The Art of Decision-Making: How Mastering It Can Change Your Life

Updated August 31, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
decision making decisions

What do you picture when you hear decision-making? Do you imagine world leaders or company CEOs? It’s normal to think that way because those words reek of corporate. But did you know that experts estimate that an average person makes about 35,000 decisions on a regular day? Indeed, it sounds like an insane number, but ponder about it for a moment. Picture your out-of-the-ordinary day or even today. What clothes did you wear? What did you have for breakfast? Did you go through the back door or the front door? Did you walk around the backside of your car to put your bag in the side seat or through the front? Believe it or not, those are all decisions you’ve made. Now, let’s talk about how you’ve made them.

“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”Paulo Coelho

Decision-Making Is Everywhere

Those are all micro-decisions that you had to make so that your day can progress forward. They are a part of your decision-making process. Granted, a vast majority of those don’t feel like decisions anymore because your brain already knows what to do. They are now habits (good and bad).

You don’t have to choose which type of butter to purchase. You’ve tried before, and you know. You don’t need to experiment again with how cold or warm the butter should be before you can spread it on the bread to your liking. You know. Your brain decides for you based on prior patterns.

In this article, I will not discuss these thousands of mini-decisions or the entire philosophy of practices and habits. Here, I am going to discuss the big decisions. The decisions driven by the deeply-rooted system of beliefs and values drive your life at the highest level. These are the ones you need to master.


decision making choices doors

Every Step Is a New Decision

I’ve read somewhere (and I can’t remember where) that a top executive makes about 100 major decisions every single day. And to be a great executive, they have to make sure that 98% of those decisions are the right ones. Anything below that, and you should be fired as CEO.

Now you start what I’m talking about here: on the one hand, the multitude of quick and easy decisions which your brain is already trained to perform for you, or for which you take a very short time to resolve. On the other hand, the major decisions tend to put you in a frozen state.

How do you get to a point where you approach those major decisions with the same easiness as you do the simpler ones?

The answer has multiple folds. After all, decision-making is a skill, and just like any other skill, you can train yourself in it. So, to make better decisions, you have to train your judgment, and you do that by:

  • Making a lot of decisions all the time
  • Analyzing the effects of your decisions
  • Reflecting and correcting

That is the basis of pretty much any kind of training. To be effective, though, training requires a plan, a framework, some organized structure that allows you to follow the same pattern over and over again and improve on it with each iteration. Over time, you will develop the self-confidence you need to make more, bigger, and more complex decisions.

“Once the decision is made, do not look back, do not second guess your decisions.”Muhammad Ali

decision choices

A Decision-Making Framework

I am a particularly bad decision-maker by nature. You can ask my wife, and she’ll confirm. I tend to jump to conclusions; I am lazy and unwilling to make all the proper analyses through the end. I’d rather pay a high cost for a quick result, and so on. The result is that I make a boatload of wrong decisions, and then I spend lots of time and energy masking the bad results instead of self-reflecting and correcting them.

So, I’ve struggled with this for the longest time, and I’ve looked for a framework that would allow me to practice. And about two months ago, something perfect fell into my lap. I listened to a podcast where Ray Dalio, president of Bridgewater and author of the best-selling business book, Principles, interviewed Tony Robbins about various business topics. During this interview, Tony mentioned a decision-making framework that he abides by, abbreviated OOCEMR.

“Indecision is a decision.”Anonymous

decision making fork choice

Small Decisions, Big Decisions

I was very intrigued by the description, and I started to look deeper into it. After a few days of reading and trying it out, I was convinced it was the perfect framework to practice and develop my decision-making skills.

Now, how do you differentiate a major decision from a minor one?

Major decisions have:

  • Uncertainty – lots of things are unknown ahead of time.
  • Complexity – there are many moving and interrelated parts, and connections are sometimes unclear.
  • High-Risk Consequences – the impact of the decision might be very significant
  • Many Alternatives – there are many options, and each might come with different sets of uncertainty and complexity.
  • Interpersonal Issues – it’s not only science, but people’s feelings and emotions are also at play.

