how to make your decision the “right decision” (a lesson I learned at Cosmopolitan magazine)

Posted on November 15th, 2012

Decision making. It stumps me. It stumps many. Can I share with you today an approach I was taught by my publisher Pat while I was editing Cosmopolitan?

Illustration by Adam Howling

Pat wasn’t really a philosophizer, and I’ve kind of repackaged her thoughts for present puposes. But Pat could certainly make decisions.

I’d asked her to sit down with the Cosmo team one afternoon for something I guess people in banking or IT sales would call a “developmental day”. At the end of the session, the art director raised her hand and asked Pat how she made decisions.

She answered without deliberating. “Well, let’s use an example. An editor comes to me with two cover options and I have to choose between Angelina in a green dress or Angelina in a black dress.

“If we’re actually debating the two covers, then it means both are good options.  Right? If one was bad, I’d let them know about it.”

“So I just choose one. It doesn’t matter which.”

I’d seen her do this many times before and it would unsettle me that she appeared to be so nonplussed.

Pat didn’t break it down, but I have many times in the retelling: on a two-party preferred basis, the black and green dress are likely to come in at roughly fifty-fifty. Sure, if we drilled down with a bunch of focus groups, the black dress option, for example, might come out marginally more popular – with, say, 54 per cent preferring it – and therefore it might be a better seller. But that’s not the point. As Pat explained:

what’s important about making a decision is the “just deciding” bit.

Because once you choose one – say, the black dress – you make it the best choice.

As editor I return to the office and announce to everyone that Pat and I love the black dress version. The art team, mostly relieved to have a decision, then create the best design and colour format around this. The art director has seen a black dress done with an aqua background and a flourescemt orange masthead done before. She’s pumped. The subbing team work coverlines enthusiastically. They’re loving the aqua treatment. Bit by bit the various departments massage Angelina-in-a-black dress to become a standout cover, the kind that when I walk past it on the newsstand would give me a satisfyingly quenched feeling.

When I send the final result to the printers, there’s no doubting we – all of us – made the best choice.

There is never a perfect decision. The best option transpires only because a decision of some sort was made that served as a stable base from which to build and create an end result.

We don’t have to be 100 per cent certain.

You never can be anyway; who has such a birdseye view? Are you God?

We just decide and make things matter a bit less. We just decide and we keep moving forward.

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  • Helen

    Loved this post and really needed to read this today. Thank you

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  • Sharon in Philly

    I like this, I made the decision to move from the US to Singapore at the end of the year. I took forever to make the decision and still am wondering if I’ve made the right one, craziness! I made a decision so I will make of it what I will. Thanks!

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  • http://www.alwaysjosefa.com Josefa @always Josefa

    I really like this
    Actually, love this
    So simple – but perfect
    I’ve spent the better part of the week churning over decisions in my head, churning and churning
    You are right, easier if I just make that decision and go forward to make it happen from there
    xx

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  • http://www.livehealthysimply.com Jessica Nazarali

    WOW. Awesome post and so well articulated.

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  • http://faithfulfreja.blogspot.com.au Freja

    I used to think I was great at making decisions, but I’ve discovered lately I’m only good at making the big tough decisions. I’m really not great when it comes to the little things. Like what should we eat for dinner. So this was a great read …

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    I’m exactly the same! But research shows we treat small and large decisions in the same way

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  • http://www.lilghtstaysretreats.com Tameera

    Thanks Sarah! This speaks on so many levels. Think of all the energy we can use from the small stuff on the big stuff?!

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  • JanelleC

    I do a similar thing: I flip a coin but I don’t rely on the heads or tails for my answer, I rely on the gut feeling of jubilation or disappointment I got when either the head or the tail was the answer.
    Not so simple though when I’m wrestling with the huge question today: marriage (including kids) – stay or go. Hmmmmm. Wish I had a crystal ball to give me that answer.

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    tracy Reply:

    Ah yes JanelleC, now that is when the crystal ball really needs to appear – good luck!

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Janelle, I wish you much strength and groundedness with that one…xx

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  • http://thespaces-between.blogspot.com.au/ Natalie

    Loving the timing. Only yesterday I was discussing this exact point and discussing the clarity and direction you get once a decision is made. I totally live by the philosophy that once a decision is made you just make the decision work for you! Not always easy but it really helps in day to day decisions.

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  • Gemma

    Fabulous article. I’m so indecisive all the time and know I just need to ‘make a decision’. I’ll think of this next time I’m deliberating and just do it and make the most of it.

