When It Comes to Tough Decisions, You've Got One Job

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At its heart, economics is the study of how we make choices. Obviously that's a simplification, but by using a concrete incentive like money, we can more clearly track the process by which we come to decisions. In the end, it's possible that there's only one kind of decision to make, no matter how many options we have in front of us.

Psychologists at Switzerland's University of Basel have reinforced this notion in a new paper about efficiency and decision-making. The quickest way to pick your favorite outfit, course of action, career path, or any other outcome is to narrow all your options down to just two. Our brains expend a lot of energy trying to evaluate sometimes miniscule differences in options. Study participants who were able to zero in on two possibilities the fastest were also best able to examine their differences and come to a conclusion soonest.

It benefits everyone to understand how and why we make the choices we do, and how to prepare ourselves to make our own best decisions. Definitely don't stay hangry before making a big choice, and if you've got the time, take it — slow decisions are often the most on-point. If things are getting too gnarly, try thinking about your options in another language. If you're trying to collaborate on a choice, there are ways to work together so both partners are happy. And if you're really hung up on gut decisions, remind yourself that there are all kinds of ways to arm yourself with data.