Each of us has a unique decision-making blueprint. For some, it’s more developed, for others, not so much.
Whichever group you fall into, one thing is certain: we all HAVE TO make decisions, whether we like it or not. And that means that upgrading our decision-making skills (even if you belong in the first group) is never a bad idea.
Reading articles such as this one, discussing matters with others, signing up for online courses (which we offer), are all examples of how to approach this.
That said, many already feel intimidated by the number of decisions they make on a daily basis that the last thing they need is to think about decision-making even more.
So, with this article, we hope to change your thoughts regarding making decisions.
Without further ado, let’s see how we can help!
What Is Decision-Making?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term decision-making as “the act or process of deciding something, especially with a group of people”.
That said, decision-making can be an individual undertaking too. In fact, most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are decisions we make individually. Of course, they definitely affect others too, but usually, we’re left to ourselves to arrive at a decision.
Decision-making is expected to be a rational and highly conscious process, yet oftentimes we make irrational decisions due to fear, impulse, and overwhelming emotions we may not know how to handle at a specific moment.
According to McFarland “A decision is an act of choice where an executive forms a conclusion about what must be done in a given situation. A decision represents behavior ‘chosen from a number of possible alternatives.”
Henry Sisk and Cliffton Williams defined “A decision is the election of a course of action from two or more alternatives; the decision-making process is a sequence of steps leading to that selection.”
Here are some activities that are part of almost any decision-making process:
- Elaborate planning;
- Checking facts;
- Looking for evidence;
- Taking risks;
- Data gathering;
- Data analysis;
- Active listening (when looking for others’ advice);
- Managing feelings;
- Critical thinking;
- Delegating tasks;
- Devising a strategy;
- Carrying out research;
- Individual and team work;
- Setting expectations;
- Re-assessing options;
- Generating ideas;
- Processing information;
- Re-considering possibilities.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it still shows most of the key activities that we should incorporate as part of our decision-making practice. After all, each of us has an individual approach when it comes to making decisions.
For instance, someone is more prone to engaging in individual thinking, whereas others may wish to consult family members, friends, and/or colleagues prior to making a final decision.
The Problem With Choices
We live in a capitalist era, where the economy is largely driven by consumerism. This results in us having more choices than it’s necessary or healthy, and that goes for all types of products and services, from food to luxury goods, from career choices to social media platforms, and literally, anything else we can imagine.
While this problem is, of course, not that recent - to live is to make decisions, and that has been true for as long as humankind has existed - there’s a distinct difference between “fight or flight” and “Netflix or HBO”. Today, it feels like there’s this pressure to always make a purchase, decide on the next product you need, and think about the other alternatives you’re missing out on when you finally make up your mind. It creates a sort of “decision fatigue” that plenty of us know all too well.
Additionally, more choices don’t necessarily mean better choices. “More” can make us feel confused, indecisive, and fill us with regret. “More” can cause anxiety, FOMO (fear of missing out), and procrastination. In other words, having too much choice can have huge negative implications. Leaving people with more options tends to make them more dissatisfied with the actual choices and decisions they make, as regardless of what they choose, there’s always a whole world of other, alternative possibilities.
A Study Analysis
To illustrate this further, let’s take a look at the so-called “Jam Experiment'', which illustrates a surprising finding: in this experiment, more people bought jam when there were fewer flavors available.
Here’s how the study took place: a grocery store carried out two testing sessions - in the first one, shoppers were allowed to try twenty-four flavors of jam, whereas in the second one, they were allowed to try only six.
Here are the findings for the first session:
- It attracted 60% more shoppers.
- Shoppers sampled 2 flavors on average.
- Only 3% of shoppers bought jam.
And here are the findings for the second one:
- This approach attracted 40% of shoppers.
- The shoppers sampled 2 flavors on average.
- 30% of shoppers bought jam.
Overall, this doesn’t only mean that such an approach is more shopper-friendly, but it shows us that fewer options drive more sales too! It’s basically a win-win situation.
The Paradox of Choice
Barry Schwartz is an American psychologist who has talked and written about the problem of having too much choice extensively. He wrote the book The Paradox of Choice (which you’ll find in our Suggestions for Further Reading section), where he talks about what having too many choices does to our decision-making abilities, and what outcome and consequences can come out of it.
Namely, here are some of the potential negative effects of having too many choices:
According to Investopedia, “analysis paralysis refers to a situation in which an individual or group is unable to move forward with a decision as a result of overanalyzing data or overthinking a problem”.
In other words, analysis paralysis occurs when our thoughts take over and prevent us from making up our minds. This phenomenon can occur to anyone, but the more secure you are in your decision-making skills, the less likely it is you’ll experience analysis paralysis.
Once you make a purchase or a decision, you may contemplate all the other alternatives, and think that the other options may have been better. This ultimately leads to a vicious cycle of unhappiness.
