May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
– Nelson Mandela
How can you stop making bad decisions? Change.
I’ll show you exactly how in the four steps below.
I’m no pro, but practice helps! 🙂 I went from lawyer to financial planner turned blogger and not by accident. It took planning and making the best decisions for me.
Here’s what I did and here’s what you need to do to stop making bad decisions.
Step 1: Make a list of your values
First, you need to decide what your values are and make a list of them. You need to articulate your values clearly. Write them down so it’s crystal clear for you. You can only make good choices if you know what “good” really means to you. So, start by writing down what your values are.
If you’re not sure what your values are, think about the following 8 life categories to help you narrow down what’s important to you. The 8 life categories are: health, relationships, finances, career, personal / spiritual development, recreation / fun, environment, and service. Think about each category and what (if anything) is important to you from it.
A few examples of values that come to my mind are: faith, family, financial freedom, health, work, and adventure. Those just popped into my mind, but what you think are your values may be different. They may be more specific or they may be narrower.
After you’ve thought about your values, create a “values list” for yourself. In my opinion, shorter is better (maybe 5 or so would be good to start with). But it’s up to you!
For reference, some of my values are:
- Financial freedom*
- Good health
- Meaningful work
*Note – feel free to name a “value” that other people may not think of as a value at all. I can see how some people might wonder how financial freedom is a value. For me, it is. It’s something so important and something I want so bad that it is a driving force behind a lot of what I do.
** Note – Your value list can include personal characteristics, too. There are many values beyond integrity that I have, which I think fall under the umbrella of integrity. For example, trust. However, because trust and authenticity come so naturally to me, I don’t have it listed separately. I naturally make choices that are in line with trust, so I don’t find it helpful to focus on. Contrast this with financial freedom, where I want it so bad, but have yet to attain it. My point here is to list out values that you need to focus on and need to put your energy toward. You don’t have to list every value under the sun here.
Pro tip: List the values that you want to focus most on. Don’t list every single value you have. Instead, create a short list of the values that you want to be the focal points for your life right now that will help you make the best decisions for you. This is sort of a combination of a values list and a priority list. Your values list should be a list of values that you want to prioritize over other things when you have to make a decision.
Step 2: Put your values list everywhere
Second, put a copy of your values list everywhere you can. You should also have it memorized. The more you can focus on your list, the better, because it will make making decisions easier.
For example, I have a list of my values in Evernote and in my gCalendar tasks bar. I know my values list by heart, too. When I faced with a decision regarding time or money, it’s really easy to use my values list to make the decision for me.
The reason that you need to put your values list everywhere is because your environment is constantly pulling you in different directions – there are always a million things to do. Without reminders, it’s hard to prioritize your values. Visualization helps create intense focus, which will help you make better decisions in alignment with your values.
Pro tip: Put your values list in at least 3 places in your life (digital or physical).
Step 3: Make decisions in line with your values
The third step is for you to make decisions based on your values list. The next time you have to make a decision, think about your values. Think about whether the choice you make is in alignment with your values. Your values list is only going to help you make better decisions if you actually use it.
For example, if you value good health, it should be an easy decision for you to workout and eat healthy today, barring any exceptional circumstances. Instead of answering the question of whether to workout today based on how you feel, think about answering the question based on your value of good health.
Here’s another example. If you have a choice of whether to continue to play guitar as a hobby or spend more time with your family, at first thought you may not see a problem with doing both. But over time (years of playing guitar at the expense of more quality time with your kids), you may come to regret the time not spent with your family. If you make choices in line with your values – in this case the value would be family – then the decision should be to spend more time with your kids. You may be bummed that you cant do both, but you’ll have clarity and confidence in your decision if you make it in line with your values.
Finally, let’s say you value family and financial freedom as your highest values and priorities in life. Well, if you are in your early 30s and single, you may want to start to make choices that reflect prioritizing starting a family and not furthering your career. I see this a lot!
Pro tip: There are always going to be a ton of choices for you to make that will take you in different directions in your life. Use your values list as a guide to make decisions that honor your values.
Step 4: Don’t ignore making tough decisions
The final step is for you to lean in to your decisions. When faced with options, you need to think about your values and make decisions that align with them. But just as important as proactively making decisions is not ignoring them. Have you ever heard someone say “I thought I would be doing XYZ by this age” or something to that effect? This statement often (but not always) is a result of doing things daily that don’t move you toward what you want most out of life. You have to proactively think about what you want and go after it. Usually, it’s not just going to happen to you.
So, create opportunities and make choices on a daily basis that are in line with your values. You will be amazed at how quickly you move in the direction you want for yourself. And you’ll minimize the chance for regrets, too.
Pro tip: Be intentional with your decision-making and avoid putting off tough decisions. This isn’t necessarily something you will be good at right away. If decision-making is hard for you, practice. You can learn to be decisive and live intentionally over time.
A Final Note!
I believe you can make better decisions and live with fewer regrets. Part of that is learning how to make decisions that align with your values and priorities. To get better at making decisions, use steps below.
- Make a list of your values
- Put your values list everywhere
- Make decisions in line with your values
- Don’t ignore making tough decisions
One last thing to keep in mind regarding decisions. Most people aren’t willing to give up what they have in order to get what they want. I try to remember this if I feel tension with an upcoming decision because it helps me make the right choice for me.