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Hack Your Brain – Making Decisions

Big decisions, lots of small decisions—they can all feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t know why you’re making the choices you do.

We make thousands of decisions each day: what to wear in the morning, which route to drive to school, what song to listen to in the car, what to eat for lunch, what picture to post on Instagram—the list could go on forever. And the list would include big decisions like what extracurriculars to participate in, which colleges to apply for, when to take the driver’s test, what AP classes to take, whether or not to work part-time during school.girl thinking about homework

It’s no wonder making all of these decisions—and worrying if they’re the right ones—can feel overwhelming. But if you can take a step back and see who and what are influencing the selections you make for each decision, it might not feel so crushing.

Some of the influences in your life and on your choices are more obvious: parents, friends, trusted adults, idols or celebrities, advertising, past experience, values and morals, and religious beliefs. When facing a decision, these may be some of the first things that come to mind when weighing our options. We might think about what someone we love or respect would think of our decision or what they would choose. We might remember what happened the last time we face a similar situation. The answers to all of these considerations can be helpful, but they can also help us see if one of them is influencing us more than it should.

For example, your best friend might take the ACT as part of their college application process. That could be an influence on your decision to take it instead of the SAT. But maybe there’s another influence that should be stronger, like your college counselor’s recommendation that your top school prefers SAT scores.

Other influences may not be as obvious, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less powerful: self- worth (what you believe you deserve), fears, gut feelings, information vs. emotion, safety vs. risk, perceived value (if and how much you believe you’ll benefit or regret one choice over the other). Sometimes these influences masquerade as something else, which makes it hard to know exactly why we’re making the choices we do.

What can you do to untangle all of these influences? Going to a quiet space, possibly with pen and paper, is a good start. Make a list in your mind or on paper of what you think is influencing you—including your own emotions, experiences, fears—and what you believe will be the result of each option you might chose. Sometimes seeing on paper what’s influencing us shows us if we need more input from another source—like a trusted friend, mentor, or just plain facts and research.

Your brain is actually really good at making decisions fast. Some you’re not even consciously thinking about—like when to blink, when to take a breath. But sometimes it can be overwhelmed by influence and input. That’s when a slow, quiet moment to think can help.