3. Ask Around, But Don't Ask for Approval
First define what you want, then ask for other people's impressions of what you have selected. If their impression matches your goal, you're set. If not, choose something else.
Real-life decision slimmer: Let's say your goal is to look chic. Put on a pink blouse. Don't ask friends or shop clerks if they like the blouse. It does not matter what they like, and they will say that they like anything to be polite. Instead, ask them what images comes to mind when you wear it. If they say "romantic" or "young," switch shirts. Try a red tank or a blouse with long sleeves until someone says "sophisticated" or—bingo!—"chic."
4. Be Your Own Social Researcher
When in comes to tough, life-changing decisions, compare your life situation with others.
Real-life decision slimmer: It's exhausting to make big decisions—say, whether to go back to full-time work—by how you feel. You feel differently at different times. When you're sitting enjoying a cappuccino in the afternoon, free for the day because you only work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, you love your part-time job. When you want to go to the dentist but can't because you don't have benefits, not so much.
So try looking outside yourself. Find people in a similar situation—in terms of their life, not their personality—and observe them. Does this particular individual, who has a similar profession (graphic design), a similar family (husband, no extended relatives, one child) and a similar lifestyle (athletic, lots of travel) look overwhelmed by working 45 hours a week and keeping up with all her other commitments? Or does she seem a little tired but excited by her work challenges and her ability to rise professionally? Look at the sacrifices she has made and the gains she has earned. The challenge is to be ruthlessly honest: Would you be okay with those same trade-offs?
5. Don't Decide
What if you didn't make up your mind? What if you allowed yourself to keep discussing the two sides of a particular issue, even as you experimented with one option to see if it worked?
Real-life decision slimmer: Iyengar comes from a traditional Sikh family, where brides and grooms meet the day of the wedding. Growing up, she often felt trapped by the lack of choices in her own life. How could her parents have stood to enter into an arranged marriage? And how did their relationship turn into such a long-lasting, deep love? Perhaps, she thought, her parents did not decide about each other until after they had spent a few years together.
Iyengar wasn't ready not to decide when it came to her husband, but when it came going to college, she didn't get picky about her career path. She tried marketing, but when it didn't work out, she ended up majoring in both statistics and psychology. When statistics turned out to be another ill-fitting match, she went on to get a doctorate in social psychology—and became a leader in her field. Taking this approach requires you to be deeply present—to take action before you make a final decision.
What if you did not make up your mind about moving but instead rented an apartment and tried out living in a new neighborhood? If you love the new area, you sell your house and stay there permanently. If you don't, you can head back home. The same goes with selecting a school for your child. Enroll her for a year and see what happens. Then choose to have her—or not have her—remain once you already know whether she's in the right place for her.
If you are doing something—instead of thinking about doing something, or worrying about doing something wrong—you'll find handling uncertainty easier. You can proceed in life without being 100 percent resolved and let experience resolve the debate for you.
As with all these strategies, Iyengar says, "The trick is to be choosy about choosing."
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