We’re told to trust our gut when it comes to decision-making—but we also know that our gut can lead us astray.
This is where CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy, can be extremely useful. By becoming better attuned to when our feelings and behaviours are leading us in the right direction (vs. when our gut instinct is full of shit) we can start both making better decisions and feeling better about the decisions we’ve made.
Here’s one quick and easy example to get you started: at Fast Company, health and wellness expert Paula Rizzo advises us to start paying attention to how we feel about the decisions we make—and how we feel after we’ve made the decisions.
Rizzo suggests writing down your feelings right before, during, and after a task, taking mental notes. “You might not always love what you’re doing, but if you hate it, remind yourself not to do it again,” she says. “In the moment you might say ‘yes,’ to a request, but if you know in your heart it makes you anxious, it’s better to say ‘no.’”
In other words: If you feel anxious about deciding to attend a social event but then leave the event having had a great time (or even a not-terrible time), you might be able to reduce your anxiety about future social events.
On the other hand, if you feel anxious about taking on another commitment when you’re already over-scheduled, paying attention to how you feel when you say yes to the commitment—and how you feel when it comes time to actually commit—might tell you whether you need to start saying no more often in the future.
This type of technique works best when it’s paired with other CBT practices, especially as you begin identifying the mental scripts and core beliefs you’ve developed over your life and evaluating whether those beliefs hold up to reality. I recommend reading Seth J. Gillihan’s Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry—and I also recommend keeping a journal in which you write down what you believe and/or fear will happen in a given scenario, whether those beliefs and fears came true, and what you learned from the experience.
So the next time you have to make a decision that makes you a little uncomfortable, pay attention to why you’re feeling uncomfortable. Is this anxiety coming from an outdated core belief or an outsized fear of the future? Are you being asked to make a decision that will push against your boundaries, values, or ethics? Or is this simply a “hell yeah or no” situation, and you’re not feeling hell yeah?
And then, after the decision is made, pay attention to how you feel and whether the outcome is anything like what you anticipated. That way, you’ll be able to make a better, faster, and/or more confident decision the next time.