When it comes to making a decision, it's not always so cut-and-dried. In fact, many decision-making scenarios can leave people in limbo for quite some time, weighing the pros and cons of all their choices. However, there may be a simple way to cut down all that time spent thinking through the possibilities. In fact, one study has found that the easiest way to make a decision is by narrowing down your options to only two choices.
The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior on Feb. 3, sought to discover the best way to make a quick and efficient decision through two experiments with nearly 140 participants. The participants were asked to choose between three different foods throughout multiple rounds with various food choices. During these experiments, the researchers found that rather than weigh all three options equally, the participants often focused on the two options they saw as the most promising. And narrowing the decision-making process down this way actually led the participants to make faster decisions.
"One goal of our research is to understand how people act in a world with ever more options, as you have with online stores or large shopping malls," study leader and professor Sebastian Gluth said in a statement. "Usually, we don't have to choose between an apple and an orange–but between tens or hundreds of different apples and oranges."
So, what makes this approach best for decisions? According to Jandra Sutton, a productivity and personal development expert and host of The Wildest Podcast, much of it has to do with analysis paralysis—which is where an individual may overanalyze a situation so much that it causes them to become paralyzed in terms of making a decision.
"Analysis paralysis is very real, and it's easy to get overwhelmed when you have too many options to choose from," Sutton says. "Limiting your number of choices to two allows you to reduce the likelihood of that happening, which—in theory—will make it easier for you to make a decision."
To be clear, Sutton does note that making a faster decision doesn't always mean making a better decision. But when people struggle with making decisions, it's not usually that they're bad at making good decisions, she explains. Instead, they tend to get "caught up in the decision-making process itself," which is why narrowing down their choices can be helpful.
"It's OK to take your time on big decisions, but for small ones? Don't let them linger," she says. "If you're consistently stressing yourself out over small decisions, you're more likely to increase your overall anxiety—negatively impacting your mental health in the process—which can lead to burnout and increased decision-making fatigue." And if you have trouble making choices, see if you relate to these Signs You're Terrible at Making Decisions.