Cash or credit? Super or premium? Vanilla or Chunky Monkey? We make countless decisions every day, and every day we worry that our choices will leave us dissatisfied or worse off. Making decisions can often seem harder than it should be. We either go full speed ahead, making rash choices without giving them much thought; spin our wheels overthinking every possible move; or, make a selection and immediately begin to second-guess ourselves.

So, how can we improve our ability to weigh up our options, choose a path, and be content with the outcome? We asked three expert decision makers what to think about when it comes to making choices.

Recognize When Your Emotions Are Taking Over

“I tend to work with folks who are pretty deep thinkers,” says Shawny Sena, a licensed therapist who specializes in working with the LGBTQ+ community. “Folks who are marginalized calculate safety all the time. That puts a lot of pressure on picking the right thing and avoiding threat."

But that added pressure can make every decision seem monumental, which only ratchets up the stress. "What folks often want is to make a decision that will free them from anxiety," she says. "We attach a perceived emotional outcome and hope the decisions we make will get rid of the thing that’s distressing.”

Sena says the anxiety you feel before finalizing that decision “needs to be nurtured, healed, or learned to live with co-respectfully.” In other words, the emotional weight you place on a decision may stem from a trauma, insecurity, or perceived outcome that has little to do with your current situation. If the same fear seems to hold you back in each new relationship, or the same recklessness gets you in a pickle every time you start a new business venture, there may be more there to explore through therapy or analysis.

Give Your Brain Time to Catch Up

“The bad decisions people make in survival situations usually come out of that fight-or-flight response,“ says Eli Loomis, the executive director for the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) outside Boulder, Utah. "You buy bear spray, but then panic and throw the can at the bear.”

At BOSS, the most important skill students develop is keeping a cool head and learning to assess their environment and resources. “It can be really hard to get to that calm place,” says Loomis. But as long as you're not in immediate danger, he says, pausing to take a breath and look around can give you time to engage your rational thinking.

Rather than “going with your gut,” Loomis says that entering into a crisis informed, trained, and flexible can make survival decisions more efficient and, likely, even more useful. “One of the things we see is the emergence of a ‘can do’ attitude from having gone through a challenging experience,” says Loomis. “The value of going out and doing hard things successfully is huge.” Looking back on how you were able to cope with decisions you've made in the past—even when things didn't turn out as great as you'd wanted—can provide the self-confidence needed to help you make up your mind in the present.

Eliminate the Obvious Bad Choices

There are plenty of arenas where the “correct” decision may not mean life or death, but it would still be nice to win more often than you lose. Take the example of Steve Bahnaman, an e-resources librarian at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. In 2015, the avid trivia buff won $110,000 on the game show 500 Questions.

Faced with having to make lightning-quick decisions, Bahnaman learned there was a distinct approach to coming up with the right answers. “A good trivia contest doesn’t let you know the answer right off the bat," he says. "The goal is to have to make as few decisions as possible, so you don’t have to know the right answer,” he says. In other words, narrow down what the answer isn’t before you offer up an educated guess.

Trust Your Track Record

So, what happens after you’ve finally made that choice? How do you avoid “woulda shoulda coulda” anxiety? Sena says it helps to remember that "there’s usually no one decision that will heal all anxiety or collapse your entire life.” If you think back on the big decisions in your life—which new car; where to go to college; which jobs to accept or turn down—even if the outcome wasn’t entirely pleasant, odds are that not only did you persevere, but you drew something from the experience.

There are certainly times in life we will make decisions we fully regret. It’s also important to remember that much of what we perceive as missed opportunities really aren't (it would not have worked out with that person you dated that one time in high school). Likewise, decisions initially viewed as negative may have a hidden silver lining (not taking the overseas job meant more time spent with elderly friends or family).

Or, to put it in wilderness-survival terms: “It’s not that it was a bad choice to cross that stream,” says Loomis. “But now, you’re on the other side of the stream, cold and wet. And, well, what can you do about that?”

Originally published on Happify Daily