A young boy having to choose between good and bad decisions when faced down a long path with signs pointing different directions.

How do you tell the difference between good and bad decisions ahead of time? Is there a way to avoid regret?

Good and bad decisions differ in whether or not they bring you closer to your goals and align with your values. To make better decisions, try to think through your choices purposefully.

Keep reading to see what makes some decisions better than others.

What’s a Good Decision? 

We’ve all made good and bad decisions. But few of us have stopped to ask ourselves: What makes a good decision? It’s a combination of three factors: 

First, a good decision moves you in the direction you want to go, whether in your relationships, career, finances, or another area of your life. A decision that’s right for you makes sense as part of your vision for where you want your life to go. 

Second, a good decision accords with your values. A good decision helps you to embody the values that mean the most to you.

Third, a good decision is made purposefully and thoughtfully. We often don’t make good decisions when we feel rushed or if we make a choice without thinking through all the options. He writes that a good decision is one that you approach purposefully—by asking yourself a series of questions that we’ll explore later in the guide.

What’s a Bad Decision? 

We’ve defined a good decision. But then what makes a bad decision? A bad decision creates regret. Bad decisions can be inconsequential or very consequential—but either way, they make you want to go back and make a different choice. However, you only regret a decision after you’ve made it. So while regretting a decision might help you if you face a similar choice in the future, it can’t keep you from making a decision you’ll regret in an unfamiliar situation. (Shortform note: Some experts describe regret as a time machine: an emotion we feel in the present about something that happened in the past that helps us to make better choices in the future.)

(Shortform note: Some experts say that not only are regrets inevitable, but it’s crucial to build the skill of learning from your regrets. In If Only…, psychologist Robert L. Leahy writes that we often regret things we did and things we didn’t do. In both cases, your regrets can help you learn from your mistakes. To learn from regret, Leahy recommends avoiding assumptions about what might have been, practicing gratitude for the good things in your life, accepting that regret is inevitable, and learning to tolerate tradeoffs and compromises—to “satisfice,” or accept a good-enough option, rather than holding on to unrealistic expectations and searching for perfection.)  

Good and Bad Decisions: How to Tell the Difference

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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