Again, the more choices one has, the higher the probability of this leading to dissatisfaction and/or general unhappiness. And this happens because people are always on the lookout for “the best”.
The best decision.
The best product.
The best service.
The best for themselves.
The best for their children.
You get the point.
And it is this pursuit for the “perfect” decision or the “best” purchase that leads people closer to becoming maximizers.
The Maximization Scale
In his book, Barry Schwartz shares a set of questions he developed with several colleagues in order to better understand people’s tendency to maximize.
Maximizers are individuals who tend to somewhat delay decisions and/or procrastinate because they’re trying to find the best possible option.
What’s more, they tend to engage in overthinking even after they’ve made up their minds, so they may very well end up being dissatisfied with the decisions they made previously.
The following survey consists of 13 questions - the more you agree with the question [on a scale from 1 (completely disagree) to 7 (completely agree)], the bigger your maximizing tendencies are.
Here are the questions (we invite you to answer them if you feel like it):
- Whenever I’m faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren’t present at the moment.
- No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it’s only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities.
- When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to.
- When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch one program.
- I treat relationships like clothing: I expect to try a lot on before finding the perfect fit.
- I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend.
- Renting videos is really difficult. I’m always struggling to pick the best ones.
- When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love.
- I’m a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels, etc.).
- I find that writing is very difficult, even if it’s just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things.
- No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself.
- I never settle for second best.
- I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life.
Many people aren’t sure whether decision-making and problem-solving are two sides of the same coin or not. Traditionally, it’s been argued that problem-solving is a step in the decision-making process, however, not everyone agrees.
For instance, Michael J. Marx suggests that “decision making and problem-solving are not the same. To solve a problem, one needs to find a solution. To make a decision, one needs to make a choice”.
What we believe is the following: problem-solving denotes a specific set of activities created to analyze particular situations (or issues), and find adequate solutions to handle and address them properly. On the other hand, decision-making denotes the act of making choices every step of the problem-solving process regarding how you can proceed.
- much more than making a single decision (in fact, as Craig D. Lounsbrough put it: “To be careless in making decisions is to naively believe that a single decision impacts nothing more than that single decision, for a single decision can spawn a thousand others that were entirely unnecessary or it can bring peace to a thousand places we never knew existed”);
- oftentimes neglected by those who tend to procrastinate or are otherwise insecure in their decision-making skills;
- based on assumptions, belief systems, cognitive reasoning, preferences, information, suggestions, current knowledge, and overall state of being;
- supposed to incorporate background knowledge, past experiences, conscious awareness, and a person’s intellectual faculties;
- a cognitive process;
- sometimes done with the help of role-playing (this especially applies to situations that include a state of conflict because it helps predict the behaviors of both parties much more easily);
- supposed to get you to understand your own thoughts, behaviors, and patterns, and how you apply them in everyday life;
- the process of making choices;
- conceiving new paths forward in life;
- rational and irrational (depending on our current mood, state of mind, and the urgency with which we make the decisions);
- having several alternatives at your disposal and picking one (that said, even not picking is still a type of a decision);
- learning to take accountability for one’s actions;
- a never-ending process - meaning each decision we take at the present moment is interconnected with the one that follows, and so on;
- so stressful at times that it may lead to analysis paralysis for some people (this occurs when an individual or even a group of people is unable to go all the way when it comes to making a decision);
- sometimes compromised by an excessive amount of information which delay our decision-making process rather than assist it;
- counting on others’ suggestions and influences instead of yours (of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consult others and/or ask for advice every now and then - the idea is to rely on your own intellectual capacity and decision-making skills);
- equally meaningful to everyone (some decisions are more important to one group of people, whereas those same decisions may be neglected by another group);
- like solving a mathematical equation (there isn’t a single correct answer; there are also many options and they will be different for each individual involved);
- as daunting as we tend to make it (it’s our minds that tend to overcomplicate and overthink stuff);
- something you need to force (yes, sometimes we need to make decisions on the spot, but other times we may need to think twice before we make a final decision when it comes to important matters);
- about making random choices (this especially applies to serious decisions, as serious decisions often come with serious consequences);
- supposed to follow a set of rules (each one of us has their own pattern of making decisions);
- a competition (if others are contemplating similar or the same choices as yourself, you shouldn't try to keep up with them - stick to your own tempo; of course, there are exceptions where we need to act quick such as sports players deciding who to pass the ball to, and so on);
- possible to be done with the right information (for example, sometimes we lack the right sources, and/or we’re misinformed, to name a few);
- done with the right intentions (sometimes people hurt others with their decisions);
- done with a clear head (we could be distracted, defocused, demotivated, and so on);
- dependent upon the results it brings, as “the quality of a decision cannot be solely judged based on its outcome.”(Nassim Nicholas Taleb);
- a straightforward process;
- reversible (many times we can make new decisions to “fix” what we “ruined” with the previous one, but other times it may not be as easy or it can be impossible).
