Decisions determine our destiny. A day never goes by that we don’t have to make decisions, big and small. And we want to make good decisions.

Our decisions affect every aspect of life. Our decisions affect everyone else in our life, too. Our kids, our coworkers, our friends — everyone! Making effective decisions is one of the most important things we can do.

Effective decision-making looks easy when some people do it. What is it that they do? Next time you need to make an important decision grab onto and use some of these tools.

1. Isolate the dilemma. Effective decision makers understand what they are deciding on. Get clear as to what you are deciding on. Problems and challenges can be identified as issues, if resolved, will get us to where we want to go. Sometimes we tend to be vague on what the real issue is. So ask yourself, “What is it that I am deciding on?” Is it whether to take the job offer, whether to buy a new home, or whether to home school your kids or use public or private schools?

2. Understand and list your options. Then, list the pros and the cons of each option. Write one option at the top of the page. Draw a line down the middle. On one side write all of the potential pros. On the other side list the cons. Do this with each option. This can serve as a balance scale helping to weigh your decision. Ask others for their experiences. Talk with your inner circle such as your spouse, your kids, your friends, or consult with a professional that has experience in solving the same or similar problems. Use big-picture thinking. Walking on the Moon, famous astronaut Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The key is to keep an eye on the big picture. Don’t step over a dollar to pick up a dime. Base your decisions and actions on how they relate to the big picture. One example of big-picture thinking is treating your customers right so they refer others and become customers for life. A good way to get a perspective on this is to ask yourself this question the next time you need to make a decision: “How will this decision affect my life one, five or 10 years from now?”

“If I had to live my life over again, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.”

– Nadine Stair

3. Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. If you expect to get it right the first time, every time, then you’re in for a rude awakening. The key is to turn mistakes into magic! The only real mistake is repeating the same bad choices over and over. A mistake is really a learning opportunity. A large majority of the population is not willing to make decisions, which generally results in fewer successes. Learn and adapt from your so-called “mistakes.” Perhaps that is why Abraham Lincoln uttered, “Along the way, you learn not just what to do, but also what not to do.”

4. Do your research. Weigh the facts. You’ve heard the phrase: analysis paralysis. Indecision is caused by the fear of making a wrong choice. Knowledge is power over the unknown. Since we are not alone on this earth and many people have lived here for thousands of years, why not make use of the experiences of others? Do your research by reading the perspectives of people who have already trotted down the path you are currently on. Hit the bookstore or click your way through the Web, gathering the information that pertains to your decision. Talk to people with similar experiences. The more you know about a subject, the more confident you feel and the more likely you are to make the right choice. Take control over your fear and over your destiny by acquiring the knowledge you need. Gather all the information and facts you can on the subject at hand, review them, then make your decision.

“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

5. Have a time frame on your decision. If it helps, choose a specific time frame in which you will render your decision. Most of us are much more likely to make a decision under a deadline than when left to our own devices. But once you make your choice be firm with your decision and follow through. Don’t second-guess yourself into new insecurity.

6. Trust your gut. Science tells us that the brain has the most nerve cells of any area in the entire body. The second most centralized cluster of nerve cells resides in the mid-section of the body — the gut! In conjunction with doing your research, listen to your intuition. Intuition signals our body to give an answer in terms of a feeling. If the answer from our intellect is neutral, then we must rely on our intuition or gut feeling to provide insight to help make the better decision. When was the last time you ignored your gut feeling? What happened?

7. Have an alternate plan. A backup plan can save your life, your career, even your sense of self. F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best, “Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over.” It demonstrates a willingness to persist if your original plan falls short. It shows you are persistent, flexible and grounded. Brainstorm and draft several viable plans that could potentially lead you to an effective decision. Choose what you believe to be the best plan. If for some reason it doesn’t work, learn from your experience and move on to Plan B.

Good decision making is a skill you must master if you want to be successful. Work with some of these tools. Test them the next time you need to make an important decision.

Best of success to you!