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  • Tom Goldstein

The Best Secrets I Have Learnt About Making Decisions



In both our personal and professional lives, the decisions we make often set the course for our success and wellbeing. Yet, decision making isn't just a matter of chance or instinct – it's a skill that can be honed. Beneath this simplicity lies a complex web of psychological factors. Our decisions are often influenced by a mix of emotions, biases, and cognitive processes, sometimes leading us astray. Recognising these elements is the first step towards making more informed choices.


Not all decisions are created equal. Some are straightforward, while others are mired in complexity. Then there are decisions driven by logic, and those swayed by our emotions. At times, our gut feeling or intuition plays a pivotal role. Understanding the nature of each decision helps us approach it with the right mindset and tools.


This article delves into the nuances of decision making, offering insights and strategies to enhance this crucial skill. It should help you understand some of the best secrets about decision making.


Common Challenges in Decision Making

One significant hurdle in decision making is analysis paralysis – the state of overthinking choices to the point where no decision is made. Overcoming this requires setting clear deadlines and limits to deliberation. Equally challenging is the fear of making the wrong choice. Here, understanding that no decision is foolproof and learning from past mistakes can be empowering. Stress, too, can cloud our decision-making abilities, necessitating strategies to manage it effectively. The risks of making a bad decision can be minor, but they can also be costly, and at times deadly. The stakes can be high!


Understanding Rational and Emotional Decision Making

Decision-making can be put into two primary categories: rational and emotional. This is the approach taken by award winning author Daniel Kahneman, in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.


Rational decision-making is characterised by logic and systematic evaluation of available information. It involves weighing pros and cons, analysing facts, and making choices based on objective data. On the other hand, emotional decision-making is driven by feelings, instincts, and personal biases. It's more spontaneous and subjective, often tied to an individual's desires, fears, or values.


The Role of Intuition

Intuition sits intriguingly at the crossroads of rational and emotional decision-making. Often perceived as a 'gut feeling', intuition can be seen as an unconscious form of knowledge or a rapid response formed by past experiences and learning. It can guide decisions in situations where data is incomplete or too complex to analyse rationally. Intuition is very difficult to pin down. It can also be swayed by emotional biases, making it a double-edged sword in decision-making.


In my experience, one way to discern whether a decision is driven by emotion or intuition is to notice how ‘pure’ the feeling is in the body. If there is excitement, fear, trepidation then the decision is probably emotional. Another great ‘tell’ is if there is lots of mental chatter going with the feeling, for example how great this will be, or what you’re going to do once you make the decision, then again, the decision is probably emotional. When there is a calm, collected yet clear inner sense of knowing something, or seeing a ‘reality’, then this is more likely to be your pure intuition at work.


Decisions Under Pressure

When under pressure, decision-making processes can alter significantly. Time constraints often force individuals to rely more on emotional or intuitive judgements rather than thorough rational analysis. Stress can trigger emotional responses, leading to hasty decisions without considering all the consequences. Learning to manage stress and developing strategies to think clearly under pressure are crucial for balanced decision-making in these scenarios.


Influence from Others: Marketing and Sales Techniques

The influence of others, particularly through marketing and sales techniques, plays a significant role in how we make decisions. These techniques often aim to tap into emotional decision-making. For instance, marketing campaigns frequently use storytelling, appealing imagery, or emotionally charged language to create a connection with the consumer, thereby influencing their choices. Recognising these tactics can help individuals maintain a balance between emotional and rational considerations when making decisions influenced by external factors.


Slowing down the decision-making process is crucial for several reasons.


Importance of Slowing Down Decision Making

  1. Enhanced Clarity and Reduced Errors: Slowing down allows for a more thorough analysis of the situation, leading to clearer understanding and fewer mistakes. It provides time to gather and assess all relevant information, weigh different options, and consider potential consequences.

  2. Avoiding regret: When we make very emotional decisions, the outcome of those decisions can be vastly different from what we hoped or expected. This can then create a tricky situation to either try and reverse the decision, or live with the undesirable outcome.

  3. Mitigating Cognitive Biases: Fast decisions are often influenced by cognitive biases – subconscious errors in thinking. By taking time, we can identify and counteract these biases, leading to more objective and rational decisions.

  4. Emotional Regulation: Immediate decisions are frequently driven by emotions. Slowing down helps in separating emotional reactions from logical reasoning, allowing for decisions that are more balanced and less impulsive.

  5. Creative and Comprehensive Solutions: Taking more time can lead to more creative or comprehensive solutions to problems. It opens up space for innovative thinking and exploring various alternatives that might be overlooked in a rush.


It can also be challenging to slow down and use a more rational process.


Challenges in Slowing Down Decision Making

  1. Pressure of Urgency: In many situations, there's a perceived or real sense of urgency, making it difficult to take extra time. Deadlines, whether external or self-imposed, can force quick decisions.

  2. Stress and Overload: High-stress environments or cognitive overload can impair our ability to think clearly and patiently. Under stress, the brain tends to revert to quicker, less energy-intensive modes of thinking, favouring rapid decision-making.

  3. Habit and Comfort Zone: Quick decision-making can become a habit, especially in fast-paced work environments. Stepping out of this comfort zone to adopt a more deliberate approach requires conscious effort and practise.

  4. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): In a world where opportunities seem fleeting, the fear of missing out can propel us towards making hasty decisions without adequate deliberation.

  5. Overconfidence: Sometimes, overconfidence in our decision-making abilities can lead us to make swift decisions without proper evaluation, underestimating the complexity of the situation.


Spotting Our Emotions

Recognising when we're making emotionally driven decisions that might be suboptimal involves self-awareness and reflection. One key indicator is when decisions are made hastily, driven by strong feelings like excitement, fear, or frustration, rather than careful consideration. Emotions can cloud our judgement and lead to choices that aren't aligned with our long-term goals or values. To shift towards a more rational process, we can start by pausing and giving ourselves time to process the situation. This pause allows emotions to settle, enabling a more objective view.


How to Slow our Decision Making Down

Seeking diverse perspectives, either through discussions with others or by considering different viewpoints ourselves, can broaden our understanding and counteract emotional biases. I suggest finding someone to talk the decision through with, and notice if you feel triggered when they disagree with your conclusions. This is a sure fire way to notice that you are making an emotional rather than a rational decision.


Creating a structured decision-making framework can guide us towards more rational and balanced decisions. Tools such as listing pros and cons or conducting a SWOT analysis can be helpful here. By combining self-awareness with practical tools, we can better navigate the balance between emotional impulses and rational thinking in our decision-making processes.


Understanding what we want, what we want to avoid and how much we are willing to risk / lose, can create a kind of ring fence around how much risk we are willing to take in decision making. However, a word of caution! Human beings are notoriously bad at weighing up risks. Prospect theory says that "Our negative reactions to losses tend to be larger than our positive reactions to gains. As a result, people will often double-down and even engage in increasingly risky behaviour to try to recoup a loss, rather than just accept it."


Conclusion

Like any skill, decision making improves with practise. Regularly reflecting on past decisions, their outcomes, and the thought process behind them is invaluable. Seeking feedback from peers or mentors can also provide new perspectives. Gradually, this practise builds a more robust decision-making framework, enhancing both confidence and competence.


If you want to explore your decision making or if you’re interested in coaching on another topic, just get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

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