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DECIDE: A Framework for Making Decisions

Written By: Michelle Feder, Psy.D.


Do you ever struggle to choose where to start when it comes to making big life

decisions, such as whether to change jobs or to end a relationship? Do you struggle to

make or to follow through with smaller decisions, like deciding what to eat for lunch or

whether to keep working or take a break? You are not alone in your experience!

We are faced with countless decisions every day, ranging from simple and

straightforward to complex and overwhelming, and are tasked with figuring out how we

want to proceed. For many people, the fear of making the “wrong” decision or

experiencing a negative outcome due to their decision can lead to feelings of doubt,

anxiety, and even paralysis. Some people may spend hours, months, or even years

trying to figure out which of their options will lead to the “best” outcome. This can take

valuable time and energy that they would have liked to put into other areas of their lives.

Importantly, many people often find that putting more time and thought into making their

decision does not actually increase confidence or certainty about their ultimate choice.

For many of my clients who have had these challenges, I have used a six-step decision-

making framework which can be remembered with the acronym DECIDE. This method

has helped my clients navigate the anxiety and uncertainty that can come with decision-

making. It is designed to help people make thoughtful yet timely decisions and to

embrace the choices they make, regardless of the outcome. It also subverts the notion

that there are “right” and “wrong” decisions. Instead, it encourages people to be present

in the process of decision-making rather than judging themselves or their choice based

on how the decision plays out. Using the DECIDE framework when making a decision

can empower you to make effective choices, follow through with these choices, and

continue living your life alongside the uncertainty that comes with decision-making.


What is DECIDE?

Before we go step-by-step into the framework, here is an outline of each step of the

process:

Define the decision

Establish time constraints

Consider your options

I made the decision!

Don’t change your mind

Embrace the decision


Define the Decision

The first step in decision-making involves specifying the details of the decision you plan

to make. It is important to explicitly define your decision so that you have a clear

direction for this process. For example, the decision about changing jobs would be ill-

defined if left at “what should I do about my job?” A more clearly defined decision could

look like “do I change jobs?” or “when do I leave my current job?” At this step, it can

also be helpful to clarify the reasons for making a decision to provide motivation to

engage in this process, especially if you feel scared or overwhelmed. For instance,

identifying that you want to make a decision about next steps in your career because

you value professional growth can help motivate you to follow through with making a

choice regardless of any emotions that arise.


Establish Time Constraints

It is crucial to specify the time frame during which you will make the decision to ensure

that your decision-making does not unnecessarily drag out or interfere with being

present in other areas of your life. This may look like: “In two weeks, I will choose when

I am going to change jobs.” You may set a shorter time frame for a smaller decision,

such as spending 10 minutes to choose what to eat for lunch. Set a time frame that

feels realistic for you and that will make the decision approachable. Some people find it

helpful to set an alarm or a phone reminder to make the decision. Others benefit from

having someone else hold them accountable for making the decision within the time

frame, such as a partner, trusted friend, or therapist.


Consider Your Options

At this step, you have free rein to mull over your options.

First, choose how much time within your previously-set time frame that you would like to

spend considering your options. Some people find it helpful to spend the entirety of their

time frame reflecting on their decision, while others prefer to spend only a fraction of the

time actively thinking about their decision so that the process does not feel all-

consuming.


Next, spend time brainstorming as many potential options as you can without

immediately judging or evaluating them. Giving yourself space to spitball ideas may

open yourself up to options that seem untenable at first glance but could actually be

reasonable. For example, if I am trying to determine how soon I should leave my current

job to start a new one, I may initially think to immediately give my two weeks notice so

that I can move on with my career. However, I may realize when brainstorming that

staying on longer could have benefits, such as giving time for stock to vest or fostering

goodwill with coworkers, and therefore a worthwhile option to consider.