The History of Decision-Making
Sometime in the middle of the last century, Chester Barnard, a telephone executive, imported the term “decision-making” from the world of public administration in the business world. From then onwards, it began to be used in much narrower contexts.
That said, this surely isn’t the first time the concept of decision-making was mentioned. In fact, it’s kind of tricky to try to trace the history of decision-making.
After all, it’s an ongoing process that simply happens. Period. It’s not a new device that needs a proper introduction, it’s not an illness that has been discovered, it’s not an event that took place in a specific year on a particular date.
It’s just a process all of us take part in from the moment we are born. It’s the capacity that makes us human beings - our ability to think, consciously interlink ideas, and arrive at a decision.
Of course, we could discuss how decision-making has changed since ancient times. For instance, in Plato’s time, decision-making has been perceived as either rational or highly emotional. Then, in recent times, with the help of the latest neuroscience tools, scholars have argued that decision-making is not so black-or-white. There are deeper explanations behind our decision-making practices that involve both feelings and logic.
Plus, the study of decision-making is analyzed and applied differently in various disciplines ranging from mathematics and economics to sociology and psychology. So, we dare say “philosophers ponder what our decisions say about ourselves and about our values; historians dissect the choices leaders make at critical junctures”.
Finally, although there’s still much discussion about the ways we make decisions (following our heads, hearts, and/or gut), one thing is for sure - decision-making has been around for as long as we have. And as we go through life, we’re expected to get better at it, whether we realize it or not.
Why Is Decision-Making Important?
What’s the first thing that pops up when you open your eyes? “What do I wear today?”, “Oh, no I overslept!”, “Should I hit the snooze button?”, “If only I had five more minutes!”, or something entirely different?
The questions aren’t so relevant - it’s the answers that count. And the answers are actually the decisions we make after we’ve determined what it is that we want to do.
So, decision-making is important because, if we pay attention to the process, we end up learning a lot about ourselves, the way we think, the way we pick our priorities, and so on. Decision-making matters because it directly reflects our inner values and beliefs.
What's more, it also gives us a sense of fulfillment and achievement. This is especially true for decisions that took us a lot of time to make. Plus, when we reap the benefits of our decisions, we know we’re headed in the right direction.
Decision-making increases your self-esteem too. The more decisions you make, the more confident you’ll become.
Also, decision-making makes you a more mature individual, in all areas of your life. So, in your personal relationships, it may teach you a lot about the people you’re surrounded by on a daily basis - how they accept your views and outlook on life based on your decisions; and the same applies to your colleagues and/or superiors - your decision-making practice can influence your leadership capacity and entrepreneurial mindset too.
On the whole, decision-making is important because it forces you to become an active participant in your life rather than simply observing it from the sidelines. It requires you to use your potential, take action, and follow your goals.
How to Develop Decision-Making?
Working on your decision-making skills and developing them further should be a priority in each person’s life, because by working on them we make all areas of our existence better.
Good decisions make a good life.
There are countless ways and methods to boost your decision-making skills. Below we share some of the most useful ones:
- Teach yourself to narrow down your options. This way you’ll be left with the options you consider to be the best, and that way you’ll start making up your mind much faster.
- Practice conflict management and listening to others’ opinions. This will come in handy when you need to take part in group decision-making.
- Become a more open-minded person. You may already be one, but expanding our horizons further every now and then won’t hurt. After all, being open-minded means you’re becoming more open to fresh perspectives and suggestions, ideas, alternatives, and thus, new decisions, which may lead to new pathways in life.
- Try to see both sides to every story. In other words, allowing yourself to analyze things from different perspectives can help you analyze the pros and the cons of each decision you have to make later on.
- Don’t leave things to chance. You’re a powerful co-creator of your life, and the same applies to making decisions too. In essence, if you let things happen on their own, and you don’t take any action toward your desired goals, it’s more than likely you’ll avoid making decisions too.
- Do your research. If something sounds too good to be true, or perhaps way too manipulative, check things too. Never rush if you have reasons to be suspicious or doubtful.
Examples of Decision-Making in Everyday Life
Each day we make decisions - anytime, any place, and with any person that crosses our path from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we go to bed.
We decided (see, a decision right here!) to divide this section into three subsections where we deal with three aspects of the decision-making process. With that being said, they still very much intertwine and can’t coexist without each other.
But in order to go into more details and understand the relevance of each one, we’ll analyze them separately.
Head vs Heart
Although research usually suggests decisions are made through a combination of both emotion and logical discernment, actual decision makers seem to believe one always outweighs the other.
What’s more, they believe that listening to your head can be highly beneficial when it comes to making professional and business decisions. Yet, they also think that not listening to your heart and what it wants can cause feelings of regret and grief.
