How Effortless Decision Making Can Propel Your Life Forward

October 2, 2017

by Ravi Raman

decision making analysis paralysis

Updated on May 11, 2023

What decisions have had the biggest impact on your life?

In my life, a few stand out: Where I went to college. Accepting a full-time job in tech (Microsoft) instead of consulting (McKinsey) or finance (Lehman Brothers). Moving to Seattle right after college. Getting married. Quitting my job to travel the world. Starting a coaching practice. Moving to Colorado and then to Minnesota. Starting a family.

How about you?

When you stop to reflect on your major life decisions, what was your decision making process like? Was it hard or easy? What it quick or slow? Did you weight the pros and cons or just go with your gut-instinct?

You make choices every day. Some seem big and some seem small. Some seem consequential and others irrelevant. Most fly beneath the radar of your conscious awareness while others can keep you up at night.

Decisions can be exciting, but also a drain on energy and source of stress. It doesn’t seem get any better with time, as CEOs and other leaders will tell you. Even President Obama succumbs to the seemingly heavy weight of choices, going so far as to radically simplify and automate his day to free up mental resources for the choices that matter. As told to Vanity Fair:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Barack Obama

In this blog, I will point out a way to decide with less stress and effort. In doing so, I’ll specifically focus on two misunderstandings about the nature of decision making that interfere with the mind’s natural capability to know what to do. These mental errors can keep you stuck and frustrated or – once resolved – allow a more easy and effortless approach to decisions to permeate your days.

Whether you are a President or a just starting in your career, the benefits of easier decision making can be shockingly helpful. So let’s dive in…

There is no such thing as a BIG (or small) decision

Twenty years ago, while attending a Tony Robbins program, I heard him scream at the top of his lungs “It’s in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped!” It was his way of shocking the crowd into taking decisions seriously, moving us away from procrastination and towards a brighter future. Who really knows if this is even true (what is “destiny” anyway?). However, the experience did get me thinking about the importance of making decisions well when I was early in my career.

Given that life is nothing but an endless series of choices, moving towards free-flowing decisions (and away from analysis paralysis) is a very helpful step to take. Without such a capability, your future would be left in the lurch while you spend another sleepless night ruminating over your next move!

As a starting point, it helps to get in touch with why the mind can seem so stuck on certain choices, and so unstuck on others. For example, take a moment to consider the following thought experiment.

Which is a more important decision:
(1) What clothes should you wear today?

(2) Who should you marry?

Before reading onward, take a few minutes to sincerely think about this. Keep your answer in mind as you continue.

The irony of this question is that when I was a child I was notoriously indecisive about mundane things like what shirt to wear to school or what book to read. Even as a young adult, I would often overthink every new techy gadget I purchased, often leaving Best Buy with nothing in my shopping basket!

However, when I met my wife, I instantly knew in my heart that we would be together for the long haul. There was no deliberation. There was no struggle. It was an immediate sense of knowing what was right. The same is true for many decisions I’ve made that society would categorize as BIG. They came without much of a struggle.

How can this be possible?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while then you know that before trying to solve any problems it’s important to first get clear on how your experience of life actually works. It turns out that the human mind is a movie-making machine. It creates, through the power of thought, an illusion that decisions are either tiny or significant. Some choices seem ominous, while others are casual. Big decisions seem worthy of struggle and analysis. Small decisions seem easier to make because the stakes appear low. Subtly, even trivial choices (like what TV show to watch) can be made big, resulting in lots of overthinking and slow (or no) choice being made.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s all an illusion created by the power of your mind. The fact is that decisions are never BIG or small, they just are.

Choices are objects you make up in your mind. You assign them a severity and importance that is really arbitrary. My decision of whom to marry would seem big to most people, but it was effortless to me (for some reason, my mind just didn’t make a big deal out of it!). Yet, I remember getting really caught up many other mundane choices when I was a young adult.

The same is true for you. There are times when you make seemingly BIG decisions with no stress. Don’t believe me? Consider this thought experiment:

What are three decisions you’ve made in your past, that were obvious and effortless, that would be a big and stressful ordeal for someone else (or for your today!)?

If you are like me, you have dozens of lived examples of having made choices without effortful deliberation, the type of choices that other people you know (or yourself at another moment in time!) would agonized over.

When you make decisions BIG in your mind, you create more pressure, stress, and anxiety. When you are stressed, you disrupt the natural flow of how your mind is designed to work. After all, a relaxed and calm mind just works better. A person under pressure makes iffy choices, if they make any at all!

