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We all make hundreds of decisions every day, whether it's what time to wake up or what to have for lunch. But how do we decide? How can we make better choices? What are the best ways to handle the things that come our way? It turns out there's a lot of research and science around making significant decisions, but we'll get into that later on—first, here are some of the most common lousy decision-making habits people tend to fall into...
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A-List of Strategies
Making a list of strategies to help you improve your decision-making is helpful in several ways. First, it forces you to have conversations with yourself and realize that there are likely many factors at play when making a decision. Second, it helps you avoid bias and make an informed decision about which strategies are best for you. Third, it promotes accountability; if everyone creates a list of systems, we can all use them as support groups to encourage us not to stray from what we want or need (which happens far too frequently). Also, see previous articles here on goal-setting and achieving success.
Why Do We Struggle With Making Decisions?
When it comes to decision-making, there are two significant obstacles at play. The first is regret—we hate making a choice that doesn't work out and will usually go out of our way to avoid doing so. But another obstacle is crucial to why many people struggle to make decisions. This one is our focus on ourselves instead of on what others think. Researchers have found that as long as we believe other people are aware of our decisions, we tend to be satisfied with them even if they aren't good ones for us or don't further our goals.
Techniques to Improve Your Ability to Make Decisions
- Identify your limiting decisions. What's holding you back from doing what you want? There's a difference between thinking something is impossible and knowing it's hard but possible. The first step in improving decision-making is acknowledging how each can change your ability to make a decision when you need one, regardless of whether it's tactical or strategic.
- Determine your first principles for rational decision-making. Your first principles should identify objective facts about what works and doesn't work in specific decisions; if someone has researched that topic before, don't reinvent someone else's wheel if they've already solved it!
- Practice using your first principles. Once you have identified some strategies that have worked well for other people, try them out yourself.
- Use experience to inform future decisions by practicing situational awareness. Situational awareness involves being aware of relevant information and recognizing patterns in past experiences so that you can apply them to new situations where appropriate.
- Get help from others by building relationships with people who are experts in decision-making. You don't have to do everything alone!
- Learn from others' mistakes by reading books and articles written by experts who study effective decision-making.
- Build up mental models of different approaches to decision-making through education and training.
- Practice, practice, practice! The more you make decisions, especially when you're not sure how things will turn out, the better you'll get at them.
- Look for opportunities to apply your new skills in small ways every day until they become a habit. This is an excellent way to test whether or not your new strategies are working for you before trying them out on more significant decisions.
- Be open-minded, and don't be afraid to change your mind if a new piece of information makes sense with what you already know about effective decision-making techniques!
Some Helpful Shortcuts
If you can't decide between two options, try following your instincts. Studies have shown that people tend to make more confident and accurate decisions when they let their intuition guide them, even if it goes against a systematic analysis. Of course, people make mistakes; intuition is frequently a shortcut we use to protect ourselves from cognitive biases. But sometimes, you need all the facts before making an important decision.
We all know that change is complex, yet we also know how necessary it is. For example, unless you want to be a healthy weight forever, you'll need to exercise more and eat better—and stick with it. You won't see results overnight. Change isn't easy, but it can be managed once implemented correctly. According to research from Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, people are motivated by two needs for change: a desire for new opportunities coupled with a fear of missing out on something important. In other words, people generally dislike change but recognize that staying in one place may also keep them from moving forward. The key is finding a balance between striving for progress and taking care not to fall behind. It's easier said than done!
How do we decide? How can we make better choices? There's a lot of research and science around how to make significant decisions. Here are some everyday lousy decision-making habits people tend to fall into. The Science of Decision-Making: How to Make Better Choices, by Richard Branson, is published by Oxford University Press, priced at £19.99.
Your first principles should identify objective facts about what works and doesn't work in specific types of decisions, incredibly if someone has researched that topic before. People tend to make more confident decisions when they let their intuition guide them. Change isn't easy, but it can be managed once implemented correctly. The key is finding a balance between striving for progress and taking care not to fall behind in any area of life.