Four steps to better decision making

Have you ever wondered why some decisions seem easier to make than others? Even when people appear to know what they want, making the decision to go in one direction or another can be complex. Sometimes having too many choices can hinder you. You might feel anxious because you don’t want to make the wrong choice and feel the accompanying regret. Whatever the reasons are that make deciding so difficult, there are some steps you can take to make the process at arriving at the best choice a little easier.

Remain neutral

Decisions are not always as straight forward as they may theoretically appear. The process of making a particular selection can be tricky because your feelings can play a role what you end up choosing. Dr. Jennifer Lerner, Director of Harvard Laboratory for Decision Science, conducts research on how one’s feelings can affect one’s perception of risk and how emotions influence one’s judgement and ability to make decisions. Though it may seem that having a negative emotion, like anger, would cloud your outlook and therefore influence you to make a more negative decision, Dr. Lerner’s research appears to indicate the opposite.

Anger makes you optimistic and makes you perceive less risk than if you were in a neutral state, and it makes you take more risks. So for example, you’re more likely to choose a gamble over a sure thing when you’re angry. Anger does a lot of other things, as well. It makes you think more heuristically rather than systematically. It automatically activates relative left frontal hemisphere, which is associated with approach. So when you’re mad, it predisposes you toward believing things are going to work out your way, believing that you have some sense of control. It gives you a sense of certainty, makes you take more risks, perceive less risk, think less deeply, a whole series of choices.

Dr. Lerner also found that people who were feeling sad tended to spend more money when shopping than if they weren’t feeling any strong emotion at all. That said, you wouldn’t want to be feeling any emotional extreme as you are at the moment of deciding what action to take. Instead, consider engaging in activities that would get you back to a neutral state. For each person, that activity can vary so take a minute to think about the types of things that help to regulate your emotions (or keep them in check).

Seek an objective opinion

A public declaration can sometimes help you attain important goals you have set for yourself. You’ll often get encouragement from others to keep making progress. In a similar way, seeking the opinion of a non-biased, trusted advisor, friend, or colleague can give you a different perspective or validate your position. You may want to pick one or two people that you’ll consult with so that you don’t get stuck in the process. When too many people are involved, then it becomes a decision by committee. This would likely make the process take longer than necessary, so be strategic about the number of people you seek for counsel.

Analyze the potential outcomes

All decisions have consequences and it helps to know what they are (or could be) no matter which choice you make. Assess the pros and cons of each one and determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. Using a pro vs. con list can help you pinpoint the various aspects of each decision and help you to arrive at the best choice for you. You might also want to “road test” your options (when possible) and live as though you’ve already made a selection so that you see the possible outcomes. Doing this can also help you to solidify your intended goal (change careers, relocate, make a major purchase) and give purpose to the entire process.

Come up with Plan B

As you think through the possible directions you could go in, you’re likely to come up with some options that might qualify as your “Plan B” should you need an alternate option to fall back on. Knowing that you have a secondary plan should put your mind at ease in the event that you need to change course or if something unexpected occurs.

3 Comments for “Four steps to better decision making”

  1. posted by Shalilah Russell on

    I found out that I couldn’t make decisions because I was either told what to do by other people or thinking about what would please them.

    Now I take time, reflect. for instance if I can’t decide about an article to purchase, I’ll take time out go sit in the mall and purchase it later after I really have though about it.

    I do have a tendency to shop when I’m depressed.

  2. posted by Thomas on

    Great article. I have to say though that sadly, I tend to notice that the third step seems to be the most overlooked one. So many people I know think only of the immediate effects and not what comes beyond that.

  3. posted by Sue on

    I agree it is a good idea to remain neutral as that helps you see all sides, however I agree that sometimes it can be difficult to detach from emotions.

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