Three Tricks Teachers Can Use to be More Decisive

Messy Teacher Desk

I consider myself a decisive person most of the time.

Or, to use a pop psychology term, I’m a “satisficer.”

Satisficers are willing to make a choice that seems good enough and move forward with few regrets.

The alternative is being a “maximizer,” who puts tremendous thought and research into making the best decision possible.

According to decision-making research, maximizers actually do make better decisions after all that work. But it takes them longer. And they tend to be less satisfied even after a decision is made.

It didn’t take long for me to decide being a satisficer was way better.

In fact, I’ve always been pretty proud of my satisficer status, dashing Sonic-the-Hedgehog style past all the maximizers in my life as they hunched over their review sites. Look at me! I felt like shouting. Making decisions and taking names!

Then I had to pick a paint color for my walls.

I know nothing about what color walls should be. Why are there so many colors of paint? Why are there so many colors of white paint?

And what factors was I supposed to consider as I chose among them?

Also: Gloss? Semi-gloss? Matte? Flat?


Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I was a “maximizer.”

I was perusing endless design sites and color blogs, unclear which advice applied, sure I was going to make a wrong decision and have to live forever with the consequences of the wrong white paint, which seemed to grow more serious the longer I scrolled through the options.

Eventually I texted a realtor friend. She said she liked Sherwin Williams “Pure White” as a neutral, can’t-go-wrong color for staging houses.

My walls are now “Pure White” and probably always will be.

“Satisficer” and “maximizer” are still useful concepts. But the line between them might not be as defined as pop psychology suggests.

There are factors that make it easier to be decisive. . .

  • confidence in your own judgment on a particular subject
  • confidence that the stakes are low

. . . and factors that make it harder.

  • way too many choices
  • decision fatigue (or just plain old fatigue)

The good news is, you can address some of these factors. 

Like so many teaching traits, decisiveness is less a permanent setting than a dial you can adjust upwards or downwards.

Here are three mental tricks that might help.

1: Consider whether a B-plus decision might “B okay.”

Teachers get constant reminders that the job is important. But the stakes of any given decision aren’t always as high as they seem. No matter what the tote bag claims, “One hundred years from now. . . ” nobody will care whether you accepted a late math assignment. Or didn’t. It’s fine.

2: Imagine stretching a Slinky out as far as it will go.

Teaching holds many risk factors for getting stuck in perfectionist loops, zig-zags of indecision, or dreaded combination of the two: the Indecisive-Perfectionist Slinky of Doom. Imagine how much farther a Slinky could reach if it weren’t so tightly coiled. Now imagine what would happen if you took the energy you spent doubling back and forth between options and used it to move forward, in a straight line, directly toward the minimum viable version of your decision. And then onto whatever is next. 

3: Learn to recognize when you’re decisioned-out for the day.

If you’ve had a long day, minor decisions can feel major. Easy decisions can feel hard. Your internal debate can feel more like a cranky committee meeting where everybody skipped lunch. This is not the time to make any decision at all, if you can help it. 

Being decisive isn’t always the right goal for the moment. It’s okay to say, “I just can’t make this decision right now.”  Even if you’re saying it to yourself.

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