Decision Making Skills How to Make Decisions in Life
Daily life is filled with choices. There are the easier ones, like deciding what to make for dinner. Then, there are the bigger decisions, like choosing what to study in college, what career to pursue or whether to take a new job offer or not. It really doesn’t matter what size the decision is, though, having great decision making skills are useful for all of them.
You might think dinner is an easy choice but is it the right one? You settled for a drive-thru, but shouldn’t you have chosen something healthier? The right decision will support your health and wellness. Which is why your decision-making skills are so important to your life. It’s even more important for the indecisive among us.
Whether you are tackling a new project, diffusing conflicts and deciding whom to let go, the ability to make sound decisions is important. In fact, most people in management will tell you that your decision-making skills are one of the most important skills you will ever develop.
There is a process you can follow in making decisions, but is your process right? Unfortunately, when it comes to making decisions, you cannot make everyone happy. While it’s important to consider how your decisions will impact others, you cannot allow that to influence your decision if you have made a wise, informed decision.
There are certain groups of people whom we consider to be poor at making decisions. Typically, we consider youth to be poor decision makers. Not only are their brains not yet fully developed, but they also lack the life experience required to make good decisions.
While every teen is different, we don’t expect them to be able to tackle major decisions without guidance. This is generally because they don’t have the ability to separate their emotions from decisions yet.
Likewise, seniors often struggle to make good decisions because their brains are deteriorating and there are people standing by to take advantage of that. You likely fall between these age groups, so you don’t have much of an excuse for making bad decisions.
Generally, our greatest knowledge is obtained from the process of making mistakes. Your mistakes can inform your future decisions if you learn the lesson you are meant to. Unfortunately, a lot of people just can’t seem to learn from those mistakes. It’s not because they’re stupid or unwilling. It’s a flawed process that is ingrained in us.
Making bad decisions has become a habit. When you’re good, though, you won’t just learn from your own mistakes. You will also be able to learn from the mistakes of others, ensuring you avoid those mistakes altogether.
Learning From Mistakes
There is a fine line between learning from the past and dwelling on it. The idea of learning from your mistakes can easily twist into the negative. If you find yourself caught up in the past, worrying about it… you aren’t learning, you’re fretting. That’s not going to help you avoid a repetition of the mistake. It’s only breaking down your self-worth and confidence.
When you experience a major failure, it’s easy to get caught up in that and dwell on the failure. Yet, the ability to learn and move forward will aid you in future decisions. Right now, science is attempting to determine how exactly the brain makes decisions.
The idea is that we can take that knowledge and use it to train the brain to operate more efficiently. Thus far, neuroscientists have drilled into two specific theories. However, both of them revolve around how your brain processes all of the alternatives before a decision is made (International Journal of Cognitive Informatics and Natural Intelligence, University of Calgary, Ruhe, et al, ).
One of these theories is that every option is processed by its own pool of neurons. These pools are competing, so as the process evolves each of the pools is competing for dominance. So, as the activity builds it reaches climax where one pool will dominate, thus triggering the decision that you settle on.
The second theory, however, is based on each pool of neurons being fed information and routing it to the appropriate pool. The route will be determined by emotions, past learning, the weight of an option, memories, as well as the reward value for each of the outcomes.
In both processes, a pool of neurons accumulates information and the pool that fires more will dominate the decision itself. However, the decision is made, there is evidence that every nerve impulse for each option considers both reward and outcome (Source).
Every alternative option will be affected by the level of information your brain receives about it. If your brain is working to make a decision, then you need to provide your working memory with the information necessary to make it. It’s low-capacity, so you should focus on key points of information for each option. You think with your working memory.
In 2010, the National Institute of Aging funded a research study on decision-making. The project was carried out at the Center of Longevity, associated with Stanford University. The results? Older people are better at making decisions than young people (Source). One of the reasons for this is a rational analysis. For example, the example they use is being able to walk away from a bad investment, whereas a younger person sticks around to get their money’s worth.
This is something that older people are great at because they generally retain the most important information. In one area of the study, each group was invited to memorize a list of words.
Of course, the younger group remembered more of them. However, each word was given a numerical value, thus making them more valuable. The older group focused on the high-value words and managed to come out on top. So, they choose to selectively retain the important pieces of information. This makes decision-making an easier process.
In all honesty, we should be teaching our youth the art of decision-making in their school years. They should be armed with the ability to focus, moreover, focus on the most relevant tasks.
Thanks to the multi-tasking culture that has taken over, all they’re being taught are bad habits, which may extend to you if you happen to be one of the people who struggle with making decisions.
The Learning Curve
Sound decision-making stems from selectively remembering relevant information. The reason that so many people struggle with that is that everything moves so quickly. We are in a world of information overload.
How can anyone remember anything when everything is happening every minute? It makes perfect sense that we struggle to make decisions. Your decisions are based on sound reasoning. How can you apply sound reasoning when you struggle to retain the relevant information that will lead you to the best decision?
