Which phone shall I buy? Should I wear the maroon shirt tonight or the black one? Should I stick to my current job or switch to a new job?
You have many such decisions to make daily. Some decisions have little to no impact while some decisions can change your life for good or for worse. Learning how to improve decision making skills can lead to many benefits and fewer mistakes.
Coming to a decision can be an uphill task for many people. If you have difficulty in making a decision, you might turn anxious and stressed in the process.
To make a decision, your mind consumes energy. Do you remember trying to plan hotels and transport for your vacation? If you juggled between multiple choices, checking the pros and cons of each, you would have ended up exhausted. What you experienced is called decision fatigue. Decision making tires your brain causing to start making poor decisions after some time has elapsed.
I am sure you have also had the feeling of “Screw this, I am going to go with this.” The reason – decision fatigue. At some point, your brain runs out of energy to makes decisions.
Therefore, making good decisions is both art and science. By knowing the mistakes you make and the thought process used by successful people, you can learn to improve your decision-making skills.
- 3 Common problems with decision making skills
- How to make a good decision
- External resources on improving decision making skills:
3 Common problems with decision making skills
Not everyone is confident about making decisions. For example, I tend to spend more time than necessary for evaluating the facts behind a decision. Last month when I was buying peanut butter, I looked at the nutrition facts of 4 brands before buying the one which had the least sugar. Given that the jar would take a month or two to finish, the minor difference between brands hardly makes a difference. But I was obsessed with making the right decision.
Everyone faces different problems when it comes to decision-making skills. Here are the 3 most prominent problems:
1. FOMO – Fear of Missing Out:
When you have to choose one option between multiple choices, you fear missing out on the benefits of the others. For example, you plan to buy a phone and have narrowed down to 3 models.
The first provides a long battery life, the second has a high-quality camera and the third comes with a large amount of storage. You fear to lose the benefits of the others by picking one.
FOMO causes you to fear making the wrong decision. The craving to make the perfect decision prevents you from making any decision.
2. Paradox of Choice
When you have many options, you fail to pick one due to the paradox of choice.
Ordering dinner was a simple 5-minute activity a few years ago. I had contact numbers of 3–4 restaurants around my vicinity which would be my go-to options.
Today with the advent of technology and the growing number of online food delivery portals, we now have more than a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. To add it to it, I can filter by cuisine, search by dishes, sort by price and refine by distance. I now take longer to order food than I previously used to.
When the choices increase, your decision making improves until a certain number of choices. Beyond that number, more choice makes the decision more tricky.
3. Decision Paralysis
Decision paralysis comes very close to the Paradox of choice. The only difference is decision paralysis applies in areas where the options are not materialistic.
For example, when 5 executives are in a meeting, many ideas are bounced to improve the customer experience of the users. But due to the number of ideas along with the pros and cons of each of them, reaching a consensus for a decision takes longer.
Decision paralysis leads to all the executives agreeing on, “Let’s think over this and regroup.”
The stress of evaluating too many facts for the decision leads to postponing the activity itself.
How to make a good decision
Even after following all the steps mentioned below to the dot, I cannot guarantee a great outcome.
In a game of poker, a good player makes the right decision. But the result can go against him because of the randomness of cards drawn. But a good player wins over the long term because he followed the right process.
Similarly, making a good decision requires you to ensure a few things. If you do them all with all your important decisions, you will win more than you lose over the long term. Approach decision making skills as an area of improvement independent of the results.
1. Identify why you need the decision
You start at a point where you have to make a decision. By the time you research and evaluate choices, hours, days or even weeks might have passed by. In the meantime, you forget the real reason why you wanted to make the decision.
Does it sound stupid? An example will open your eyes.
You are planning a cheap outing for 3 days during the long weekend the next month. You start looking at hotels and comparing the amenities and cost. The websites show you a trillion options and you compare feature after feature to make a choice. You finally book a nice hotel.
You forgot that you were looking for a “cheap” outing. You extended your budget for a feature you never really were looking for.
Over time, the real why behind the decision can dilute. You make a decision based on other factors that came to your mind. You might mindlessly evaluate those factors and forget your real why.
Keep reminding yourself what the why behind the decision is.
2. Check for cognitive biases
Well, this will be a long one. The human mind is vulnerable to various biases.
