even the U.S. military and fire fighters are being studied for how they make their best decisions — and it’s not how you think.

In his groundbreaking and often quoted 1938 book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill said that, after analysis of 25,000 men and women who had experienced failure, “lack of decision” was near the head of the list of the 30 major causes.

Mr. Hill’s advice is to emulate one of Henry Ford’s most outstanding qualities, which was “his habit of reaching decisions quickly and definitely, and changing them slowly.”

It’s not so different today.

I’ve been interested in decision making for years because:

a.) I’ve had to make big decisions for my business, just like you do

b.) many of my clients agonize over decisions and how to make them, and

c.) traditional decision-making methods just don’t work for many people.

So I’ve done some poking around.


And here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The way you intuitively make decisions, even if you can’t describe how you do it, is probably the best and most accurate way for you
  • Agonizing over a decision for a long time doesn’t help you make better decisions than being smart about making decisions quickly
  • Comparing lists of options may help with organizing your thoughts in decision making, but it won’t always tell you which choice is right for you
  • Comparing lists of options can be overwhelming for some people and in some situations
  • Comparing lists of options is often the only way we’re taught to make decisions, and if it doesn’t work for you, it can make you feel stressed and boxed in, making it even more difficult to make the decision
  • Business owners spend way too much time trying to make decisions
  • Many business owners abdicate their decisions to others by basing their decisions on the opinions of people who may or may not be knowledgeable enough to help
  • Because they find decision making difficult, many business owners choose to put off or not make decisions, which is a decision of the worst kind

This topic has been coming up a lot for me and my clients recently, so in this post I’m sharing what I’m finding about the best, easiest, quickest, and truest ways for you to make decisions — for your business, and for your life.


How to Make Good Decisions Quickly: 8 Ideas that Really Work

1. Use your intuition to imagine the right answer

Decision making doesn’t have to be completely logical. Even the logic-based scientific community is recognizing new ways to make decisions, based on the way people actually make them. One of these is called the recognition primed decision making model. (I know — they named it something scientific sounding, but it’s actually a naturally intuitive way to make decisions. Those crazy scientists.)

With this method, which is being used to replace conventional decision-making processes in the U.S. military, you think about just one course of action and then consider whether it will achieve the outcome you’re looking for.

In essence, you run a scenario through in your mind and ask yourself, will this work? If you think it will (based on your experience and intuition), you move ahead.

If you think it won’t work, you may alter your scenario. If it still won’t work in your mental run-through, you throw it away and start again with a different scenario.

That’s it! With this approach, intuition is used to recognize situations and help decide how to respond, and then your brain analyzes it to verify that what your intuition is suggesting is appropriate.

Your intuition is driving the bus! It’s saying, “I think this will work, let’s do a run-through to test it out.”

Researchers suggest that more than 90% of important decisions are probably made this way, rather than by comparing options. This method if making decisions is being used to replace existing military decision-making processes because it’s bolder and better adapted to what’s actually happening than other plans, and is now being recommended in the global war on terrorism — because it works.

2. Ask, is this really me?

I love this method of coming to a decision about whether something is right for you — who cares if it’s right or not right for someone else?

In this post by Steve Pavlina, he walks us through the transformation of the decision-making process when you look at it from the intuitive “is this really me?” perspective instead of the logical “what’s the best choice to make?” perspective.

Steve explains that every decision is more than just the choice between paths — it’s also a chance for creative self-expression. So when you’re faced with the decision of which path to take in your business, instead of just weighing the financial and logistical implications, you can also ask yourself, “is this really me?” — and you may be surprised to hear a clarifying answer such as, “This path isn’t going to be easy, but I know this is the right way to go because it’s who I am.” Or you may conclude, “No matter how I try to represent this to myself, I know that deep down this isn’t who I am. This just isn’t me.”

That’s deep stuff, but in his post, Steve uses this same process to choose a desk for his office, turning a boring chore into an interesting and fun experience.

Try asking, “is it really me?” the next time you’re faced with a hard-to-make decision, and then really listen to the answer.

3. Question your snap decisions — unless you’re a cave man

Our ability to make snap decisions comes from the fact that we still have the same brain as our Stone Age ancestors, whose decisions could mean the difference between having an evening meal and being an evening meal. You’re not as likely to get eaten today, and “snap” doesn’t always equal “best choice,” but the ability to make snap decisions is still linked to your own self-preservation — so ya gotta listen.

When you make a snap decision on something, stop, and ask yourself, “why did I think that?” Or, “why do I feel that way?” Taking this extra step will give your intuition and experience a chance to sort through to the answer behind the answer, giving you the back-up you need to feel good about your choice — and giving you a better shot at making the right decision.

Or, to rethink it. Since you’re not a cave man.