So am I saying that you should be reckless in your decision making?

Of course not!

I’m saying that if you are struggling your way through a decision, you should first get in a more resourceful and calm state of mind. Chill out. Be present. Find a way to get engaged in your life with a nice feeling. Then, with a clear mind, you will notice that your capacity to decide will be evident. Your choice will be more obvious, even if that choice is to postpone your decision to another time! As the Rush lyric goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!”

Let me say it again:

Decisions are not BIG…

Decisions are not small…

Decisions simply are!.

If they don’t feel that way, it’s a sign that you are thinking way too hard. What makes a decision consequential or trivial is the quality and quantity of thinking you have about the choice, not the nature of the choice itself.

So if your choice isn’t clear, take care of your mind first. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Clear your head. Then, as you turn your mind back towards the choice at hand, see if an answer emerges! Remember, your mind is making choices (including complex ones!) all the time. That’s something you can count on.

There is no such thing as a good or bad decision

The stress of decision making gets compounded when you pretend that there is such a thing as a bad vs. good decision. You fret over making the perfect decision instead of just making a choice and moving forward.

Let’s jump into another thought experiment to make this real for you:

Think about a decision that you have been struggling with.

Now, imagine that you knew that no matter what choice you made, that in the grand scheme of your life that it would work out favorably in the end. Consider that there was no such thing as a bad decision. Whatever you pick will truly work out well in the fullness of time.

As you hold this thought experiment in your mind, notice what is happening in you. Are you feeling less pressure? Do you feel more clear-minded? Do you notice more of a sense of what to choose?

How many times have you been stuck in analysis paralysis or find yourself doing nothing instead of making a choice and moving forward?

What’s so confusing is that there are entire fields of study around decision-making. Consulting firms reap billions in profits helping companies work their way through all sorts of strategies and processes to support decision-making. Yes, even in my coaching practice I’ve occasionally used tools and frameworks to support decisions. It’s very tempting to think that the solution to better decisions is through more analysis, better frameworks and intensive thinking.

My point isn’t to throw out the value of these tools (or the merits of effort and work), but instead to demonstrate that your mindset around your decisions is the most effective point of leverage that you have. When you trick yourself into thinking that outcomes of a decision are good or bad (or varying shades of good), depending on what choice you make, the choice-making itself becomes harder than it needs to be.

Here’s a personal example…

In the process of looking for a new home several years ago my wife and I spent a few weekends traveling around our city and touring dozens of houses in an attempt to find the perfect spot to settle down. After spending far too many hours visiting homes, we realized that none of them felt right.

Then, one sunny afternoon we stepped into a modest home on a quiet street. It was in a location we hadn’t previously considered. We both instantly felt good about it. We had a strong sense that this was the right home for us. We stepped out of the house and immediately felt like submitting an offer!

Later that evening, on the verge of telling our realtor what our offer would be, I was second guessing myself. I analyzed the comps for the home relative to others in the neighborhood. My thoughts kept saying that “This is a big decision, you better be careful and make the best choice!” I kept thinking that perhaps we should put off buying a home and wait for an even better “deal” to show up. My thoughts were racing. The more analysis I did, the more confused I got!

After far too many minutes of brooding over the problem of buying (or not buying) the house, I realized that I was pretending that there was such a thing as a “best choice” for a home. The truth was, as long as it felt right, met our needs and fit within our budget, that it would work out just fine. Most importantly, I noticed that I was overthinking the choice.

I deleted my analysis spreadsheet and took a nap. Then, with a clear head and a quick chat with my wife, we checked into our heart-of-hearts and realized that it was indeed the right house. We told our realtor to put an offer on the house. We ultimately ended up living there happily for several years.

In the years since we bought the home mentioned in the story above, it did indeed end up being a great place to live full of wonderful memories, but also presented several problems that we needed to solve. The good news is that none of the issues were insurmountable. It’s also clear that more due diligence wouldn’t have helped much in detecting the problems.

Years later, when it came time to sell the home and move cities, the learning we gained in how to make the best home choice for us helped us have an even more enjoyable time finding our next home, where we are currently living in Minnesota. Strangely, if we hadn’t run into some of the challenges with our previous home, we might not have had the awareness needed to find our current one!

Outcomes are not bad or good. They just are.

No matter the choices you make, you can find a way to move forward in life. With this knowledge, your decision-making process can be less about finding an optimal result (is that even possible?) and more about making choices that are appropriate to your circumstances in the moment. In doing so, you can more easily find a way to bypass the friction of excess and obsessive thinking and tap into a more intuitive and objective choice as it arises in your mind.


