How to Be Decisive

A few months ago, Trey and I were on the Smart Passive Income podcast (here’s our episode if you want to listen). We were talking about diversifying your income as a small business, and also personally. Anyway, at one point in the interview, Pat asked us what our superpowers were. And truthfully, I didn’t really know what to say. I think I said something about being positive. (Groundbreaking, Emma.) But then Trey chimed in and said he thought my superpower was being decisive. And after he said it, I realized he is right. Also, thanks honey! But I’ve thought a lot about that since then. Like, how exactly do you be a decisive person? What is the process I go through internally and externally when I make decisions?

I also must admit that I have sometimes noticed friends really struggling with making a decision on something, and it can really hold them back from, well, moving forward. I thought I’d just share five things that help me be decisive. And I’d love to hear if anyone else has other things that help them, or if that’s even something you struggle with at all.

Set a time limit for research and debate.

Of course you don’t want to become so decisive that you make snap decisions without really thinking it through (I’ve definitely been guilty of this). But, I also think this is a really easy way to give yourself an excuse to not make a decision at all. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to research and really think through whatever situation is before you, but once the time limit is up it’s time to pull the trigger.

Weigh the best- and worst-case scenarios.

This is usually the very first thing I do when making a decision, especially a big one that may carry big consequences. Most of the time, I find that the worst-case scenario isn’t really that big of a deal; it’s something that I could weather (like looking foolish, or minor financial setbacks). But if the worst-case scenario is very, very bad (like you go bankrupt, you have to lay off your entire team, you go to jail, etc.), then that should obviously carry some weight. I also like to weigh the best-case scenario and try to be very realistic about it. Because even if the potential negative consequences are small, but the positive outcome is also very small, it may not be worth your time. You might have something really amazing come along tomorrow, so you don’t necessarily want to clog up your best resources (your time) with things that ultimately won’t move the needle.

Avoid FOMO by knowing your values.

In case you haven’t heard, FOMO stands for fear of missing out, and it’s REAL. I also think fomo is most often an emotional reaction, rather than a logical one. I don’t think you should put aside all emotion when making decisions, as that doesn’t really make sense in real life all of the time. But I also think that constantly making decisions with your heart and without your head can end up hurting you in the end. The universe has given us both, so we should use both.

Anyway, it’s important to know your values and what it is you truly want out of life. If one of your core values this year is to spend more time with your family but you say yes to every work opportunity that comes your way … well, I’d evaluate that a little more. Because you values are not currently aligning with the decisions you’re making. It’s your job to live the life you want. So you have to be very intentional about what that life is and then pursue it passionately. And this sometimes may mean skipping a good opportunity because it doesn’t truly align with your current values. Ditch the fomo and do what’s right for you.

Believe this isn’t your only opportunity in life.

My point here is simply to say that I don’t think you should make decisions based on fear. Or at least not most of the time. Obviously there are some cases where this would make sense (if you see a hungry looking bear in the forest, I’d run!), but most of the time it doesn’t. Let me give you an example. Imagine you’ve been dating this really nice guy, but you don’t really love him. You’re afraid you’ll never meet anyone else and he’s not so bad, so you just stay with him. And he proposes and you say yes, not because you really want to marry him, but because you are afraid you’ll never get to marry anyone else. Bleak, right!?

Sometimes we make poor decisions, or just really mediocre ones because we don’t believe we can do better. We don’t believe we’ll be given other opportunities in life, so we settle for anything. And while I do believe you should take advantage of what may be in front of you, I also am a BIG believer in having faith in yourself.

Live looking forward, not back. Live with no regrets.

Sometimes, we make a bad decision. It happens. If anyone reading this believes they are perfect, I am sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re not. No one is. When we make a bad decision, we should absolutely pay attention and try to learn from it. But we should not spend the next decade of our life thinking about what could have been. Don’t spend too much of your life looking backward. Goal setting is all about moving forward, however imperfectly it may look at times. Learn from mistakes, sure, but don’t dwell on them. You are not the sum of your mistakes. You are so much more. Keep your eyes looking forward toward what you want to achieve and who you want to be. You’ll get there, but only by putting one foot in front of the other and you can’t do that when you’re looking behind you all the time.

Now get out there and make some life-changing decisions! I’ll be over here rooting for you. xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photo: Katie Day. Photo edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • I used to be incredibly decisive, maybe a little too much, but for some reason that’s completely changed since meeting my pertner because he’s so laid back. It’s kind of rubbed off on me and I’ve become this major procrastinator – it’s infuriating. I’d love to get some of my decisiveness back, so thanks for the tips.

    Emma | https://geekytourist.com

  • Great topic & insight, Emma! I can always see the benefits to each opportunity that comes my business’ way, but on the other hand I know I have a finite amount of time & resources. Getting choosier and learning how to say ‘no, thank you’ has been an on going but worthwhile process. Thanks for sharing how you work through it! xo

  • I often struggle with being indecisive. I hope to improve this trait knowing that the hypothetically consequences are often minimal. Thanks!

    NancyUgo.com

  • Thank you so much!! This came at just the right time for me! I am very indecisive and tend to look back on the decisions I have made and beat myself up over them. I should be looking forward and just learning from them….life it too short to live with regret. This is something I need to remind myself. Thank you for the insight…it all makes sense!