Your mind is designed to think quickly and come to a decision. When a lion appears from nowhere, your brain has to make a split-second decision of running away.
However, the speed of decision making causes your brain to take a hit in terms of thought. Your mind makes a choice based on your beliefs. It processed all the information you had, made the best decision based on available information. The problem – you do not have all the necessary information. But you cannot gather the patience to find more facts and figures.
In some cases, your mind can choose to neglect certain facts. Getting over such biases of the mind does not happen by reading about it overnight. Completely getting over these biases never happens. You just learn with knowledge, practice, and experience to fight better against them.
3. Look for data to get multiple options
When you make a decision, sometimes you want to get over the process as soon as possible. You do not want to spend more time or energy making a choice.
In the process, you might fail to consider better options because you never knew they existed. For example, let’s say you plan to run a profitable business at a budget of 25,000$. Now you can either fixate your view on two options or you can explore all possible businesses in the budget and pick the one which matches your passion and goals the best.
Often, we fail to explore more options. Having fewer choices makes the process smoother and less stressful. But of course, the ease of making the decision causes a compromise on the outcome because you did not consider all options. Data is a crucial element especially when you’re making decisions in the workplace.
Deciding without looking at options is like marrying your first girlfriend. You never know if you made the right decision because you have nothing to compare against.
4. Consider the consequences of decision and indecision
When you make a decision, you focus on making the decision alone. You may not consider the consequences. Doesn’t it seem trivial to consider the consequences before making a decision? Not always.
Many people decide on buying a house early on loan without considering the consequences. The EMI cuts through their income, making their expenses tight to manage. Even though they know the EMI in advance, they do not bother to calculate how to run the other expenses.
On the other side, sometimes you fail to consider the consequences of not making a decision. For example, you hate your job, but cannot decide to quit. You consider the possibility of being rejected in interviews, get a lower salary, not being able to handle the new job and so on.
But you fail to consider the cost of not making a decision. You will have to live through the job you hate.
Consider what could follow if you make a decision. At the same time, do not forget to evaluate what would happen if you made no decision.
5. Delete the favored choice mentally
You and I have a predetermined mental choice before we evaluate options or consider facts.
For example, if you have to buy soap, you already have a go-to choice. Even if you checked new soaps, in half the cases you will stick to the original choice. At times you do so even if the other soap is marginally better. You prefer familiarity over uncertain marginal improvement. You fall victim of the confirmation bias.
To evaluate better, delete the favored choice from your mind. Assume it no longer exists. If you consider other choices now, you will look at them without bias. For example, if your preferred soap was out of stock, you will consider other soaps as per their real value.
Once you arrive at the second-best choice, you can compare against your preferred choice to make an honest comparison.
6. Check for contradicting facts
When you find yourself deciding without enough consideration, force yourself to find negative cases.
If you want to decide if a specific stock is a great buy, check if you can find evidence which disproves your theory. If you want to start a business, look for other businesses who tried something similar and failed.
When Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, he spent a massive amount of time to find cases that could prove his theory false. As a result, no matter how much the theory has advanced since Charles Darwin, the base theory of Darwin has still not been disproven.
7. Seek opinion
Your ego can prevent you from asking the opinion of others. At times, even when you know a certain person can help you make a better decision, you refrain from approaching the person because you will seem inferior. You even worry about negative information against your preferred choice.
You do not have to act upon every opinion you receive. You just have to listen to the perspective of a different person with an open mind. It can help you prevent a big mistake.
External resources on improving decision making skills:
Turning into a good decision maker takes time for teens, for students, for working professional, for employers or for the experts. Like a bodybuilder needs time to grow his muscles and get shredded, your brain needs time to learn, adapt and apply the practices of good decision making. If you are expecting to be capable of making a great decision tomorrow by looking at this list, you are mistaken.
Learning to make good decisions is like a marathon. The faster you try to run, the more exhausted you get and chances are, you may not even get to the destination.
Even after writing this article, my decision making skills are far from perfect. I struggle to apply them all these items daily. But I sure do try.
You do not have to be a perfect decision-maker, you only have to be a good one. Do not go on a quest to be a perfect decision-maker. In most cases, the perfect choice does not exist. Even if it does, the difference is only marginal. After a certain amount of time has elapsed even the perfect choice seems no different than a good one.
Above all, learn to embrace a good choice.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.