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Important Decisions

Important Decisions

by Dr Emma Gray - 26th November, 2014

First we will explore why making important decisions can be difficult and the psychological qualities that are necessary if we are to be decisive when under stress.

Making good decisions, especially important ones is often anxiety provoking and paradoxically this anxiety makes a decision harder to come to.

Making a decision results in a change of some sort, usually swapping what is familiar with what is unfamiliar, meaning that most decisions require a bit of a leap of faith because ultimately we can only guess at what the future holds for us.

As result the ability to be decisive, especially when it feels as if a lot is at stake, requires a number of psychological and emotional traits including

· the ability to resist the temptation to make the worse case scenario our reality

· a confidence in our ability to cope with challenges in a spontaneous and flexible way

· the skills to adapt to change and draw the best from a situation even if turns out to not be quite what was expected

· the ability to manage strong emotions including anxiety, anger and disappointment/depression and respond to them appropriately and assertively

The absence of these traits often results in an individual avoiding or opting out of the decision making process by procrastinating or shirking of responsibility. Being able to make good decisions in a timely way is necessary if we are to fulfil out potential, achieve our goals and be satisfied with ourselves and our lives.

Therefore if you are frequently overwhelmed by the decision making process you will find yourself not only underachieving but vulnerable to a range of problems including low self esteem and confidence, anxiety, depression, frustration and irritability.

Now we will look at some practical techniques to optimise our decision making processes and thus protect our self esteem, confidence and mental health.

When we make a decision we often have to tolerate some immediate or short term discomfort as we adjust to the consequent changes and wait to reap the benefits of the decision. A partial awareness of this can interfere with the decision making process, making it difficult to accurately weigh up the pros and cons of the change we are considering.

If this trade off is fully articulated at the outset of the process it can reduce our anxiety and enable us to both to make the best decision that is possible at that point and also tolerate and prepare for any short term disadvantages.

Following the steps below will enable you to fully articulate and assess all aspects and consequence of a decision ensuring that you make the best decision and in a timely manner.

1. Make a list of all of the short term (i.e. days and weeks) advantages of a positive decision

2. Make a list of all of the short term (i.e. days and weeks) disadvantages of a positive decision

3. Make a list of all of the long term (i.e. months and years) advantages of a positive decision

4. Make a list of all of the short term (i.e. months and years) disadvantages of a positive decision

For clarity, arrange your list in a 3×3 grid with column headings ‘Advantages’ and ‘Disadvantages’ and row headings ‘Short term’ and ‘Long term’. For good decisions, that will enhance your psychological and physical well being, the majority of the disadvantages will sit in the short term row and the majority of advantages in the long term row.

If you are suffering with any of the issues discussed in this article and would like to seek professional help then you may find our Problems Pages helpful.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleagues once described me as a natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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