That said, there’s data and studies that show how different groups of people approach the decision-making process. Allegedly, when making decisions 79% of people said they tend to follow their head (analytical/cognitive thinking), and 21% follow their hearts (emotional/affective thinking).
Here it is broken down into generations*:
- Millennials: 77% follow their head, 23% follow their heart;
- Generation X: 80% follow their head, 20% follow their heart;
- Baby Boomers: 84% follow their head, 16% follow their heart.
*this refers to making general decisions.
Also, women are said to be slightly more willing to follow their hearts compared to men (23% vs 19%).
Now, when it comes to making work-related decisions, “the head” seems to take the lead even more. Here are the stats:
- Millennials: 87% follow their head, 13% follow their heart;
- Generation X: 91% follow their head, 9% follow their heart;
- Baby Boomers: 93% follow their head, 7% follow their heart.
Making specific decisions:
Purchasing a home
Accepting a new job
Moving to a new city/state
Choosing an educational path
Where to live
Choosing a career field
Getting a pet
Starting a family
Pursuing a dream
Where to vacation
Choosing a romantic partner
Top decisions each generation was more likely to make following their head:
Millennials: choosing a romantic partner
Generation X: where to live
Baby Boomers: getting married
Top decisions each generation was more likely to make following their heart:
Millennials: accepting a new job
Generation X: retiring
Baby Boomers: where to live
Overall, this gives us a clear image of where each generation stands when it comes to making particular decisions. Still, there’s no one-size-fits-all decision-making model, so take what resonates with you.
For instance, you may belong to the Millenial group, but find yourself being on the same page with Generation X’s reasoning.
Decision types and their implications
Finally, we can argue that all decisions fall into a specific type of category depending on several factors. So, how many categories (types of decisions) are there?
Apparently, there are four types of decisions that make up the decision-making process:
- Decisions only you can make.
- Decisions others can make for you.
- Decisions you cannot afford to make.
- Decisions you cannot afford not to make.
Now that you know the types of decisions, how are you going to approach making them? With your head, or your heart?
According to Pearl Zhu, “both the art of intuition and the science of analytics have a role to play in making wise decisions”.
Let’s see how YOU will handle this.
How to approach this?
- Which aspects of the above-mentioned study do you resonate with? Why? What’s your personal preference when it comes to making decisions - you follow your head or your heart?
- Do you believe that prior to each decision you should consciously think of the way you make decisions, that is, consider whether you’re using your head more or your heart? Why?
- Do you find reading/listening about others’ decision-making experiences inspiring? As much as we approve of this, we also want to make sure you don’t get discouraged or defocused by engaging in some of them. Let’s discuss this further by looking at actual examples.
- “When I first started college, I swore up and down I was going to be a journalist and work for the newspaper. Then I moved to Europe and fell in love with food. I never considered all the recipes shared with my family and the early-morning baking sessions would lead me into a life I have been living since I was 10 years old. I took a culinary class. I realized I did not want to do another semester in journalism. My career had already picked me, and I just did not know. I have never looked back. I completely followed my heart on my career and adventure.”
- “The last time I relied mostly on my heart for choosing a career path, I ended up going five months without a paycheck. Follow your heart when you feel that special tug, but also keep your smarts about you at all times.”
- Upon reading these two testimonials different people can have different reactions. Some may find them inspiring, others could praise both the woman and the man for having the courage to follow their hearts, however, there may be a third group of people who may be put off by them. Why? It all depends on how people will interpret the story. Namely, if someone focuses on the fact that the 47-year old man went five months without any paycheck, they may be willing to take such risks. So, our advice is to be careful with what you read and what you focus on, because ultimately you know what’s best for you.
Do you know that It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day?
That’s a huge number. And it can be terrifying to think that we do this each day all over again. It’s a never-ending process, and each day, every new decision starts right where we left off.
In other words, if we’ve been contemplating our upcoming summer holiday, then we need to decide on the location, the type of accommodation, who we’re going with, what are we going to pack, and so on.
So each decision interlinks with the previous one. Once we’ve chosen a destination, it’s time to find a hotel. Then we need to book our flights. Afterward, we need to plan our trip, our baggage, and the stuff we want to do and see there.
Some of these decisions may seem like a low hanging fruit, but when you analyze them bit by bit, you’ll realize that’s an overwhelming number of decisions and thoughts for a single event in your life.
This brings us to the following: no matter what type of lifestyle we have, no matter what types of decisions we need to make, and no matter how serious they are, at the end of the day, it all comes down to this - our brains work around the clock, and each second is a new chance for a new decision to be made. Period.
At the beginning of the article, we discussed the problem with choices, and that’s very relevant when we deal with decision-making on a daily basis (we’re not going to go into details or random categories here, as we covered some of them in that section).
The point is that sometimes you’re disturbed by the lack of choice and other times by the abundance of it. However, regardless of what we choose to do, it causes a chain of events to follow. And whether that chain will ultimately lead to something positive or negative depends on how much we’ve mastered our decision-making skills.
