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Six Tips To Improve Your Decision Making Skills

making difficult decisions

Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their decision making process. Each one of us is faced with an onslaught of decisions every day, from breakfast to bedtime. The decisions we make shape our lives, from the mundane to the monumental. We may agonize over a decision, weighing our options carefully, or we may make a snap decision we later regret. But we tend to ignore the most crucial opportunity: to improve the clarity of our decision making process itself. 

So today we’ll help you to understand how you make decisions, and how you can refine this process in ways that may result in very real benefit to your life. We’ll cover the most common pitfalls in decision-making and how they can be avoided, plus what techniques you can implement to strengthen your “decision making muscles” over time. Let’s dig in!

 

1. Understand the Basics of Decision Making

Decision making is, in the simplest terms, about choosing among alternatives. Despite how simple this may sound, studies have shown the decision making process can actually be quite complicated. The process begins when we recognize that there is a decision that needs to be made. It is at this point that we engage either a fast decision making process or a slow one.

If it’s a fast decision, also called a gut decision or System 1 decision, we may not spend more than a few minutes considering how we feel about the options before making a choice. Decisions that rely on intuition can be advantageous in certain circumstances, especially those where we have a great deal of experience already, or where time constraints are an issue.

If it’s a slow decision, also called a System 2 decision, we will typically start by gathering relevant information, a process that can take days or minutes, depending on the type of decision at hand. Next we will typically assess potential resolutions and their consequences. We may use a process of formal analysis, such as weighing variables, making a pros and cons list, or so on. Most studies show this process of decision making results in better long term outcomes, as well as stronger commitment to our decisions.

As we will see, it’s important to match this process to the decision well—while it may be ideal to take several days or even a week to evaluate the impact of moving cities for a new job, the same level of information gathering would be detrimental when deciding on what to eat for breakfast.

 

2. Recognize and Overcome Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. As you can imagine, this can significantly impact our decision-making process. Each one of us has biases—conscious and unconscious beliefs that affect the way we perceive the world. 

For example, if you had an unconscious belief that you were unlikeable, you might find and fixate on moments in social situations that confirmed this belief. The decisions you made about your friends might reflect this bias. You may pull away from them, position yourself as an outsider, and shy away from moments of vulnerability. 

Overcoming confirmation bias can be difficult. It can help to view a decision as though it is happening to a stranger, and then work backwards from there, asking yourself why you might not make the same choice for yourself.

 

decision making

 

 

3. The Power of Heuristics in Quick Decision Making

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow us to make decisions quickly without having to stop and analyze every option thoroughly. Any kind of generalization you make, or a rule of thumb you follow while making a decision, is a heuristic. While heuristics can be incredibly efficient, they can also lead to errors in judgment. 

We tend to use heuristics more when engaging in System 1 (intuitive/gut) decision making, so one way to avoid them is to balance out by checking in on System 2, or analytical thinking. It may seem that System 2 decision making is entirely superior, but System 2 may lend itself more to confirmation bias, so a balance between the two can be synergistic.

 

4. Making Clear Decisions In Emotional Moments

Our emotions play a significant role in decision making. Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage our emotions, can help us make more rational and informed decisions.  By recognizing our emotional responses and understanding their origins, we can prevent our emotions from unduly influencing our choices. 

This is an especially valuable skill to have in situations of conflict where a quick decision must be made. We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve said something we later regretted, or made a decision in the heat of the moment. In these moments, taking as much time as needed to make a decision or even speak is often advised. Taking space, and engaging System 2 thinking may allow us to make much better decisions in these moments.

 

5. Broadening Your Perspective through Diverse Inputs

Seeking opinions and information from diverse sources can significantly enhance our decision-making process. By exposing ourselves to a wide range of perspectives, we can make more well-rounded and informed decisions that take into account multiple viewpoints and factors. If a third party isn’t available to weigh in, one shortcut to enlarging our perspective is arguing for the viewpoint farthest from your own. This may reveal factors about your decision you haven’t taken into account, and can again help us sidestep our biases and heuristics.

 

6. Mindfulness For Decision Making

Patience and calm are virtues in decision making. So it makes sense that Mindfulness, a simple form of meditation, can improve our decision making skills. One way to implement this involves the mindful observation of thoughts, a technique often used in mindfulness meditation. This practice can be directly applied to decision-making scenarios. 

For example, when faced with a significant choice begin by finding a quiet space to sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself in the present moment. As thoughts about the decision at hand enter your mind, observe them as if you were an impartial spectator, without engaging or judging them. This might involve noting fears, hopes, potential outcomes, or biases related to the decision, all without judgment. The goal is not to make the decision during this exercise but to observe the range of considerations influencing your thought process.

This mindful observation allows you to see your thoughts and emotions from a distance, providing clarity and reducing the noise of immediate impulses or anxieties. It encourages a patient, waiting attitude, where decisions are not rushed but are given the time to mature and evolve naturally. Over time, this practice enhances your ability to approach decisions with a calm, centered mindset, leading to choices that are more aligned with your true intentions and values.

 

Conclusion

Improving our decision-making skills is a journey that requires awareness, practice, and a willingness to look outside our habitual patterns of thought. By applying the tips outlined above, we can make more informed, rational, and beneficial decisions that positively impact our lives and the lives of those around us. Remember, every decision is an opportunity to learn and grow. Embrace the process, and don’t be afraid to seek out new strategies and perspectives. With time and practice, you’ll find that making thoughtful, well-informed decisions becomes second nature.

 

 

Robb Kornoelje is the owner of The Truism Center, a relationship enthusiast, and the creator of the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” This 30-day, fully online email course offers gentle guidance to identify behaviors causing trouble, find ease with emotions, and enhance self-awareness. With a focus on stress-free communication, the challenge encourages a stronger connection with others, nurturing compassion, and fostering forgiveness. Join Robb on this journey to improve the fabric of your relationships—one day at a time.

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