The other important factors that sway your ability to make decisions include your experiences, your upbringing and your personality. If these aren’t to your benefit, you can still overcome and learn how to make great decisions.
Largely, the ability to assess the pros and cons in every situation is sufficient. Of course, some decisions require more analysis. This depends on how big the decision is.
Going back to your upbringing – some people are focused to make major decisions before they have achieved the maturity required to do so. Or, you may be surrounded by adults who make terrible decisions. Either of these situations can lead you to make bad decisions in your adult life.
It might be that there’s a rebellious child within you who wants to shed the skin of adulthood and embrace the wrong decision. This could be to enjoy the life they didn’t have before or it could be considered a form of self-sabotage. It may also be that you have a critical voice in your head that causes you to question yourself constantly.
When you make a decision, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask yourself whether it makes sense for you. Ask whether it will make you happy, whether it’s the right situation, what the implications are (both short and long-term). All of this will feed your ability to make the right decision. It will also help quiet the voice, whether it’s a rebellious one or a critical one.
The impulsiveness of a rebellious child will push you to seek thrills or to chase revenge. It will make decisions that have a short-term result, but a detrimental long-term effect. If you aren’t that person, there’s every chance you know someone who makes their decisions like this.
Their decisions always blow up in their face and it doesn’t matter how many times it happens, they still react in shock and ask why me? If you didn’t have help when you made decisions in your youth, then you will likely struggle in adulthood. Just as you will if you were forced into making certain decisions that didn’t sit right with you.
On the flip side, the critical voice could stem from having a parent who was either overly harsh or constantly doubted themselves. You’ll know if you have the critical voice because it’s the one that is constantly nagging you. Even after you make a decision, it will gnaw away at you making you question whether your decision was the right one.
The key to ridding yourself of this voice is simply to replace it. You need to create a louder inner voice that is instead caring and nurturing. So that when you make a decision you don’t hear a voice telling you that you’re going to get it wrong.
If you hear that voice, actively work to replace it with one that tells you that you can make a good decision. You do know what’s right for you. You can analyze information and make the right move.
Both of these inner voices will derail your decision-making process. However, all is not lost. You can decommission those voices and override them to gain control back. It all goes back to what we were discussing earlier with regard to positivity and belief. These voices feed on negative thoughts and they will undermine your self-confidence. This is why you should constantly celebrate and praise yourself for making positive changes and good decisions.
You must also remember that when you do make a poor mistake, the world will not end. There is no need to don a sackcloth and plead woe is me. You can simply accept the mistake, and learn the lesson, and vow to do better in the future. This is what is known as local thinking (rather than global). What this encourages is to always emphasize the positives.
Global thinking instead encourages you to see negative behaviors as a symptom of a life that is a total disaster. You don’t need to get caught up in their loop of negative feedback. You can break the cycle.
How To Make The Right Decision
So, you know a bit of the technical stuff that surrounds the decision-making process, but what can you actively work on to improve your ability to make sound decisions?
Don’t worry, we’re happy to help you with that, too. We have compiled a number of ways you can execute decisions.
⦁ Understanding. Before you can make a decision, you need to ask yourself why you’re making it, which means you need to have a deep knowledge of the issue you are making a decision on. Do you have a sufficient level of information or do you need to do more digging?
⦁ No problem has just one outcome. So, before you can come to a conclusion, you need to know exactly what solutions are available to you. Don’t just accept the first solution that you come up with, it won’t automatically be the most productive choice.
⦁ Evaluate consequences. With every alternative, you should determine whether the effect of selecting it will be negative or positive. If you are pushing for an ultimate goal, then the question is how will this decision impact the ultimate goal.
⦁ Evaluate outcomes. The situation doesn’t just cease to be once you make a decision. It’s important that you evaluate the possible outcomes to make sure your decision was the right one. You can make changes if you still see areas in need of improvement.
So, with all that being said – how do you make decisions?
⦁ Are you the impulsive rebellious child?
⦁ Or, are you fueled by the critical inner voice?
⦁ Do you complicate even the simplest of decisions or are you too terrified to make a decision?
⦁ Does the thought of making a decision cause you untold stress?
⦁ Are you one of the people who puts off making a decision to try and get out of doing it at all?
If you recognize what drives your process, then it can help you improve your decision-making skills. Luckily, we have some strategies to offer you that will help you do that.
⦁ Know your emotions. We would all like to think we separate our emotions from the decision-making process, you probably don’t. It’s not too late, though. If you want to make better decisions you need to understand how your attitude and emotions motivate behavior. Generally, those feelings are rooted in your upbringing, whether it’s related to work, money or other material wealth. Before you can change those attitudes, you need to identify them.
⦁ Think first. For impulsive people, it’s easy to get caught up and act rashly. It’s a frenzy that whips you up into its spiraling tornado. In this situation, it’s vital that you think first and act later. Ideally, you’ll sleep on it and tackle the decision when you are thinking more rationally.