How to approach this?
- What do you think about this problem? Is this something you’ve encountered before or this is the first time? How can you use your previous knowledge to tackle this in the best way possible?
- What’s your objective here? What outcomes do you expect from this decision? Provide details so that you’re clear on your objectives.
- What are the potential consequences? If you choose a specific option, what does that mean for the other alternatives? When you reject an alternative, what will you then not be able to say/ do/ make? Contemplate the consequences and understand the implications that this decision is going to have.
- Do you believe your decisions reflect your values, ethics, and overall outlook on life? Have you ever broken any principle in order to satisfy someone else with your decision? If you have, when did this happen and why? Would you do it again?
- How much risk can you bear to take? Why?
- What are your fears regarding this decision? Be honest with yourself. Make a list and analyze your fears. Also, try to understand where they come from.
- Do you tell others about your decisions? And more importantly, do you consult them before you make up your mind?
- What do you do when you’re on the fence about something? How do you proceed from here?
- Do you reflect on your past decisions? What have you learned from them (here we’re referring to both “good” and “bad” decisions, as both are a valuable learning experience)?
- How flexible are you when it comes to making decisions? How open are you to other alternatives and others’ suggestions?
- Is decision-making a fun experience for you? Or torture?
- Are you good at making decisions under pressure? How can you tell? Can you think of a relevant experience?
- Do you fully understand the role your emotions have in your decision-making practice?
- Are you clear on your expectations when you make decisions? What happens when your expectations aren’t met? How do you usually react?
The “What Ifs”
During our decision-making process, we’re faced with a lot of “what ifs”.
What if I fail?
What if I don’t make it in time?
What if I get rejected?
What if he doesn’t text back?
What if we break up?
What if I get sick?
What if I never succeed?
What if they don’t like me?
The “what ifs”.
A death sentence we (un)consciously impose on ourselves.
We may not realize it, but such thoughts and thinking patterns can dramatically influence our final decisions. And unfortunately, these influencers are negative more often than they are positive.
That said, these patterns aren’t random, and they may pop up in the brains of even the most intelligent of people. They really can. Because most of these have nothing to do with decision-making, intelligence, and a person’s outlook on life, but they have everything to do with FEAR.
Fear of not being good enough, fear of being let down, fear of running a relationship, fear of having to look for a new job, and so on.
You get the point.
That said, although these patterns stem from our fears, they DO influence our lives and our decision-making practice. In other words, they may have their source elsewhere, but they sabotage every aspect of our lives because well… most of the time, we allow them to, even without being consciously aware of it.
For instance, we may want a higher salary, but we're afraid our boss will hold a grudge against us, so we don’t ask for it. We may want to leave our toxic relationship, but we fear we won’t find another partner, so we decide to stay in it instead. We may wish to approach the person at a random party we’ve been eyeing for two hours, but we don’t because we’re afraid we might get rejected.
It’s all about fear, due to fear, and about fear.
Nothing sabotages us like our own fearful thoughts, and “what if” scenarios. And nothing and no one can help us if we’re not willing to overcome them on our own.
Now, the interesting thing is that our lives don’t even need to be headed in the right direction for us to try and sabotage ourselves. Nope - things can be going perfectly well, but that doesn’t mean our minds aren’t playing the self-sabotaging game on us.
So, let’s see why and how we sabotage ourselves. According to Maureen Brady,
“Sometimes we self-sabotage just when things seem to be going smoothly. Perhaps this is a way to express our fear about whether it is okay for us to have a better life. We are bound to feel anxious as we leave behind old notions of our unworthiness. The challenge is not to be fearless, but to develop strategies of acknowledging our fears and finding out how we can allay them.”
How does this relate to the decision-making process?
Well, paradoxically, self-sabotaging your life and remaining idle is also a decision. You might not understand how you're sabotaging yourself, or how that manifests in your everyday life, but if you have all these “what ifs” pop up in your mind every now and then, that could be what’s happening.
You just need to look deeper and harder.
Now let’s show you how.
How to approach this?
- Whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by the “what ifs”, try changing the context. Let’s illustrate this using the examples we shared in the previous section:
- What if I succeed?
- What if I make it in time?
- What if I get accepted?
- What if he texts back?
- What if we stay together?
- What if I stay healthy?
- What if I succeed?
- What if they like me?
- Get real with yourself. One of the reasons why the “what ifs” are causing you so much trouble and are disrupting your life to such an extent is because you may not be willing to face them. So, take a stand, and see what they’re trying to show you about yourself.
- Retrain your brain. Remember, your brain is supposed to serve you, not sabotage you. We are in control of our thoughts, so teach your brain to think happy thoughts. One way to help yourself would be to think about the things you already have and are grateful for. For many people, the way to do this is through gratitude journaling, Although this sounds like a simple and very basic activity, it has a lot of health benefits.
- Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Such changes take time, you can’t always expect overnight miracles.
- Finally, believe in yourself, even when you don’t. Start make-believe. Fake it till you make it, and then one day it won’t be so fake anymore.
Famous Quotes about Decision-Making
“When it comes to making the right moves at the right time, your dance partner is life itself or what can be referred to as your destiny. The more you pay attention and practice intuitive decision-making skills, the better you will become at sensing the unique rhythm of your life.”
“If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.
The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.
If this sounds too mystical, refer again to the body. Every significant vital sign- body temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, hormone level, brain activity, and so on- alters the moment you decide to do anything… decisions are signals telling your body, mind, and environment to move in a certain direction.”
“Effective decision-making can be seen as an optimal link between memory of the past, ground-realities of the present and insights of the future.”
- Amit Ray
“On an important decision one rarely has 100% of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And, if one waits too long, he has a different problem and has to start all over. This is the terrible dilemma of the hesitant decision maker.”
“Majority decisions tend to be made without engaging the systematic thought and critical thinking skills of the individuals in the group. Given the force of the group's normative power to shape the opinions of the followers who conform without thinking things through, they are often taken at face value. The persistent minority forces the others to process the relevant information more mindfully. Research shows that the decisions of a group as a whole are more thoughtful and creative when there is minority dissent than when it is absent.”
“Have you ever truly, keenly felt like you don't know who you are? Do you ever do something and think, Who is at the controls? Like some mad pilot has locked you out of the cockpit? I definitely do. I feel a kind of vertigo that makes me shake afterwards. I guess we all feel it when making a difficult-seeming choice, and sometimes you seriously don't know what you want because you don't know who you're supposed to be, or who you want to be. Physics, my first and second families, my philosophy degree, had all failed to help me answer that question. The former has led me to wonder whether I am one of an infinite number of Alices in multiple universes. A quantum fuck-up, which is someone who fucks up in every one of those universes but in different ways.”
“While a crossroads is an event with external distinctions, internally, crossroads are defining moments that shape who we're becoming.”
“Some choices are better than others and we, as mortal humans, cannot be expected to always choose the best ones. What we can control is how we evaluate past decisions. Our readiness to reflect and realize that we were wrong. Our ability to admit our wrongs and move forward. To say we are sorry or make amends for mistakes. To apply what we’ve learned from past follies and choose wiser in the present. I contend that in a random and often chaotic world of choices, that is what we can control.”
“I do know what to do, just never more than one moment at a time. I stop explaining myself, because I learn that making decisions is never about doing the right thing or the wrong thing. It's about doing the precise thing. The precise thing is always incredibly personal and often makes no sense to anyone else. God speaks to folks directly and one at a time, so I just listen and follow directions. And when I need to work anything out, I turn to the blank page. There, no one can steal my pain or try to poison my knowing, and there I always have the final word in my own story.”
“Why do we focus on certain things at the expense of others? We will risk our lives to save a person from drowning, yet not make a donation that could save dozens of children from starvation. We install solar panels when their impact on CO2 emissions is minimal - and indeed may have a net negative effect if manufacturing and installation are taken into account - rather than contributing to more efficient infrastructure projects.
I consider my own decision-making in these areas to be more rational than that of most people but I also make errors of the same kind. We are genetically programmed to react to stimuli in our immediate vicinity. Responding to complex issues that we can not perceive directly requires the application of reasoning, which is less powerful than instinct.”
“Decision making is power. Most people don’t have the guts to make “tough decision” because they want to make the “right decision” and so they make “no decision”. Remember, life is short, so do things that matter the most and have the courage to make “tough decision” and to chase your dreams.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What skills do good decision-makers have?
A good decision-maker is an individual who chooses a course of action that will provide the best possible outcome for everyone involved. And while decision-making is an integral part of our lives, not all of us are good decision-makers most of the time.
That said, if you want to be a food decision-maker (or simply wish to become a better one), then here are some of the skills and qualities you’re expected to have:
You should keep an open mind, and try not to get affected by your biased thoughts and behaviors as much as you can.
You should be confident in your decisions, and should rarely hesitate and wonder whether you’ve made the right choice afterward (granted, this is something that may potentially happen every now and then).
If you want to be a good decision-maker, you should be aware of the seriousness of the decision, the time you have to think about it, and the aspects you should consider prior to making it.
You should stick to the habits which help you grow and assist you in making better decisions; know your goals and understand the impact the decision(s) can have on your life; be committed to exploring different options, consider different perspectives, and even discuss matters with others. No procrastination is allowed here.
How ready are you to take responsibility for your own actions and decisions? How willing are you to look back on your past decisions and admit you’ve made a mistake? Or that you could’ve done better? If you want to be a good decision-maker, you need to show up for yourself first, and then for others too. You need to embody your character and own your mistakes.