4. Run the decision by your values

Everyone has personal values, and you probably have values for your business too, even if you haven’t formally written them down (which you should). You decided when you started your business that it was going to fit you, and be a good match for the way you live your life. But do you use your values to help guide you when making decisions for your business? Doing so consciously can make decisions easier and lower your stress level.

As entrepreneurs, we are always looking for opportunities — and sometimes we get opportunities we’re not too sure about. Looking at your values and really considering them against the opportunity will give you great insight and the knowledge and understanding to be able to say, “Yes, this is a great opportunity for my business (it matches my values),” or “I’ll pass on this. It’s not for me (it doesn’t match my values).”

This may surprise those around you who say, “What!? Dude, this could be huge — what is your problem?” If you’ve done this correctly, your answer will be, “It doesn’t line up with my core values and purpose – it’s not what we’re passionate about.” It’s not the direction you’re going. It doesn’t fit you. And you only have to look to your values to know whether it does or not.

5. Check your body truth

This is a decision-making process that I have used for years. It’s kind of like listening to your own gut reaction, but I use it in a more structured way. It works well if you’ve got to decide between two things.

Go somewhere where you won’t be interrupted. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and visualize the first situation as clearly as possible. Put yourself into that situation — now, and maybe two years from now.

Put a lot of detail into it, as much as you can, and make it active. Put yourself into the scene, and see yourself moving around, talking to people, doing things. Spend at least 5 minutes visualizing each scene and interacting in it.

While in each situation, notice how you feel —  do you feel expansive and tingly, or  do you feel shrinking and “less than,” anxious, unhappy — or what? Write down what you feel. Compare the experiences.

You’ll get a definite body signal that is called your “body truth” — your body will give you that answer. It may be surprising, but it will fit you because it’s tapping into your intuition, and sometimes your brain can’t get to it without sidestepping your wiring in that way.

6. Consider your decision in a different language

There is brand new research (April 2012) that suggests you can make better decisions if you consider your options in a non-native language.

In a recent press release, Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago states, “We know from previous research that because people are naturally loss-averse, they often forgo attractive opportunities. Our new findings demonstrate that such aversion to losses is much reduced when people make decisions in their non-native language.”

Graduate students at the University of Chicago studied 6 experiments with over 600 people in 3 continents who spoke English, Korean, French, Spanish, and Japanese, and also spoke a second language.

People in the study were more “likely to take favorable risks” if they weighed their options in another language, while making the decision in a native language caused the individuals to be shortsighted in their decisions “because they were focused on fear of losing.”

Before you go off to dig out your high school language texts, though, consider this caution in the article, published in Digital Journal, “a large body of experimental evidence shows that emotions are immensely valuable in making good decisions — that gut instincts derive from hard-earned experience and are ignored at our peril.” These emotions would not be available when making decisions in a non-native language.

As with most things, the trick is to know yourself and what works for you, and to try things — this process might be extremely beneficial for some of your decisions, but not very useful for others. It’s another method for your bag of tricks, if you happen to be bilingual. Fascinating, but not very useful if you’re not, like me.

7. Think of it as a test, or imagine others watching your decision making process and critiquing you

Did you ever shape up and do a better job at something when you knew you’d be graded or reviewed by someone? Do you try harder or stand up straighter when someone is watching you? That’s the idea with this decision-making strategy.

When dealing with a decision you just can’t seem to come to grips with, ask yourself how you’d handle the decision or the decision-making process if you had to report on your actual process — would you use a different process? Would it be a better process? Would you come to a decision more quickly if someone you respected were watching your process, and you had to report on how you arrived at the decision?

A variation on this is to think of someone you respect and ask yourself what they would do in your situation — it can be anyone from a family member to a favorite teacher to a historical or religious figure. Often you’ll immediately know the right solution to the problem when you imagine how someone else would approach it.

Pick a decision, pick a real or imaginary person to report to or emulate, and try it out. The results may astound you.

8. Do you want to do it?

Well, do you?

This taps directly into your emotions and intuition, isn’t logical at all, and it really does matter in your decision-making process.

Go head. Ask yourself, “do I really want to do this?”

A strong, “hell, yes!” can add weight that a lukewarm, “I can take it or leave it” just can’t, giving you a better feeling about moving forward when added to other parameters you may be considering.

And what if your answer is “hell, no!”? Should this answer stop you in your tracks? Well, that depends, doesn’t it? If what you really don’t want to do will help to save someone’s life, should you go ahead anyway? Does asking this question help you decide?

What have you tried?

Do you agonize over decisions? Would you like to be able to make them more quickly?

Have you tried any of these methods to make decisions? Do you think they’ll help you? Please give us a “hell, yes!” and share what you think!