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  • http://www.twomoderncavewomen.com.au Two Modern Cavewomen

    The right words can make any product either a) appealing or b) unappealing. Many moons ago, I used to teach piano. At $300 a term in tuition, parents used to whinge about books. So each term I would simply say “you only have to spend $25-$40 a term on books”. Others would say “sorry, but you also have to spend $25-$40 on books”.

    They had to buy the books, I just used language to make them feel good about it. When they asked if I could just photocopy my books and save them some money, I politely replied, “I could, but then the author would have no incentive to keep writing books and in the end, there won’t be any, so, no. I can’t do that.”

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    seeker Reply:

    haha!! love that!

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  • Angie

    Liberating post. Thank you!

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  • tracy

    Great post Sarah, I’m with you 100% on this one – it’s taken a lot of training for my quick-decision-making skills to over-ride my supposed Libran tendancy to weigh up all options before making a decision.
    Completely with Two Modern Cavewomen – it’s all in the way you present your decisions!

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  • http://www.sparrowandsea.com Jess @ Sparow + Sea

    Sarah, this is wonderful – and so timely! I literally just had this conversation with my boyfriend on the weekend. I am currently planning a solo trip to Europe. I was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the decisions that I have to make (and, if I’m honest, the fact that if things didn’t work out, I’d only have myself to blame), when I realised: there are No Wrong Choices. When it comes to choosing between Positano and Portofino, there is NO WRONG CHOICE! Both are going to be amazing. And whichever one I go to, I will enjoy…

    I love how this is articulated – by the act of deciding, you *make* the choice the right choice.

    [Ummm, and as a side note, in my head, this is also reminding me of Harry Potter (!!), how Voldemort made Harry his nemesis ('neither can live while the other survives') simply by choosing him over Neville... Ha!]

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    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    I often ask myself what Harry Potter would do before I make decisions :)

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  • Nadia

    Brilliant! So simple. I certainly have had my fair share of time wasted deliberating over two options when so clearly, either is as good as the other! You’ve saved me LOTS of time Sarah! Thank you!!

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  • http://www.lifewithelizabethrose.com Elizabeth Rose

    I love this post Sarah! I fully admit to being waaay to caught up on making the ‘perfect’ choice a lot of the time. For BIG life decisions, I love seeing a recommended psychic or medium to give me some clarity (never more than 1-2 times a year though!). But for the little, everyday decisions…as of today, I’m gonna make the decision with confidence and be done with it.

    Thank you :-)

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  • http://www.projectseeds.com/ Liz

    This is fantastic Sarah!
    I am such an indecisive person, so much so that I drive myself bonkers! I really loved the simplicity of this and how it wasn’t about making the most perfect, 100% accurate decision. That really takes the pressure out of decision making, making it easier!

    Thank you,
    Liz
    The (newly) Decisive

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  • Meg

    Love this Sarah! Thankyou, from a true Libran :)

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Ah, yes Librans!!!

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  • Emily

    I soon have to decide if I stay in Japan another year or if I go home! Perfectly timed post for me too! Thank you Sarah!

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  • Holly Pip

    Not so long ago i had so much difficulty with making the “perfect” choice in many day to day situations, that I would avoid making any decision at all and just let life bounce me about. Unfortunately this lead to feeling very stuck and very depressed.
    Thanks for the reminder that indecision is a choice ;)

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  • http://happysugarhabits.com Laura

    Also you shouldn’t be fearful of a wrong decision because this actually teaches you a valuable lesson that you wouldn’t have learnt without making it. You will then apply the lesson many times over so infact it was a good decision to keep you on track.

    Still I say this and I still deliberate over what flavour tea I want way too long!

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  • Ali

    How timely this article is Sarah!
    I find it interesting that sometimes the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life have been ‘no brainers’, and the small everyday ones are the hardest! (Call it intuition?)
    Thanks!
    Ali xx

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  • Stephanie Hudson

    Love the simplicity of this article and its lesson! Perfect timing for me – kind of feeling relief!

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  • http://goodthingblog.com amber

    I love this post. Make a decision and commit to it.

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  • Sandra

    Great article Sarah!
    I’ve been reading “The pathfinder” and there’s a chapter on how to make decisions…apparently, is alwasys best to do some research before making any huge decision but ultimately…the author stick to Free Choice…which means there’s no need for 100%, 50% or even 20% of possibility or centainty…you just simply select freely without being ruled by conditioned thinking…”You’ll never be sure of anything until it happens…And if you make the wrong decision, you just make the wrong decision. That’s al there’s to it! There are few guarantees in life. One of them is that you will make loads of mistakes. It happens to all of us” Nicholas Lore
    I have done that for the last couple of years and I just feel at so much peace with my decisions!
    I was working as Data Analyst and there’re times when numbers don’t really matter…my ex-boss went for whatever he felt right without getting into so much data. He guessed well!

