Some of us struggle with decision making on a daily basis, even when it comes to mundane things like selecting an outfit to wear or a drink to buy. If indecisiveness is not one of your qualities, then you would still relate to this experience if you recall the last time you had to make a really important decision. No matter what its magnitude is, it would certainly be useful to keep in mind some tips and techniques to enhance the quality of your decisions, and thus the quality of your life in general.
The first step towards making your life easier when it comes to decision making is to know about the two different systems of decision making. System 1 operates quickly and almost involuntary. It requires a smaller input and its suggestions are sometimes characterized by people as “the gut feeling”. It works best for some simple decisions or everyday routines as it conserves our mental energy and saves time. Despite its advantages, system 1 often leads to biased, feeling-based or overconfident decisions. System 2 is often associated with free will and the experience of personal agency. It takes a lot of energy and conscious analysis, but usually produces more reliable and fact-based results.
The key is to know which system to rely on in specific situations. While you would certainly want to use the second one while selecting a car or choosing which job offer to accept, it is rarely a good idea to torture yourself when purchasing a meal. Learning how to balance thinking fast and thinking slow is one of the basic keys to reducing anxiety and increasing the efficiency of your decision-making processes. Below are some other pieces of advice related to this issue.
- Take your time
The need to make a decision often appears at the wrong moment. If you are tired, stressed or overwhelmed already, then the fast system 1 may take over even if the decision you need to make is rather complex. Depending on how much urgency is involved, try to give yourself some time before you finalize on something. Sleep on it, take some steps to relax, give your emotions some time to settle down. Let your unconscious process the issue while you are engaged in something seemingly unrelated to your decision.
- Picture the consequences of your choice
Many decisions we make in our lives can be described as a clash between the desire for immediate gratification and a long-term reward. For instance, in cases where the decision involves sleeping past the alarm or quitting smoking, it is usually the case that people choose the immediate temptation. Thinking about long-term consequences, such as the absence of breakfast or the lung cancer, in combination with some willpower, can aid in making the right decision.
When it comes to the far less obvious decisions, visualizing the consequences of a few alternative choices can help us evaluate our reactions to them. Once we have a “preview” of our future emotions, we can approximately measure our levels of satisfaction with the choice we “have made”. This technique should be helpful when we are faced with some personal decisions and our goal is to pick the one which is the closest to our heart.
- Understand your emotions
In continuity with the previous tip, do not treat your emotional responses as something irrelevant. Yes, they truly are capable of clouding your rational judgement and they often do so. But in order to make better decisions, you should understand what causes these responses and then and only then choose to either consider them in your decision making or not. Continuously discarding them as “noise” will lead to a semi-blindfolded choosing which can seriously compromise your own integrity in the end. Instead, cultivating your emotional intelligence can help you get to the roots of your own motivation and even the motivations of other people. The latter is another very beneficial soft skill to possess.
- Distance yourself from the situation
Once you more or less understand where your emotions are coming from, you are now better able to picture the desired end result. The next step is the opposite of the previous one, as the balance between rationality and emotions should be preserved. One of the ways to distance yourself from the situation and its emotional components is to picture yourself as the observer, a third person, or even a fly in the room. This might present you with some new perspectives on the situation, it will also remind yourself that you are not always right and perhaps there can be several different interpretations.
- Gather more information
To back up the rational component in your decision-making process, gather as much information on the issue as possible. No matter how good your logic is, it is rarely helpful if the information you possess is insufficient or unreliable. The less information you have, the more susceptible your decision would be to quickly changing circumstances which may be hard to predict. In doing your research, however, prioritize quality over quantity. Be selective; more information does not mean the right information.
- Be open to different possibilities
Don’t jump to conclusions and assumptions of how things “should be” or “will be”. People often choose one plausible (or the least plausible) direction of thinking about the future and disregard all the other possibilities without taking time to evaluate them. To combat this tendency, try to think about several other possible consequences of your decision instead. Listen carefully to the people you asked advice from and do not disregard the options which make you feel bad, angry or uncomfortable. Those might be the very best options which you cannot see due to your limited information, or cannot accept due to emotions clouding your judgements.
- Beware of groupthink
If you are making a decision in a group, then being open to different possibilities and surrounding yourself with people who will sometimes challenge your perspective is very important. If a decision is supported by the most vocal group members, then the remaining members are likely to follow due to conformity and the slight modification in their own beliefs. After the discussion inside the group, the initially dominant collective opinion becomes more intensified and thus slanted towards the extreme. This phenomenon is called the group polarization. This mostly occurs because people tend to believe they are right if they get some confirmation from others. People inside the group get trapped into this positive confirmation feedback loop, which makes it harder and harder for the group members to critically analyze their decision, especially if the group is coherent. Being aware of the groupthink fallacy can protect you from discarding your critical analysis skills.
- Create and follow a set of rules
Sometimes to make a good decision you need to set some rules for yourself on how you will make that decision. Faced with some pressure, time urgency or temptation, it might be easy to give in to these factors. To avoid the reliance on the fast but often biased system 1 alone, you could set up a simple set of rules for yourself in advance. This tip would be especially useful in buying and selling decisions, where one should stay logical while being under the pressure. Instead of finding yourself signing the purchasing agreement for an over-the-budget car you “fell in love” with, follow the simple formulas before making impulsive decisions.
- Stay true to your own integrity
As was mentioned before, disregarding your own emotional responses right away during decision making will sooner or later compromise your integrity. In some cases, compromises are necessary to achieve your goals and leave everyone around you happy. But never adjust your goals solely in accordance with what others want or expect from you. If all the choices presented in front of you feel unauthentic and make you feel unsatisfied, perhaps you should try and come up with your own options.
- Make decisions that are good enough
Finally, remember that none of the decisions can be fully right, correct or perfect. In a fast-paced world with the ever-changing circumstances, even the wisest decisions can be eventually proved to be rather flawed. The same applies to the decisions in the domain of interpersonal relationships. Sometimes, the choice one has is only between two undesirable options. While any degree of certainty is hardly achievable, staying true to your own judgment while being open to learning seems to be the best option available to people.
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Nicholson, Jeremy. (2018). 5 Tips for Better Decision Making. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/persuasion-bias-and-choice/201806/5-tips-better-decision-making
Chan, L. Amanda. (2014). 6 Science-Backed Ways to Make Better Decisions. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/rational-decision-making-strategies_n_5474861
Kleja, Mick. (2018). 6 Ways to Make Better Decisions. Success. Retrieved from https://www.success.com/article/6-ways-to-make-better-decisions