Can you think of a decision that you regret? Who can’t, right? Staying with the wrong person for too long or picking the wrong job offer. What if you were able to make better quality decisions? Imagine how better decisions could alter the whole trajectory of your life.
Decision making consists of two skills: prediction and judgement. Unfortunately, humans aren’t really good at either. We tend to weigh our beliefs about what will happen too heavily and base our judgements on those beliefs.
We think our story will turn out differently from what others have experienced. We place our, potentially untested, intuition over facts that go against what we want to believe. We are often overconfident in our decisions and tend not to see, or think through, all the potential outcomes of our choices. And then if things go wrong, we tend to cling to our mistakes, feeling like we’ve invested too much time and energy to let them go.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Many of these traits are natural parts of how your brain works. We all look for facts to confirm our beliefs and struggle to overcome our biases. That doesn’t mean that we need to continue to fall prey to our natural shortcomings.
There are ways to make a better decision.
IMPROVING YOUR PREDICTIONS
No one really has the ability to predict the future – however we can make informed guesses based on current facts and past situations. The problem is that our brains tend to believe a little too much in what we think will happen, as opposed to what the research says will probably happen. Here are some ways to improve your predictions.
Do your research
Have you ever taken on a project that took waaaaaay longer than you were expecting? Every one of my kids Halloween costumes comes to mind. You realize after you’re knee deep in the project, that if you had only known this was going to take so long you would have approached the whole thing differently – or not at all.
When it comes to predicting the results of a decision you need to do your research. Check into what others have experienced – not just what you imagine will happen. Check blogs, consult friends, read books. And remember that unless you have major extenuating circumstances as compared to your research (like there’s 10 of you on a project instead of just one) it’s likely that your experience will be similar – despite what your brain wants to believe.
Rushing through the prediction process will only cause you to skip over potential pitfalls – causing you to make a poor quality decision. The bigger the decision, the more time you need to spend thinking through all the potential outcomes of your actions.
Rushing through the process will cause you to be stressed — and stressed decisions are often poor ones. Give yourself the space to imagine potential outcomes and then separate yourself from the decisions for awhile. Then come back and think some more. Giving yourself a break will help you look at the choices more clearly so that you can get a better view of your options.
Revisit and Revise
Part of not rushing your predictions is to make sure that you’re updating them based on new information you’ve encountered. Maybe you had a great feeling about someone after the first few dates, but you caught a few red flags during the last one.
Go back to your predictions with the new information and see how that changes things. It’s easy to just gloss over red flags like that when you’ve already invested so much time and energy to get this far. However, it’s better to make an informed decision now instead getting a year down the road with someone who was never a good fit in the first place.
Use the power of 3s
When coming up with predictions don’t just attempt to hit the answer on the nose. If you’re an entrepreneur, trying to guess at exactly how much product you’re going to move at Christmas borders on impossible. Instead, try to come up with a high number, a middle number, and a low number. This will allow you to think about how you will handle each possibility while still understanding that the middle number is probably the most likely.
Also think of (at least) three ways you could handle a problem. One thing we tend to do when we are stressed is eliminate options so that we have less to think about. This gets us stuck in either/or situations when there might be an “and” option out there. Forcing yourself to think of a third option helps get you out of this either/or thinking that can blind you to possibility.
To help with opening your thinking imagine the space between your black and white choices and see if there’s where you say “yes/no…but”. For example, you might be asked to make cookies for a bake sale that you just don’t have time for. You feel bad saying no because you want to help, but it’s not realistic. Could you so yes…but I’ll have to buy cookies. Or no….but I’ll give you a donation based on what the cookies might sell for instead.
IMPROVE YOUR JUDGEMENT
The second half of the decision making process is to judge what the best choice is. You have already spent time imagining the scenarios that might occur after your decision and now you need to judge what is the best choice to get the results you want.
Once you’ve made a decision I want you to dive into wholeheartedly, but when you’re in the decision making process I want you to be skeptical. Especially of your own thoughts. Our brains are inclined to sink far too much power into our beliefs. This can cause us to take a flying leap off the wrong cliff.
To avoid this think about how you would make your decision if you were less sure about what would happen. It will feel uncomfortable to entertain those uncertainties, but it’s part of the process. Because we don’t like to feel uncertain, we try to avoid it. However, we can’t make a well thought out decision if we avoid looking at all the possibilities – even the ones we don’t like.
Here’s an exercise to try: take a mental trip to the future. Imagine that the decision you want to make now, has failed. Now go back and explain to yourself why it failed. This will help you see more of the potential outcomes of your decision than if you’re only looking at it from the bright side.
What else is there?
This one bounces back and forth between prediction and judgement. The idea is to help you come up with more creative choices. If you imagine that all of the options that you have come up with have disappeared, what would you do instead?
What if those two houses you were considering got bought? What would you do instead? Would you consider a condo? Maybe build a house? Open your search area?
Even if it turns out that none of those choices are right for you, doing this exercise will help open your mind to the possibility of others that might be a better fit than what you currently see as your options.
Compare and Contrast
Once you get a good field of choices to make your decision consider them together – or at least 2 at a time. Every decision you make says yes to something and no to something else. But if you aren’t looking at your choices together, you don’t know what you might be missing out on by choosing one thing over another.
To help you, make sure that you’re comfortable with not only the things that you’re getting but also with the things you leave behind. By taking the corporate job over the entrepreneurship maybe you’re getting security but less freedom – and vice versa. If you’re only considering the things you gain with each choice, it’s not a complete picture of your decision.
Consider your objectives
Not every decision you make is going to be perfect. They will all have their upsides and downsides. The best way to make sure that they’re as close as they can be, is to make sure you’re clear on your objectives first.
Sure we’d all like the perfect job: great benefits, retirement plan, flex hours, paid vacation – but we probably can’t get that out of the starting gate. When you’re making your decision to switch jobs, consider what the objective is in the first place. Are you looking to find somewhere with options to move up? Or is security more important? Or maybe it’s about getting a job with more flexibility.
Consider everything that’s important to you about this choice and then rank them. Make sure that the choice that you’re making meets the top 1-3 objectives. Everything below that is gravy or can be put into the next move that you make.
Quality decisions are made by improving your ability to imagine the outcomes and your ability to choose the correct path. By using these techniques you can get better at both, which means you make better decisions that will in turn improve your future.
If you’re struggling to make choices for your future or you feel stuck and can’t seem to get anywhere – please contact me. 1:1 coaching with me can help you get out of your rut, make solid choices, and move forward toward your dreams.