Think Again: The 10 Worst Times to Make a Big Decision

By Yelena Schuster
10 worst times to make a big decision You Can't Stop Thinking About Dinner
Not eating (whether as a result of a diet or a too-busy work day) can do more than make you cranky: the more you resist a craving, the less likely you will be able to resist other desires. Translation: Depriving yourself of that slice of pizza you wanted on the way to the car dealer can lead to you buying a red mustang over a sensible Prius.
How to avoid a big oops: In a study published in Psychological Science, subjects felt everything more intensely when their willpower was down -- cold water became more painful, an upsetting film more distressing. So pay attention if you start getting overly frustrated by your coworkers or usual commute. Think, "Have I deprived myself of one too many things lately?" Then, give yourself a treat before heading to that board meeting.


You're Leaning...Like, Physically
Here's a fun fact: When thinking about numbers, our minds imagine smaller numbers to the left and larger numbers to the right. According to studies conducted at the University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, manipulating your body's tilt influences how you estimate quantities. The study noted that even when you're unaware of your body's angle, you estimate smaller when leaning left and higher when leaning right. And it goes beyond numbers -- the participants that leaned right during the study over-estimated the height of the Eifel Tower, percentage of alcohol in whiskey, among other quantities.
How to avoid a big oops: Be aware of your posture when estimating, like how big of a house you need or how many hors d'oeuvres you need for your wedding. One harmless lean to the left could make a difference -- and a hungry crowd.

You're Stressed
Not only is stress a curse on your health, but researchers at the University of Southern California discovered that it can also increase your potential for bad decision-making. Similar to sleep-deprivation, stress makes you focus on the positive while ignoring the downsides of an outcome. This kind of explains the role of stress in addiction: You need a fix bad and the craving overcomes any consideration of the dangerous drawbacks. Likewise, itching to get a project simply "over with" can lead to rash choices with unpleasant consequences.
How to avoid a big oops: Calm down with chamomile tea or a lavender-scented bath, then make a pros/cons list for the decision at hand. Just the process of making a list will help sooth your nerves a little.

You're Overwhelmed with Options
Ever go to a Cheesecake Factory or DSW? There are enough options to make your head spin. But why? You knew very well that you wanted a pair of wedges but once in the store, you find yourself checking out the sneakers…and the heels…and then the boots. According to a study conducted at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, we simply have a knack for complicating our choices. When faced with a decision, we will often compromise our initial preferences to make the inferior options seem better. We need to weigh all the options - even though you know your closet really doesn't need another pair of heels you will never wear. "Once we start complicating the decision, our focus and preferences shift," explains study-author Professor Rom Schrif. "Therefore, we may end up choosing an option that merely appears to be better, just because we complicated our choice."
How to avoid a big oops: When faced with many alternatives like buying a house or choosing a master's program, remember what your priorities were before you got your offers. If proximity to your job was the most important qualifier, don't lose sight of that when tempted with other benefits.

You're Wearing Jeans
We apparently do wear our hearts on our sleeves, say researchers at the University of Hertfordshire. There is such a strong link between clothes and our moods that what we put on in the morning not only reflects our state of mind, but can influence it as well. Apparently blue jeans are the clothing of choice for depressed people, so you might want to stay away when you can't afford to be down. Instead, put on some happy clothes: a hat, a favorite dress, a favorite pair of shoes, or anything bright or figure-enhancing. If you look good, you are more likely to make a feel-good decision.
How to avoid a big oops: Play dress-up -- especially when you don't feel like it.

You're Working in a Group
Teamwork is taught to us as the recipe to success as early as our kindergarten days. But new research from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shows that working in a group provides a certain level of cockiness that prevents you from accepting input from anyone outside your group. You naturally assume that the decision your team came up with is correct. When you work alone, you're more likely to be an equal-opportunity advice taker. And it's always best to get all sides of a story before you act.
How to avoid a big oops: This doesn't mean you should never make another team decision ever. Just remember people outside the pack have things to say too.

You're Overexcited
Good things come to those who remain calm, says a psychology study from the University of Illinois. Participants in the study who were exposed to action words like "start" and "active" had poorer impulse control -- they opted to get an immediate monetary reward instead of waiting for a higher one later. The opposite was true with those primed to words like "rest" or "stop".
How to avoid a big oops: Take a breather the next time you're tempted to make an impulsive judgment. Try napping or going to yoga before breaking up with your significant other (or putting in your notice) -- you'll be less likely to regret your choice than if you made it in a relaxed state.

You're Feeling the Urge to Shop

After getting a less-than-stellar performance review, you go on a shopping binge. Sound familiar? You're not alone. Scientists from Cornell University and the London Business School found that when feeling down, people hide their sorrows in shopping bags - the more depressed the person, the higher-end the stuff in the bag. In other words, don't go house-shopping when you are blue! You may not be making the most sensible decisions.
How to avoid a big oops: Before you indulge your urge to splurge, call up a good friend and have an ego-boosting chat.

You're Exhausted
There's science behind this, people! Numerous studies have shown that sleep-deprivation leads to risky decision making. In one recently conducted by University of Massachusetts Amherst psychologists, 54 people were taught to play a card game for rewards. Those who got a regular night's worth of sleep understood the rules better and received four times the winnings of their sleepless counterparts. Why? According to neuroscientists at Duke University, when we lose sleep, we're more likely to see the positive rewards instead of paying attention to the negative consequences.
How to avoid a big oops: If you need to sign an important contract, like a mortgage renewal or job offer, get a solid eight hours of sleep the night before to make sure you fully understand the fine print!

You're Too Aware of Gender Roles
A Columbia University study suggests that we manifest gender stereotypes when we know they exist. In the study, participants were asked to make a series of financial decisions. Those not asked their gender before embarking on the tasks showed no differences in results between the men and the women. Participants who were asked to check a gender box before making the same decisions, women lived up to the stereotype that they are not as risk-taking as men and made more cautious decisions. The men, similarly, lived up to their stereotype and took more risks.
How to avoid a big oops: Remember: Stereotypes don't work if you don't know they exist. Ignore any gender-related fears about how you should or shouldn't act and make the decision that works best for you.