Every day we make thousands of decisions. Most of them are unimportant and will be of little consequence to our life as a whole. Nonetheless, the current age of technology that we live in means that we are bombarded with more options than we have ever had before. From dating to choosing a vacuum cleaner, deciding what job to go for to deciding when to approach your boss about an important topic, decisions that matter seem to arise every day.
Making good decisions with so many options can be a difficult task given what has been described as the ‘paradox of choice’. With more options there are more ways for us to be disappointed. We experience what is known as ‘paralysis by analysis’ where we avoid making any decision because we are scared to be wrong. Picking the best option seems to be so, so important. In this post, I’d like to address how good decision making works and how we might be able to overcome any of these issues and make the very best decisions possible.
Firstly, the truth is the future remains unpredictable in many, many ways. Just because you make the smartest decision on paper doesn’t mean that it will work out the best way for you. Changing circumstances, luck, unforeseen events all can become factors which determine what happens for you. It is because of this that you need to realise that you cannot ever be sure of the ‘best’ decision. I like to explain that it is not about making the ‘right’ decision, it’s about making the decision that you make ‘right’ by how you deal with it.
Sometimes something that might not have been the best decision can be made the best decision by how you follow through on it. This requires that you strike a perfect balance between adapting in the face of things not going well and committing when you go ‘all in’ on the specific decision. For example, sometimes you might have made a decision that you soon realise isn’t working and you need to adapt your strategy to account for the feedback you are getting. Other times, you won’t be able to adapt and it is appropriate to implement the initial decision 100%. Most of the time people make mistakes by being inflexible or being too flexible and not committing to whatever they have decided in the first place.
Once you are aware of that, the next part of making a great decision is to understand that even when you do not make a decision, you are still making a decision not to decide. The absence of a decision will almost always have consequences and therefore can be seen as a decision. This insight should help you make a more intelligent decision rather than avoiding the process once and for all.
Next, decisions are best made by looking at the probably and likely futures which will occur as a result of each. For instance, if you have four options, what are the benefits and consequences of each option? Vividly imagine two types of benefits and two types of negative consequences for each, short-term and long-term. There will be some immediate benefits to every decision and some immediate consequences. There will also be some longer term benefits and longer term consequences. Understand all of these so that you can see what the future looks like in front of you.
It is also important to understand any factors that might distort your ability to decide logically. We are sometimes affected by our emotions and sometimes affected by what we call cognitive biases. What emotions may be leading you astray? For example, if you’re feeling scared then ask yourself if you were feeling optimistic, what kind of decision would you make? It is important to check in with how your emotions might be influencing you.
Another important factor of making decisions is the evidence which supports each option. How reliable is it? Where does it come from? How sure can you be of it? How does your experience in the past support each decision? By thinking through this, it means that you will be much more confident and sure in the decision making process.
One more useful thought on decisions is to consider what you will do in the event the decision does not work out as the best. The more prepared you are for any eventuality the less fear you will feel about making the decision and the more likely you are to make a good decision because it won’t be based on what might go wrong but on what can go right. Prepare for any eventuality and you will decide out of strength rather than fear.
Lastly, ask yourself how you feel about each decision in your gut. Does it sit well with you? Do you feel okay about it? Often, your gut will tell you what the smart and stupid thing to do is. That does not mean that you always go with your gut as sometimes your feelings can affect the signals you get from it. It does mean, however, that having thought through your decisions in a critical way as you have done by following the advice here, that you can then use your gut feeling as a final checking point.
So, there you have it: a bunch of steps and strategies that can help you make much better decisions. Obviously, for the majority of decisions in your life you do not need to go through all of this, but if it is an important decision, it just might help.
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