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How to Make Effective Decisions

Making effective decisions is key to reducing stress and paving the way for “normal” eating. Here are some excellent ideas which you can use when you’re faced with your next big (or small) decision.

In “Learning how to decide” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/5/16, p. A11), columnist David Brooks notes that it’s “incredibly important to learn to decide well, to develop the techniques of self-distancing to counteract the flaws in our own mental machinery.”
He cites ideas from Decisive, a book by Chip and Dan Heath. One of their suggestions is to use Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 rule, which encourages you to think about how you’ll feel about your decision 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now. This is similar advice to making eating choices by noticing how food feels in your body as you’re eating, later in the day, and the next day. What both these rules foster is the idea that behavior has both immediate and long-term consequences.
One of the Heath’s choicest wisdoms is to not think in this-or-that terms, but to broaden solution possibilities. This advice is exactly what dysregulated eaters, who tend to think in all-or-nothing terms, need. Avoid a yes/no, right/wrong, do/don’t reaction and look for other possibilities. For example, rather than think you must choose to work full-time or stay home, think about volunteer or part-time work or, rather than purchasing a big candy bar or totally forgoing a treat, buy a bite-sized piece of chocolate.
The Heaths suggest halting the decision-making process in progress, stepping back, and asking yourself, “How can I widen my options?” This is super advice because it moves you past an automatic emotional reaction and requires your frontal lobes to get involved in the decision-making process. When you get in the habit of assessing options from a broader, more nuanced, distanced perspective, doing so will become habit. This strategy is similar to three questions a psychiatrist I worked with years ago used to ask patients: “If you didn’t feel as you do now, how else might you be feeling? If you didn’t think as you are thinking now, what else could you be thinking? If you weren’t behaving as you are now, how else might you choose to behave?” These questions might sound simple, but they’re extremely profound in that they help us get out of habits and ruts.
Consider how you make decisions, especially about eating. Try the above techniques and notice the difference in outcomes. The more you practice, the better choices you’ll make. For more tips on decision-making and problem-solving, read my book, Outsmarting Overeating: Boost Your Life Skills, End Your Food Problems.