And you don’t really have to evaluate all these to know if a decision is major or not. You’ll feel it in your gut. You’ll sense it, especially if you are unpracticed at making major decisions all the time. These are the decisions that usually put you on an emotional tilt or send you into the “terror” zone—a place where you are frozen in space and time, unable to make the decision either way.

“When faced with a decision, choose the path that feeds your soul.”Dorothy Mendoza Row

decisions choices

OOCEMR Decision-Making System

This article will discuss the OOCEMR decision-making framework and how you can apply it to your major decisions and train your judgment to avoid going into the “frozen” state. Soon, you will seek the “terror” zone as a training ground.

What does OOCEMR stand for?

decision-making framework

To understand these steps better, I will use a virtual, made-up example and apply the framework to it. It’s overly simplified and borderline silly, but it helps drive the point through.

Let’s say you are the hiring manager for a company, and from a multitude of resumes, you pulled out one that has the perfect skill set. His name is Roger. After interviewing the person, you are not very convinced that they are the best culture fit for the company, and they also ask for more money than you’ve budgeted.

On the other hand, the Sales Director referred his best friend’s son for the same job. The son is a perfect cultural fit, but his experience and hard skills are lacking. He does ask for less money, though. His name is Jim. There’s tremendous pressure from Production to get somebody in because of a new looming contract. You have to decide who to hire.



decision-making outcomeThe first step of any decision-making is determining what do you want the outcome to be. If you don’t know that, you can’t make a decision. Without it, the decision would be a simple coin toss. You need to have perfect clarity as to what you are trying to accomplish, and that will have a profound influence on the way you continue through the following steps.

Our example

As a hiring manager, I want to hire an employee who will stay with the company for the long run, who fits with the company’s culture, and who can hit the ground running in the short term to fill in a gap in production.



options for your decisionsThe next step is to list all the possible options. If you only have one option, there’s no decision. So, you need at least two or more options to continue. Make sure you list all the options, not just the obvious ones. Through further analysis, you will invalidate some of them later but start with them in mind. Sometimes having too many options is crippling, but make sure you do not avoid listing options for that reason only. A human tendency is to remove options to make the decision easier. Don’t do that. Be true to the situation and list all possible options. The decision-making process is one place where having too many options is a good thing.

Our example

There are several options. We can choose to hire:

  1. Roger
  2. Jim
  3. Roger and Jim
  4. Neither one and keep looking.


decision-making consequencesThe consequences (direct or indirect) and the imagined consequences (things we make up in our heads) are usually the hurdles that put us in that frozen state. It’s the fear that the decision you make will have dire consequences, and it will all be your fault. Here’s the thing right of the bat: no matter how you turn this around, there is never a way to ensure that the odds are 1:0 in favor. There will always be cons and pros for every alternative. It’s the exercise of identifying them and putting them next to each other to provide the next level of clarity. Again, be truthful here; don’t emphasize the pros of the solution you know in your gut is the least resistance path.

Our example:

  1. Hire Roger
    • Pros:
      • He can hit the ground running right away, perfect skillset.
    • Cons:
      • In the long run, the lacking of culture fit might drive him out of the company.
      • He’s over the budget.
      • The Director of Sales might be upset that Roger was hired over Jim.
  2. Hire Jim
    • Pros:
      • Good culture fit; probably will work best in the long run.
      • The Director of Sales will be pleased.
      • Lower compensation
    • Cons:
      • Short-term, he will require a lot of training.
      • Short-term work won’t be covered during the training.
  3. Hire Roger and Jim
    • Pros:
      • Get the best of both worlds.
      • Make the Director of Sales happy.
    • Cons:
      • Way over budget now
  4. Hire neither one and keep looking
    • Pros:
      • Keep the search going for a perfect match.
    • Cons:
      • The Director of Sales will not be pleased.
      • The position will remain unfilled for a while


evaluate resultsNow that we have the pros and cons of each option, we need to evaluate their impact and the probability of that impact. So, if you have an option with a huge negative impact but a very low probability of it happening, you might want to take the risk. But before you can make this determination, you need to understand what these impacts and probabilities are. Note that you want to accelerate your decision-making process in time, so be wary of spending too much time over-evaluating. Don’t allow the analysis-paralysis phenomenon to freeze you up.