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Gosh, that is helpful advice. I’m can over analyse too

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  • http://www.tracyhibsman.com Tracy

    Fantastic post! Thanks so much. I’m a jewelry designer and I struggle with this often when trying to decide what direction to take next in my work. Thanks for the reminder that just making a decision is the important thing for moving forward!

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  • http://www.rachphillips.com rachael • rachphillips.com

    Great post. I’m a bit of a poor decision maker. I am good to go when it comes to the big stuff but i sweat the small stuff and end up missing out and/or never getting anything done.

    For example: There have been several times where I’ve thought of a great article piece, I’ve thought about it, I’ve ummmed and ahhhed and then BOOM someone else pitches the idea and I’m reading about it in my fave magazine.

    I’m going to channel my inner Pat and just do it! x

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  • Lisa

    I’m just on the back of making a big ‘decision’ to move interstate. No mean feat with a two year old and a four month old. I was given really great advice from a beautiful friend (and it came from her Aunty – isn’t that the way these things often go, people will refer to this post in the same way!). Her Aunty said, “just make a decision. Then if things don’t feel right make another one. Then another”. Gee that advice has calmed me and empowered me.
    I have always thought that the limbo ‘decision making process’ is the worst place to be. Once a decision is made you just go forth.
    And so we’re here and making the most of it. I guess we chose the black dress and are now busy colouring around it.
    thanks for the post x

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  • Jules

    I do like this post however it seems only to apply to decisions that could end well for everyone involved, regardless of the decision made.

    I may soon need to make a decision at work that could see a large number of people facing unemployment, right before Christmas. Not one to be taken lightly and I’m not sure ‘just decide and make the most of it’ is a philosophy that could or should be adopted. I’d be far more interested to know how you make decisions on things like that…

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  • http://www.shashenjewels.com eilish bouchier

    Yogi Bhajan who brought Kundalini Yoga to the West says we should be able to make all decisions in 9 seconds. Oh for such clarity. Imagine how that would free up our minds.

    I amaze myself how I can some decisions big and small so easily and others I just dither on for days. Great post and Pat is so right. Just make the decision and know that it is the wrong one you can make another.

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  • livia

    I really love this, Sarah. It reminds me of your Sunday Life posts, SUPER inspiring. Please keep ‘em coming xx

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  • Glennen

    This is brilliant.

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  • Stef

    You say that “Pat & I love the black dress”….did you really or were you just going along with the boss??

    Just out of interest, would you have chosen black or green?

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  • http://www.sharonjgreen.com Sharon Green

    Great post, Sarah. So timely, too.

    I don’t feel as though I have a problem making decisions at the time where a decision is required. I like to think that I know what I want. The problem I have is accepting the decision when I’m later facing the consequences of that very decision I felt so confident making days, weeks, or months ago. For example, at the start of this year I was working in a job where I felt undervalued and was poorly paid for my efforts. A headhunter approached me at a time where I was considering other options and presented a new role to me that seemed to offer more of a challenge, a smaller team environment and an increase in salary. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time. I was offered the role. And I took it. But about 3.5 months into the new role I was made redundant, treated unprofessionally, (told to leave on the same day I received the news) and faced long term unemployment and a fairly turbulent time in my life. I still wonder, to this day, whether I made the right decision to jump ship to ‘something better’. I know reflection and hindsight is a wonderful thing but I often question why I feel so confident about making decisions at the time, only to feel regretful after the fact. Perhaps this is a whole other conversation though…

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  • Sophie

    I agree whole heartedly! I have made some BIG life choices like this, including moving overseas for a man having a baby with said man AND marrying him! (Also the decision to buy the house I now live in!). Some people think I’m a bit nuts, and I’m sure I have contributed the odd grey hair to my parents!

    The most important point I would like to make though, is, I think relationships can too often get into this trap of “pressure to choose well” too. Sure I’ve had moments where I’ve thought to myself, maybe I should have thought about these commitments a bit more before I made them, However, challenge any mum or married woman to say she has never thought that!

    Just choose, jump in. Whatever happens, is your life!

    As I say to my kids, you decide to be happy or not today, you can choose the way you see things, why not choose to see the positive!

    Don’t get me wrong, I can agonize over small things like tea too, but the big things seem to go well when you go with your gut and cut the analysis! My lesson is to let go of the small stuff. Great post Sarah, thanks!

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  • http://www.midcenturymodernremodel.com Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel

    Agreed. Just make the decision already. And make the best of the choice. No right or wrong, most times it is just a choice. I have always been pretty good about making decisions because I know I have the strength to make the decisions work. Good post.

