How to improve decision making skills
In our personal and professional lives, we all find ourselves faced with difficult decisions from time to time.
Some of us struggle with even the simplest choices! But whether you’re mulling over menu options or plotting your next career move, developing an understanding of the decision-making process can be a tremendous help – pushing us out of our inertia and onto the right path.
How decisions are made
It’s important to understand how we make our decisions – we’re not always as logical as we may think!
We rely on our rationality to critically assess situations, weigh up pros and cons, and – when possible – arrive at the most logical decision. For instance, when buying a new laptop, you might find yourself comparing options within your price range on a series of criteria, deciding which factors are most important, and selecting the one that offers the best bang for your buck.
Our intuition, on the other hand, acts much more quickly. It’s an unconscious system that has been honed through experience and observation, giving us an instantaneous ability to weigh up a situation. So, on seeing a quality laptop available for a fraction of its usual price, you may instantly feel that something must be wrong with it. Perhaps the CPU is in some way damaged, or maybe the vendor is simply lying about the specs. Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel right!
We use our intuition to make the vast majority of our decisions. But there are times when we need to hit pause and work through a decision rationally. However, we frequently fail to do this when confronted with a cognitive bias.
Cognitive biases are factors that can irrationally influence our decisions. Here are a few of the more common ones:
Present bias. This pushes us to favour the present over the long-term. That bar of chocolate looks enticing! Sure, you’re on a diet, but one bar won’t hurt, will it?
Confirmation bias. Believers in astrology tend to point to the predictions that came true and overlook those that didn’t. That’s because confirmation bias pushes us to uncritically accept evidence that backs up our previously held convictions – and reject any which challenges them.
Negativity bias. If you’ve been bitten by a dog, you’re probably going to mistrust dogs forever – even though you’ll have met countless more trustworthy pooches over your lifetime! That’s because we tend to put greater weight on negative experiences than positive ones.
How to approach a tough decision
So, what can we do to help us make a good decision?
Here’s a handy step-by-step guide to dealing with dilemmas:
1. Set yourself a deadline. How long do you have to make a decision? How much time can/should you dedicate to the problem?
2. Decide on your criteria and set priorities. What are the most important factors in this decision? For instance, if you’re thinking about moving house, you might consider things like cost, quality of the home, distance from work, etc. Do you value each factor equally, or are some more important than others?
3. Do your research. Gather, analyse, and organise as much information as you need to make your decision. For example, in your quest for your new home, you could visit a variety of real estate agents, ask friends for recommendations, and join social media groups on the topic. Be careful not to get stuck in the data trap, though – remember your deadline!
4. Brainstorm. Take some time to make a list of all the options available to you. Write down everything – even the silliest ideas right now.
5. Narrow down your options. Work through your brainstorming list critically. Which options are realistic? Cross off any that aren’t.
6. Critically analyse these options. Compare realistic options by the criteria you established earlier – and put your data into a visual chart. Consider cognitive biases – are any affecting your decision? Work through your reasoning step by step, asking yourself, “Is that correct? Is that logical?” Don’t be afraid to ask others for advice – or to ignore any that you receive!
7. Make your decision. You can’t wait around forever, and you’ve done all that you can. Trust in yourself and push on forward!
It’s not always possible to work through a decision in this rational step-by-step way. But every time you do, you’re not only doing all you can to make the right choice – you’re also honing your rational thinking skills and improving your intuition. So, the next time you’re faced with a dilemma, why not give it a whirl? It might be the best decision you ever make!