David Strittmatter

How to make better decisions

Direction is so much more important than speed. Many are going nowhere fast


  • Having clear principles sets free from decision paralysis
  • Decision guidelines make decisions not only faster but better
  • For me, the good decision is the one maximizing my long-term happiness

Practical advice

  • A good starting point is to think about what’s most important to you
  • By reflecting on your past, you can identify the things for which you genuinely care
  • You should consistently stick to and refine your decision-making principles

Dear friend,

Every day, we have to make numerous decisions. Even though most of them seem as they had little impact on our life (how do I dress today?), many of them will have a significant effect (should I order junk food or cook by myself?). Some decisions take like no effort because we formed habits around them (shower in the morning?); some decisions, however, are a real pain (what should I study in college?).

For years, I’ve been trying to optimize my decision-making because of several reasons. I don’t want life to pass me by without me really taking control. I want to be in the driver’s seat. And I don’t want to spend too much time on difficult decisions.

What’s most important, though, I want to live without regrets and with maximum happiness.

Many people seek to do the same. Yet, they fail. They choose short-term indulgence over long-term joy; select an easy hill instead of the great mountain; opt for social recognition above true passion.

But how can we improve our decision-making?

In today’s blog article, I want to illustrate one of my key decision-making principles, which enables me to make better decisions, and talk about its impact on my life.

Why I have clear decision-making principles

We all know this feeling of decision paralysis: We are faced with a difficult choice and don’t know what to choose: What should I study after high school? Where should I do my first internship? Which career should I pursue? Should I quit my job?

Having clear principles sets me free from this limitation and enables me to make difficult decisions more easily.

The same goes for the many day-to-day decisions, which in aggregate may have a severe impact on our lives: Should I order pizza with my colleagues or eat my leftovers later at home? Should I go to the gym this evening or watch some YouTube videos? Should I prepare an agenda for tomorrow’s meeting or blame my manager that she forgot to set up one? …

Guiding principles make my decisions not only faster but better.

I want to maximize my long-term happiness; thus, every decision I make has to contribute to that goal, no matter how seemingly irrelevant the decision.

To choose long-term joy over short-term indulgence, climb the great mountain instead of an easy hill, and opt for true passion above social recognition, I always ask myself key questions representing my guiding principles. And by genuinely answering them, I get a clear picture of what’s a good choice and what’s not.

Be the person you needed when you’re younger

You might ask: What’s a good decision? How do I know?

Unfortunately, you need to find an answer to this question by yourself. For me, the good decision is the one maximizing my long-term happiness. And since this guideline is rather vague, I devised concrete decision-making principles connected to my core values and this overarching life goal.

One of my decision-making principles is to act as a good role model. I want to always think long-term when making a decision. But as this notion of long-term thinking is rather unspecific, I derived concrete questions I always ask myself when I’m faced with a choice:

What happens if everybody acted as I do? Do I want my siblings, future children, or friends to act in the same way? Additionally, I strive to be the person I needed when I was younger.

In the beginning, when I started thinking through all my decisions so intensely, I struggled to find clear answers to these questions: How should I know what happened if everybody acted the same way? However, the more often I applied this concept to my decisions, the less difficult and the faster making a decision became.

Investing in this initial effort allowed me to significantly improve my decision-making. I’ve never been as happy as I’m today. For years, I’ve not regretted anything. And I truly feel like I’m living the life I’ve always wanted and wouldn’t trade with anyone.

Develop your decision making principle

It took me months if not years until I found the basis of my today’s core principles. That doesn’t mean you’ll need as much time as I did, however, you’ll definitely put in some work to develop your very own guideline.

A good starting point is to think about what’s most important to you. What are your values? What do you expect from life, from yourself, from others, and your environment?

Additionally, you should prioritize these factors.

What greatly helped me is to think about past decisions I’m grateful for and proud of. Why did I choose x, y, or z? Why was it important to me?

For instance, I asked myself why I wanted to get very good grades in high school. What were the driving forces? Would I do the same retrospectively?

By reflecting on your past, you can identify the things for which you genuinely care. Then, based on your values, you can derive decision-making guidelines. For example, you highly value justice and equality. A guiding principle could be the golden rule: In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

Of course, your value might change or you’ll want to adapt your decision-making principles. Nevertheless, you should consistently stick to and refine them. Unless you make a conscious effort, your decision-making won’t likely improve.

Hence, commit yourself to find what’s most important to you, derive your very own guidelines, and apply them as consistently as possible.

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