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  • Tashacyan

    I love the mention of the fact that Pat already had two great covers to choose from. I think we often discredit ourselves and the fact that when we are facing making a choice it’s usually between two really good options as we have weeded out the choices that are not going to work for us at all. If we think about that its a lot easier running with the choice and making it the right one.

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  • lea

    Thanks Sarah, this post rings sooooo true – I used to agonise over so many little decisions (strangely easier with the big ones somehow? ) – always comparing the options and the advantages/disadvantages for each.

    Then it suddenly occurred to me that right after you make the decision you just move on and focus on that – everything else just falls away…it’s almost like there never was another option.

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  • Shaleen

    Oh my gosh…I needed this post today! I haven’t had the chance to read other replies as yet but I’m sure I’m not alone in finding decisions literally painful!
    I’m never going to forget this advice. Thanks a mill for sharing Sarah.
    Gold…just Gold!

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  • Danielle

    My husband is always telling me make a decision and stick to it, I drive him crazy with my indecision. I must admit I drive myself crazy in the process, it is not a nice place to be! There is so much freedom and rest in arriving at a decision and sticking to it, no more wasted energy. You can then just get on with the job and start enjoying life. You are so right , it doesn’t really matter what decision you make as long as you make one, people can spend a whole life in this indecision and never really live. Very inspiring, thank you! (And thank you to my husband)

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  • http://www.carlacoulson.com Carla Coulson

    Great post Sarah and such a big subject that sometimes does not have to be that hard! Thanks for the inspirational words.
    Have a great weekend.
    Carla x

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  • Lisa Ingram

    To me, this is the same as the 80/20 rule. 80% good enuf? Done. Move on. Lisa

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  • Anthony

    When I was uni studying psychology, I would often go to parties and try and chat up girls. when I told them what I was studying, there response was more than often the same, Oh, you know what I am thinking”. No I don’t I would say, and I still don’t know what people a thinking unless they tell me or commit some act that tell me. To make this relevant to Sarah’s article, psychology taught me many things, but above all it is a discipline, that teaches you how to think and make decisions. Some people a natural ability to make decisions, but not always the right one, but they make decisions, never the less. I have met many of these people over the years and they all have one thing in common, a sense of empowerment, a confidence if you like. By making decisions in their life they are empowering themselves. The odd thing is that making decisions is not magic, and is something that everyone can learn, and can empower their lives.

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  • Sally

    Thanks Sarah for this brilliant reminder not to get too caught up in the minuatae of day to today decisions. I know I for one can fall into this trap, quickly losing sight of the bigger picture…..
    Your post reminded me of a book I saw recently called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” – the lesson is in the title alone!
    Have a great weekend.

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  • http://2dayichoose.blogspot.com Anna

    I am so overwhelmed this morning thinking about all the crap I have to do, and then this. Just perfect.

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  • http://www.crashtestmummy.com.au Laney | Crash Test Mummy

    Terrific advice and something I needed to hear. I know I’m bad at making small decisions and they become more cumbersome than they need to and waste so much time!!!! Thanks.

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  • Zara

    I have one word “inspirational ” I always make it so difficult for myself I’m sure like others… But it totally makes sense

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  • Mia Bluegirl

    I’ve always suspected the magazine industry worked like that. Ditto the fashion industry. Make choices at random, market it all shiny and glossy, then laugh at the poor sheep who fall for it and spend all their money.

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  • http://www.yumirae.blogspot.com yumi

    I love this!

    [Reply]

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  • Ali

    I loved this post!
    And it was just what I needed today.
    Thanks Luv.

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  • Brena

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  • http://blog.i-evaluation.com Marek

    Found this post while writing The art of making right decisions. I say calm yourself down before any decision. That would be the key.

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  • karisa

    My name is Mrs.Karisa Jack, from U.S.A,New York City. I never believed in love spells or magic until i met this spell caster once. when i went to Africa in July this year on a business summit. i ment a man called Dr. AIGBE.He is powerful he could help you cast a spells to bring back my love’s gone,misbehaving lover looking for some one to love you, bring back lost money and magic money spell or spell for a good job.i’m now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to marry left me 3 weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down cos our relationship has been on for 2 years… i really loved him, but his mother was against me and he had no good paying job. so when i met this spell caster, i told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him..at first i was undecided,skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try. and in 6 days when i returned to New York, my boyfriend (is now my husband ) he called me by himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his mom and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married..i didn’t believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do… well we are happily married now and we are expecting our little kid,and my husband also got a new job and our lives became much better. in case anyone needs the spell caster for some help, email address aigbespelltemple@yahoo.com

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