⦁ Don’t worry. Be honest with yourself, the decision that you need to make – is it life changing? If not, why are you getting so stressed out about it?
⦁ What’s right. We all have our own values, and the decisions that you make should align with those. Can you really live with Decision A when Decision B is possible? Decision B may be the path less taken, but if it means you will sleep at night, and you don’t have to compromise yourself, isn’t it the right decision?
⦁ Intuition. You shouldn’t follow your gut alone, but you shouldn’t ignore it either. You can factor in the relevant information, you can analyze it and follow facts. Sometimes your gut can help guide you to the right decision, so don’t dismiss it automatically.
⦁ Pressure. If you feel under pressure to make a quick decision, you need to ask yourself what is applying this pressure. It might be your boss, it could be a salesperson. Regardless, question the pressure and don’t be afraid to back away from it if the decision needs more consideration.
⦁ Decisions decisions. Sometimes, not deciding is the right decision. For example, you are faced with two solutions, but you may find a third solution which is the right. Which means you are deciding not to choose the first two options.
⦁ The coin flip. Do you have two similar options to choose from? Flip a coin. This might sound like a terrible idea, but when you have two similar outcomes flipping a coin can save you time. Plus, if the coin lands on heads and you feel queasy at the thought of taking that option, you can go the other way. Please note: this is not for life’s largest and most important decisions.
⦁ Never look back. When you make your decision, keep pushing forward. Unless it all goes wrong, you don’t need to look back and wonder what could have been.
The Decision Procrastinator
All of us need to make decisions on a daily basis, no matter the size of the decision, how people deal with the decision-making process differs from person to person.
Putting off making decisions while either hoping it will go away or resolve itself is known as decision procrastination.
Are You a Decision Procrastinator?
Decision procrastination is defined by your motives. This means that you habitually put off making decisions for the following reasons:
⦁ You’re anxious or uneasy about the outcome
You don’t want to be responsible if it goes wrong
⦁ You don’t know what to do
If you have this problem, there are things you can do to break the habit that can help you break the habit of deconstructive procrastination when making decisions.
⦁ Break Down the Decision
When the decision is a big one it can help to break it down into smaller easier to handle micro decisions. This helps reduce the pressure and give you some perspective.
⦁ Solve Easy Problems First
Take some time away from the current decision and go make one an easier one. You can help a friend or solve a puzzle. This offers multiple benefits, including the satisfaction of being able to make a decision, confidence in making one and the confidence in tackling larger problems.
⦁ Predict the Worst Outcome
One of the key reasons for procrastination is a fear the worst or the fear that the decision that is made will lead to failure. Take the time to logically think out the worst-case scenario for each side of the decision. This practice will help familiarize you with potential outcomes on both sides. Once you see it all on paper, you might just see that the worst outcomes aren’t that bad.
⦁ When All Else Fails, Trust Your Gut
Sometimes, no amount of deliberation or reasoning can help you reach a decision. In these cases, go with your gut.
So, the challenge to you is to consider why you feel so stressed about making decisions. Focus on working through the attitudes and emotions that inhibit your ability to make sound decisions. Don’t be afraid to factor your instincts into the decision-making process and once you make that decision, keep looking forward!
Remember, you make decisions all day, every day. It’s just that the majority of them don’t need much thought. So, when it comes to complicated decisions that come with long-term impact, it’s no wonder you feel a bit hesitant to pull the trigger. It’s completely normal to feel anxious, pressured, fatigued overwhelmed, wound up, confused, stressed out, and distracted by the thought of making a decision.
The problem with that, though, is those feelings of indecision fuel your negative emotions. Which is why it’s so important for you to use the strategies above to factor into your decision-making process. This will help you get through tough situations and make wise decisions.
Whatever you do, don’t let stress get the best of you. This will only cause you to rush a decision and will result in the wrong choice being made. Give yourself enough time to think every option through. Try a brainstorming session to come up with as many solutions as you can.
From there, you can narrow it down and choose the correct decision. Run through the pros and cons of each. Consider the weight of each pro and con before you proceed. Don’t forget to factor in your values and ultimate goals, too. If all else fails, don’t hesitate to talk it out with someone you trust. You never know what perspective they can offer you.
Another helpful tip may be to use a diary. It’s a lot easier to understand your emotions when you keep track of them. Additionally, you may want to consider how you plan to announce your decision. If you expect a poor response from some people, you may want to think about it from their perspective.
You can hone your delivery and manage the situation effectively. This will help reduce some of the stress from the process. Don’t be afraid to tweak or change your decision. If it doesn’t feel right, you don’t need to go through with it.
If you feel overwhelmed, remember to practice self-care. You may need to take a time out and go do something relaxing. If you believe that your indecision is negatively impacting your daily life, then you may want to enlist the help of a profession, whether it’s a life coach or a counselor. Sometimes you just need someone who will help you walk through the decision-making process.
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