Our example:

  • Statistically, we’ve seen about 70% of people qualified as a non-cultural fit quit within the first 6-9 months.
  • The compensation committee approves larger budgets in crisis mode 100% of the time, especially now that sales are trending up.
  • The Director of Sales tends to overreact; therefore, I can expect a strong reaction from him.
  • In about 25% of cases, new hires without the necessary skills could not train to the level expected, and we had to let them go within twelve months.
  • The compensation committee never approved two hires when the company needed only one, regardless of skills.
  • The number of resumes received for this position is low, and candidates’ quality is not up to par. It will be a long time until another good one comes along.
  • The new contract will be signed within 3 weeks, so coverage needs to happen within a maximum of 4 weeks.


mitigationThe next step is finding ways to mitigate the negative consequences. This is an important step because a lot of time, the specter of the negative impact might drive our decision-making in a direction that doesn’t necessarily need to go. Since we went through the evaluation step, we now understand what the impact could be. We can think of ways to minimize the negative impact and maximize the positive one with that information.

The emphasis, in this case, will be to minimize the negative impact because that’s the part that puts us in paralysis. So, what actions can you take to diminish those bad consequences, and how does the evaluation look once you’ve implemented those?

Our example:

  • Discuss with the training department to ensure they can provide an aggressive training plan spanning 4 weeks.
  • Arrange a meeting with the Director of Sales and the Director of Production to ensure they are on the same page.
  • Offer the candidate a temp-to-perm start for the first three months.


decision-making resolutionResolve is the last step, and it can be summarized by just do it! You’ve done the work; you went through the process. The optimal solution in the context should be clear to you by now. If it isn’t, you haven’t done the exercise properly. Go back and revise. In the end, one option will surface as the best possible one within the circumstances. That’s the one that accomplishes the outcome you desired with maximum pros and minimum cons.

Now, do it. Make the call, send the email, whatever needs to be done. Don’t agonize over it, don’t redo the exercise, don’t question its results. Resolve!

Our example:

I am sending an email to the HR Manager that I recommend Jim for the position, copying the Director of Sales. I am sending a meeting request to the Directors of Sales and Production to discuss hiring Jim. Next, I am sending a diplomatic email to Roger explaining that we would not be hiring him.

Applying the Decision-Making Framework

And that’s the OOCEMR decision-making framework.

Tony recommends that you always do this in writing. Maybe have a little decision-making notebook and use a page spread for each one of your major decisions during a day. In time, you will train your brain to run through this process quickly in your head.

Imagine, if you need to make 100 decisions every day during your eight-hour workday, you need to make a decision every five minutes. Five! There’s not a lot of time to be writing everything down. You need to train your brain to go through this decision framework little by little.

In the beginning, it will be very scientific, as explained above. The more you practice making decisions, the more you will sharpen your judgment, and your decision-making will turn into art—your own art, marked with your own fingerprint.

“Life is filled with difficult decisions, and winners are those who make them.”Dan Brown

Decision-Making Conclusion

But you have to start now, and you have to start fast. Training judgment is one of the hardest things to do because most of us carry a certain level of arrogance, which leads us to believe that we are already at our best. Or, we swing to the other end of the spectrum where we believe we are such a mess that we’ll never get better.

Neither one of those extremes is true. You can train this skill. Fear of judgment is real, and it’s a root for our fear of rejection. We don’t like it when people question our judgment, but we can train ourselves to be more resilient. To get better at it, you have to start by questioning your own judgment and practicing it—day by day, one step at a time.

Good luck on this journey. I’m just at the beginning of the road myself, and I don’t see the end of the tunnel. At least, not yet.

Tony Robbins – Making Tough Decisions
Tony Robbins Podcast – Ray Dalio Episode

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. Do you feel like you generally make good decisions in life? Why?
  2. Can you pinpoint specific situations when you were stuck on a decision?
  3. What is your personal method to validate your decisions and judgment?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!



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