You kid yourself by pretending to know what the future holds and which choices will really be best for you. You make up the idea that decisions are big (or small) and that some are worthy of being stressed about while others are inconsequential. You get confused by pursuing what you consider an optimal choice instead of picking something that is intuitively sound and moving forward.

You are not alone, I do it too!

Life shows us that in spite of making millions of choices, most of them happening without your conscious awareness, you have an uncanny capacity to land on your feet. With this understanding, you can tap into your deepest sources of insight and intuition, and make choices that have your best interests at heart.

Funny enough, when you approach decisions from this point of view, you get unstuck and move forward in life. You produce more, create more and achieve more. Decisions and lives become less stressful and more joyful.

Less stress and more joy? Yes, please!

To me, that’s what life should be about.


  1. Elaine

    Wow!!! I have an amazing son-in-law!! Ravi, this was just what I needed to read today!! I will not be moving to Wayzata!

    • Ravi Raman


  2. Michelle

    Intuitively sound decision making. I needed this message today Ravi! Thank you for keeping up your posts and for offering hope to those of us who have struggled with decision making. Just back from a walk on the beach and agree that clearing the mind is always helpful. 🙏🏻

    • Ravi Raman

      Thanks Michelle and I’m glad you found the blog insightful. There is a certain magic to long walks (especially on the beach!).

  3. Daniel

    Wow! What a great insights about decsision making! Thanks so much.

    The fact is that I have been facing analysis paralysis concerning some project, but after reading this great poost, I am relieved.

    I am ready to go forward with what i feel intuitively.


    • Ravi Raman

      Glad it was helpful Daniel!

  4. jockmackenzie

    Thanks, I enjoyed and profited from this post. Reading this has given me new hope in making choices without all the mind games. Poor choices aren’t the end of the world. And now your 2017 is complete!

    • Ravi Raman

      Thanks for the comment Jock! Yes, I enjoy living life without mind games as well 🙂 Have a great day and rest of 2017!

  5. Trisha Allen

    Thank you. Wonderful article about decision making. I agree there is no right or wrong choice. We always get to where we need to be!

    • Ravi Raman

      Absolutely….that’s exactly what I’ve found to be true!

  6. Christy

    Someone recently suggested the 5 second rule (audio version). I’m about halfway through it now and it parallels this post quite a bit. We can “overrule” ourselves so easily and get caught in our own headspace loops, going in circles. Love that the decisions “just are”. 🙂

    • Ravi Raman

      So funny you saw this post and commented….given the story about our home purchase! Hope all is well Christy…


Leave your comment below:

Read on 📚

What I’ve learned this year (2022 edition)

What I’ve learned this year (2022 edition)

John Dewey, an education reformer and philosopher, is well-known for his understanding that learning doesn't come from experience. It comes from reflecting on experience. Being December as I write this, there is a certain nostalgia in the air as the year comes to a...

Bad news and the power of suspending judgment

Bad news and the power of suspending judgment

Michael slipped on a patch of ice getting into a friends car and fell. A self-proclaimed "klutz," taking a tumble wasn't out of the ordinary. This time, embarrassment wasn't the problem. A lingering pain in his wrist meant something serious was going on. An MRI would...

The Friendly Universe Hypothesis

The Friendly Universe Hypothesis

Is the universe friendly, wicked or ambivalent? I posed this question on LinkedIn a while ago and it provoked reactions, some shared in DMs or email, that ranged from "yes yes yes!!!" to "WTF? The universe doesn't give a s@#t about anyone". Responses showed that most...

The Value Of Sabbaticals In A Workaholic World

The Value Of Sabbaticals In A Workaholic World

This very week 7 years ago was momentous for me. After 13 years at Microsoft I took my first prolonged break from work. It was a true "sabbatical" which according to Google is defined as a sustained period of paid leave for every seven years worked. I was overdue by...

What is Coaching?

What is Coaching?

What is Coaching and who can benefit from it? A simple definition of coaching is set forth by the largest coaching industry and professional organization, the International Coaching Federation (ICF): ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a...

The Truth About Getting More Out Of Less

The Truth About Getting More Out Of Less

What does it take to achieve more? For most of my life, I’ve lived with an underlying assumption that to produce more, I must do more. If I wish to make more money, I must work more. If I want to be better at a sport, I must practice more. If I want to improve the...