  • This post is so timely for me, as I’m sure it is for so many people. I think so much about what people will think of me. When you said that a setback might be looking silly, I’m over here like “yep, that’s the worst thing possible and absolutely why I can’t move forward- why I’m paralyzed so much of the time.” But you’re right. If I know my values then I can navigate through a lot. Whose opinion do I value? Why? Do they support my key values? Goals?

    This was so good! Thank you for sharing your strengths as well as your weaknesses. It’s encouraging to see someone accept themselves as they are while still setting goals and moving forward.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I feel really ‘seen’ with your comment about accepting our weaknesses but still moving forward. Yes x100 🙂 I do not always make the right decision, but I often do. And either way, we gotta keep moving forward.

      Anyway, really appreciate it.

  • This is something I struggle with a ton. You’re right – it does hold me back. I get decision fatigue very easily as well. The truth is – most of the decisions I have to make really aren’t life or death: what to make for the school cake walk, what to make for dinner tonight, etc. I really like the timeframe deadline. That’s a good one. I really needed a new phone case and had put putting it off forever because I felt like it was going to take too long to “research” and pick the right one. My husband said “ANY phone case you pick is better than what you have”. So sometimes any decision is better than no decision in my case lol

    • Yep! I’ve done that before too, maybe not a phone case exactly but the same kind of thing. And you know, it’s probably not the last phone case you’ll ever buy either. So it’s another opportunity to learn if you end up buying one that could be better. Which is the same in life… it’s all a lesson if we let it be. And it all moves us forward.

      Maybe it’s like remember to make a ‘good’ decision, over the ‘right’ decision? Idk. But thanks for sharing this story.

  • I quit my job yesterday to go freelance so this really resonated. It was such a big decision but definitely the right one.

  • A very valid and relevant topic Emma! I think lots of people struggle with being decisive in life, especially in business. I think the real key lies in having faith in yourself and trusting that you’ll handle whatever happens as a result of your decision. That helps remove the fear around the decision.

    Two other things I think are important when making decisions come from Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’ (a great read I recommend to anyone!):

    1) There are no ‘bad’ decisions. Rather than looking at two paths with a ‘win/lose’ mindset, look at each one with a ‘win/win’ mindset. Even if things don’t turn out how you wanted, or even go absolutely catastrophic, it’s still a win, because that will likely lead you somewhere else you want to be and all work out for your good. Not to mention you’ll learn lots of lessons along the way, and become a much stronger person. Susan’s motto is ‘You can handle it’ and it really does help when making decisions.

    2) Once you’ve made the decision, LET GO OF THE EXPECTATION. This means that whatever picture you built up in your head to help you make the decision, it’s best to let go of it when the decision has been made. This keeps you from setting yourself up for disappointment and allows you to enjoy whatever good comes out of the decision more FULLY – instead of wondering what could have been.

  • Amazing tips! I’m the worst at making decisions but I really want to get better at it because I know it’s not only an important part of life but also for a possible career in a leadership position, which is definitely my goal careerwise. I’m definitely gonna listen to your tips and try to get better, thank you for sharing!

  • I have joked that I make a good manager because I have no trouble making arbitrary decisions. 😜 Jokes aside, I do believe decisiveness allows more room to actually enjoy life, and I have often wondered how to coach folks I love to take the leap and make big decisions. This is super helpful!

  • I know this is under the “business tips” but I took this very personally and I got emotional?? I’m in the process of decision making from moving to a different state, but that process is with my husband. He’s logical, I make decisions based on feelings but i still need goals and a road map. I didn’t know where to start, it’s overwhelming and this was very clear. It’s a superpower to help other people too!

  • Thank you for sharing those tips! I have huuuge FOMO and that’s always been my biggest problem. Unfortunately, putting my priorities first has not played so well for me recently, because I’ve lost some opportunities which were very important. But saying NO this one time felt really empowering, because it gave me control over my life. I now own my decision even though it was probably not the best. No regrets, right?!

    PavlyDovely | PavlyDovely.com

  • These are great tips. It is so easy to be indecisive about things. I know that this isn’t completely related, but I always give myself five seconds to decide things. Like when your alarm goes off in the morning, countdown from five and right when you get to one you get up. It applies to all things in life and I love it! Thanks for sharing!

    -Kate
    https://daysofkate.com/

  • Don’t ever run from a bear! Stand your ground, look as big as you can, make some noise. Not bad advice.

  • I struggle so much taking decisions, I love your advice on being so decisive thank you Emma! This was very useful

  • This is officially my favorite “how to…” you’ve written, Emma! Great tips.

    “Believe this isn’t your only opportunity in life.” gave me a lump in my throat. I needed that confirmation today.

    P.S. In my head I reference these entries as EMMA Talks, like TED Talks. 😉

  • And sometimes we simply go through seasons of indecisiveness in our lives because life can throw one curve ball after another. I find that it helps for me to be compassionate with myself during those seasons. Check out Elizabeth Gilbert talk about this on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. This episode was a total game changer for how I view my own, as well as other people’s indecisiveness. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/oprahs-supersoul-conversations/id1264843400?i=1000436236810

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