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5 Smart Decision-Making Strategies

Intimidated by all the opportunities ahead? Here are ways to make informed and regret-free choices.

With so many choices facing you each day, trying to make up your mind can leave you gnawing at your nail beds. And, ironically, it can also paralyze your decision-making ability.

"You'd think having options would be a good thing, but having too many alternatives creates a lot of pressure to make that one perfect selection," explains Barry Schwartz, PhD, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. "Not only do all these choices rob us of time, but they also diminish our confidence, so we end up regretting our decisions...or not making them at all."

To put an end to all that waffling, follow our five-point plan for making choices you'll be happy with.

Smart Choice Strategy 1: Inform Your Gut

Everyone has a sixth sense, and it can be incredibly valuable. "Intuition is the internal compass that lets you know if you're headed toward a smart decision...or headed for a fall," says life coach Marcia Reynolds, author of Outsmart Your Brain! But combining your instinct with factual info—informing your gut, so to speak—is the real way to bulletproof your choice.

"Before acting on impulse, check the facts and make sure your gut is leading you in the right direction," explains Reynolds. "Because emotion and logic live in different parts of the brain, acting on a strong feeling is not always the most reliable way to make a good decision." So even though you're sure that the new job or amazing apartment is right for you, backing it up with savvy research will let you know if your gut is right.

Smart Choice Strategy 2: Decide Like A Guy

It's easy to give guys crap for thinking only of themselves, but sometimes their me-first attitude pays off. "Guys are goal-oriented and approach decisions like scientists," says Reynolds. "They want to reach a conclusion as efficiently as possible, so they instinctively consider their own needs first. Too often, women get caught up worrying about how their choice will affect everyone else."

The trick to getting into a male mind-set? "Think about how you'll feel if you don't do what you want,” says Reynolds. "If you're going to be miserable because you're sacrificing what you really want to please others, you'll just end up being unhappy with your choice and subconsciously blame them for not letting you do what you want." Not everyone will love all the decisions you make in your life, but explaining that you've given your options careful thought and feel your happiness depends on this verdict should help skeptics see your side.

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Smart Choice Strategy 3: Ask The Right People For Advice

Everyone has their go-to people—friends, family, colleagues, boyfriend—when they're stuck in a decision-making deadlock. But the trick to getting the right advice is picking the right person to offer it.

How do you know who that is? For one thing, you want to make sure it's someone who'll give you objective feedback. If you want advice about the fight you had with your boyfriend, for example, and you know your friends will take your side, talk to your mother or sister instead. They will not be as afraid of pissing you off.

"Friends are emotionally invested," says Pam Brill, a licensed psychologist and author of The Winner's Way. "But someone outside your social circle who doesn't have a real stake in your decision can give the advice you may not want to hear but need to."

You may also have to outsource to find someone who actually knows what they're talking about. Say you're deciding whether to take a new job. Talk to a career counselor or a workplace mentor who has experience in your field, as opposed to your boyfriend, who's in a totally different industry. Shopping for a new set of wheels? Harness your car-obsessed neighbor to steer you in the right direction so you don't buy a lemon.

Smart Choice Strategy 4: Dump Your Pro–Con List

"The traditional pro–con lists that many people rely on to help them make a decision have an inherent flaw: They do not assign weight to individual items," explains Bruce Weinstein, PhD, author of What Should I Do?

A better option: Consider what you hope to achieve in making this decision. "Once you figure out what's at stake for you—and what you value most—your best option will become much clearer," says Weinstein. To see which option is really best, let your priorities be your guide.

Smart Choice Strategy 5: Stop When You're Happy

A grass-is-greener mentality is dangerous because you'll find it hard to find satisfaction in anything. To ditch your what-if anxiety, stop looking at the alternatives when your mind is made up. According to Schwartz, "The key is to concentrate on enjoying what you have, not what you may have missed. Otherwise, you'll never truly be happy with your decisions."

Another way to prevent what scientists have dubbed "post-decision regret": Schwartz recommends practicing "an attitude of gratitude. Try looking at the positive points of your decision."

To learn your decision-making style, take this quiz!

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