When you get right down to it, life is a string of choices: City or suburbs? Debit or credit? Chicken or fish? It’s tantalizing to think that there’s one, and only one, correct branch of every decision tree and that it’s just waiting to be uncovered by a sufficient amount of rational analysis. “We feel an obligation to use all our intellectual tools to find the absolute ideal option,” says Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and the author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less ($15, amazon.com). “But that’s a fool’s errand.”
The more we agonize over a decision, the more paralyzed we become, Schwartz explains, and the greater our potential for unhappiness later. Pros and cons are not always of equal weight, so instead of making a 10-foot, two-column list, he advises, sit down and ask your gut first. There may be 244 reasons not to go back to school, but how do they stack up against one pro like “If I don’t, I’ll always regret it”?
After you’ve discovered what’s really in your heart of hearts, take the pressure off by lowering your expectations, then do your best not to look back. “Revisiting decisions after you’ve made them is not a good idea,” says Schwartz. “If you do, you’ll find a lot to be dissatisfied with. There’s no blueprint for infallibility. Success is getting it wrong as infrequently as possible.”
In case you are curious about what our moms did teach us, Real Simple staffers shared the best advice from their moms.