There’s an endless discussion as to whether EQ is more important than IQ or not, but we dare say both matter the same.
That said, high emotional intelligence makes you aware of your feelings, and the way you express them in front of others. This means you won’t allow your emotions to take over when you’re trying to arrive at a solution. Also, it allows you to deal with everyday negativity in a much smarter way. It’s one of the hidden players in the decision-making game.
For instance, it shows how much you’re able to control yourself in emotionally-charged situations, such as those that include sexual arousal. Namely, in such situations, many young men are more likely to undergo an action that they would not normally consider.
Of course, this varies from person to person, but that’s only because EQ itself varies from person to person too.
Luckily, you can work on your emotional intelligence. Plus, it’s said that EQ usually increases with age, even without many interventions. But if you want to take action, then here are some ways to increase your Emotional Intelligence (EQ):
- Maintain a positive attitude.
- Try to stay cool and manage your stress as much as possible.
- Be assertive and try to express difficult emotions when that’s necessary.
- Stay PROactive and not REactive in the face of a difficult situation.
- Find a suitable coaching program, and while no program can get you from 0 to
100%, a well-developed one can achieve improvements of 25%.
How honest are you to yourself and others about:
- your personality traits?
- your character?
- your shortcomings?
- your moral values?
- your doubts and fears?
If you wish to become a good decision-maker, you need to be honest about all these. Granted, you don’t need to be perfect (and perfection is an illusion, anyway), but you need to be able to openly “observe” your character and natural biases. Still, don’t let this observation turn into overanalyzing or overthinking, which can stop you from making a final decision.
Being creative helps you analyze potential decisions in a way few other things can. And while being creative does not come easy to everyone (especially those led solely by logic and reasoning), it can be practiced and improved.
Creativity is really one of the key factors that contribute to good decision-making, as it forces us to consider all the options from different perspectives, and then generate more or less a unique decision.
Are there any decision-making process steps/stages?
When we make decisions on a daily basis we don’t really analyze how we make most of them. What’s more, we aren’t necessarily concerned whether there are stages to them.
In other words, we don’t rationalize our own reasoning process which makes sense, because if we add this on top of needing to make decisions, we’ll probably just end up overthinking and remain idle.
That said, many researchers have examined the decision-making process, and have come up with several potential steps/stages to help improve it further.
Let’s take a look at some that stand out.
Interact System Model of Decision Emergence
Devised by B. Aubrey Fischer, the following system model deals with the stages that groups go through when they engage in a decision-making process together.
Phase 1: Orientation
In this phase, members usually have their initial contact and get to know each other better. The idea is that they need to become “acclimated” to one another before they can find out the options and the choices that are available to them.
Phase 2: Conflict
Once the members become comfortable with each other, conflicts and arguments slowly arise, so the individuals tend to join forces with other like-minded individuals from the group. The members eventually work things out.
Phase 3: Emergence
During this phase, the group usually discusses opinions, but it won’t be able to reach a consensus if one side loses and the winners take advantage of it.
Those who seem to be outnumbered are expected to come up with a so-called “strategic withdrawal”. This phase is said to last longer than the others, because the group is supposed to reach some sort of unanimity by the end of the stage, and this is something that takes time.
Phase 4: Reinforcement
This is a very short stage compared to the previous ones. During the reinforcement stage, very few unfavorable reactions are brought to the fore, and the group members are finally able to make up their minds, and justify their decision.
GOFER (an acronym) is a decision-making process developed in the 1980s by psychologist Leon Mann and his colleagues. It was taught to adolescents, as outlined in the book Teaching Decision Making To Adolescents.
1. Goals clarification
2. Options generation
4. Consideration of effects
5. Review and implementation
Kristina Guo came up with the DECIDE model of decision-making, which consists of six parts:
D - define the decision to be made
E - explore your options
C - consider the consequences
I - identify your values
D - decide and act
E - evaluate the results
Pam Brown’s Decision-Making Model
Back in 2007, Pam Brown devised a 7-step decision-making model. Such models help individuals make more thoughtful and rational decisions.
Step 1: Identify the decision
Step 2: Gather relevant information
Step 3: Identify the alternatives
Step 4: Weigh the evidence
Step 5: Choose among alternatives
Step 6: Take action
Step 7: Review your decision and its consequences
What’s decision fatigue?
Decision fatigue is a psychological phenomenon that refers to an individual's inability to make reasonable decisions. This usually happens after one has made many decisions, and so the logic is as follows: the more decisions people have to make on a daily basis, the worse those decisions are as time goes by.
Of course, this can vary depending on the seriousness of the decisions, the stress the individual has that day, the actual number of the decisions, and so on. The context matters too, as well as whether people are dealing with programmed or non-programmed decisions (the former denoting decisions more or less repetitive in nature, the latter referring to novel situations).