Then, narrow down your list of options to no more than three so that your in-depth

evaluation does not feel too cumbersome. It is important to clearly articulate your

options so that your evaluation is focused and specific. For deciding about a job

change, options such as leaving a job “soon” or “in a while” are vague and may mean

different things to different people. Instead, I could specify my options as leaving my

current job in “two weeks” or “after bonuses are given out.”


Once you have your two or three options, identify the pros and cons of choosing each

option. Many people find it helpful to write out a pros and cons list, but it can also be

done in your head if your time or resources are limited. You can identify pros and cons

by independently thinking through your options, doing research, or asking others for

their insight.


Taking the evaluation one step further, you can classify your pros and cons as

grounded in facts versus emotions to help you weigh your reflections. Facts-based

information refers to objective data that is verifiable and supported by evidence, such as

“I will make more money at Company A versus Company B” or “my job title would be a

manager at Company X versus a director at Company Y.” In contrast, emotion-based

information involves content that is shaped by feelings like anxiety, sadness, anger, or

even excitement. Emotion-driven reasons to change jobs may include, “I hate working

at my current job” or “I’m scared that it will be hard to adjust to a new job.” Once you

understand the nature of your pros and cons, you can then determine how to prioritize

the information. While emotions may provide valuable insight into your subjective

experiences of your options, they also commonly fluctuate and latch onto a situation’s

short-term implications without considering its long-term consequences. Therefore,

while it is unhelpful to neglect emotions, it is generally more beneficial to emphasize

factual information over emotional reasoning.


I Made the Decision!

Having analyzed your alternatives within your predetermined time frame, now is the

time to make your decision. You may still feel unsure about whether you have made the

“right” decision. You may be concerned that there is more information out there that

would provide total clarity on which option to choose. It is normal and expected to feel

anxious and uncertain about the outcome of your decision. Do not let those

feelings stop you from making your decision! Remember, we ultimately do not have

control over the actual outcome of our decision even if we have methodically considered

all of our options. For example, I may choose to accept a job at one company over

another because my research had suggested that I would work well with my future

boss. However, it is possible that the boss will choose to leave the company after I start

or get transferred to a new team. Research has also shown that the more we question

something the more unsure of it that we become. So, do not let your brain try to

convince you to keep pondering your decision beyond your time frame.


Don’t Change Your Mind

Congratulations, you made your decision! While the decision-making process ends for

some people with making the decision, the process continues for others as they

continue to reassess the decision after they have made it. Therefore, this step in the

process reminds you to commit to your decision, regardless of self-doubt or anxiety. It

also means disengaging from urges to review your pros and cons list. You may find it

helpful to use verbal reminders (e.g., state your decision aloud to yourself or a friend) or

visual reminders (e.g., write your decision on a post-it note or on your phone) of your

commitment to your chosen option. Reminding yourself of how your decision aligns with

your values can be another way of strengthening your commitment to your decision.


Embrace the Decision

With your decision made and commitment to follow through, now comes time for

implementation. Even once you commit to your decision, doubt may still persist. Fully

embracing your choice means acting completely in line with your decision regardless of

lingering uncertainty or unknowns. For example, if you decide to stay in your current job

rather than seek a new job, ask yourself, “what can I do to go all in with my job?” You

can fully commit even if you are not 100% sure about your decision. Relatedly, it is

important to clearly define the steps you need to take to implement your chosen option.

You can break down your overall goal into as many mini goals as you need to make the

task approachable. So I may take the goal of “going all in with my job” and break that

into smaller goals, such as working nine hours each day rather than six, taking a

continuing education course, or spending less time on TikTok during the work day.


Conclusion

The DECIDE framework for making decisions aims to provide you with guidelines for

effectively navigating all types of life choices, from the everyday decisions to the

monumental ones. It provides a structure for the process of making a decision, as well

as ways to approach anxiety, uncertainty, or doubt that may arise even once the

decision is made. While decision-making may never feel easy for some, the DECIDE

framework can be an empowering tool to help with thoughtfully approaching decision-

making without allowing the process to overtake your life.

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