In other words, what matters is the weight of these decisions. Namely, we can’t compare two decisions with two distinct levels of urgency and seriousness: the decision to have an abortion or not, and whether to wear a black dress or a white one at a party.
That said, there are many people who consciously try to reduce the number of decisions they are expected to make on a daily basis. For instance, do you know why figures such as Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckkenberg wear the same clothes every day?
Each of them does it for the same reason: to reduce the number of mundane decisions such as deciding what to wear. There are limits to how much mental energy we have on a daily basis, so why not minimize the amount of decisions we make each day?
As Obama stated, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits [...] I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make”.
Now, let’s analyze an actual decision fatigue example. According to the Clinical decisions and time since rest break: An analysis of decision fatigue in nurses study, apparently nurses used to make less efficient decisions regarding patient care the longer they went without any breaks.
For every consecutive call taken since last rest break, the odds of nurses making a conservative management decision (i.e. arranging for callers to see another health professional the same day), increased by 5.5% (p=.001, 95% CI: 2.2%, 8.8%), an increase in odds of 20.5% per work hour (p<.001, 95% CI: 9.1%, 33.2%) or 49.0% (on average) from immediately after one break to immediately before the next.
This is a very specific example, but it still illustrates our point clearly, and you’ll be able to make a comparison with your personal experience(s).
In order to know whether you’re dealing with decision fatigue or not, you need to be aware of some of the most common signs. Here they are:
- It takes you more than usual to make decisions, or you delay making decisions. You may avoid making them altogether, with excuses such as “I don’t really have time for this now”, “This isn’t really that relevant”, or “I can’t deal with this at the moment”.
- On the other hand, you may become more impulsive, meaning you’ll rush through the process of making decisions without really paying attention to all the things that need to be considered. So, if it comes to buying stuff, for instance, you may find yourself searching for special deals (you’re less likely to resist them with an impulsive-buying attitude).
- Making decisions causes you to feel much more stressed than usual, so you may be easily irritated and anxious. You may even exhibit physical symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, and so on.
How to help yourself:
- Focus on yourself and practice self-care.
- Don’t let decision-making lead to burnout.
- Make a clear list with the decisions that have priority. Leave the others aside for the time being so that they don’t distract you.
- Try not to spend too much time on mundane decisions (such as choosing clothes for the day, deciding between an orange or apple juice, trying to make up your mind between a Toblerone and a Milka, to name a few).
- Eat healthier snacks.
- Avoid engaging in habits that can harm you rather than help you (for instance, if you’re feeling anxiety regarding a specific decision, you may occasionally wish to smoke a cigarette, or you could even be a regular smoker - the point is that such anxiety can trigger all these unhealthy habits we have and make them worse).
- Allow others to help you every now and then. Sharing your decision-making doubts and the mental load that comes with them can be much more helpful than you might initially think. Even if someone can’t help you decide, it’s enough to open up and talk about the things that bother you. The point is to find someone who’ll listen without judging or criticizing.
- Acknowledge all the good decisions you’ve made so far. Reflecting on your previous decisions and successes can be the boost you need to keep moving forward on your decision making path.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Reading books which deal with decision-making matters can not only make you a better decision maker, but can improve all other areas of your life.
It can help you look at things from a different perspective, reevaluate some things you’ve done so far, and reflect upon your overall thinking process.
And while we’re aware that reading about making decisions and actually making them are two totally different things, we still encourage you to engage in it. Reading them can only be beneficial - it certainly can’t make your decision-making skills and abilities worse; on the contrary, it may only strengthen and expand them.
That said, whether you do it or not - it’s your decision :)
Let’s take a look at our suggestions first:
- Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions, by Howard Raiffa, John S. Hammond, and Ralph L Keeney
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely
- Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts, by Annie Duke
- The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, by Barry Schwartz
- Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Tom Griffiths and Brian Christian
- Effective Decision-Making: How To Make Better Decisions Under Uncertainty And Pressure, by Edoardo Binda Zane
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
- How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, by Annie Duke
- The Little Black Book of Decision Making: Making Complex Decisions with Confidence in a Fast-Moving World, by Michael Nicholas
- Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction in Life and Markets, by John Brockman
- Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an Unknowable Future, by John Kay and Mervyn King
- Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, by Gary A. Klein
- Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, by Stephen J Dubner and Steven D. Levitt
To wrap things up, understanding the decision-making process is probably one of the most important things we can do to improve the quality of our lives. It leads to conscious decision-making and a peaceful state of mind.
And remember - no one can make decisions on your behalf (unless you allow them to). So, in order to feel more confident in your decision-making skills, we’ve prepared an online decision-making course, where we cover:
- decisions as probabilities;
- the 10-10-10 method;
- bias and fallacies;
- how to reflect on your decisions;
- how to make decisions in a team, and so much more!
“We are our decisions”, according to Prof.Salam Al Shereida.
What decisions are you going to make today?
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