divergence

Thanks to the nature of life and society, we’re often forced to make our most important decisions under pressure. Whether that pressure is caused by a lack of time, emotional duress, or something else entirely, it’s hardly the best state in which to make reliable decisions. Without a way to switch into an objective mindset — or at least a process to deal with decisions objectively — you could wind up making a bad decision that’ll bite you for years to come.

Almost every important decision I’ve ever had to make has been made out of necessity and under pressure of various kinds, and that’s given me the chance to work out a process that I can use to work through them in a detached way. You can never eliminate all the bias that comes from emotions and circumstances. Subjectivity is inherently part of being a human being. But you can minimize that bias through the use of a reliable process and make the most of a bad situation. Here’s how.

1. Know the Situation

Knowledge is power. The better you understand the decision and all that it entails, the more likely you are to make a good decision. The first step of the process is to put your research skills to use and study the relevant material, study it until you’re intimate with it.

Employ various research techniques. Don’t rely on anecdotal evidence, such as the opinions of trusted friends, but acquire it — it matters. Hard information matters, and some people would say it matters the most, but a healthy mixture of hard information and the opinions of those who have “been there and done that” is best in my opinion. It serves to reduce the sway that media manipulation by marketers or vested interests may have wielded through the bias in (what seems to be) objective texts.

You want to know the big picture, and you want to know the fine print. Leave no stone unturned, because the small pebbles in their aggregate have just as much weight as the big rocks.

2. Know the Outcomes

From the certainty of information, you must turn to the tentative vacillation of prediction. There’s no way you can know the future, but the knowledge you have gathered will help you to get closer to it. Make the best prediction you can as to the outcome of the various options you have at your disposal. What are the short-term effects? What are (more importantly, usually) the long-term effects? Will the effects of my decision affect the lives of others and how?

It is too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your decision and make your final choice based on small factors or short-term effects. After doing heavy research, the quality of your decisions can be affected by familiarity blindness. So it’s important to take a careful look at where each decision puts you in a week, a month, a year, a decade. This helps you regain your perspective.

3. Consult with the Objective

Talk to objective people — people who aren’t your friends — who are experts or knowledgeable in the area you need to make a decision in. Research as done in the first step is about finding out all the information that is out there already. It’s static information and can’t be tailored to your situation because it (should) just describe what is. Objective experts can look at your situation, and without emotional attachment to you, give advice on the best course of action.

But what is objectively the best course of action as far as an expert is concerned isn’t always the best course of action. It usually is, but subjectivity does play a part. If you don’t feel you could live with the results of the decision they suggest or it doesn’t align with your core values and beliefs, it’s not stupid to pass the advice over. Seek a second opinion or go for the next most workable suggestion on their list.

4. Commit

The thing about difficult decisions, and decisions you need to make under pressure, isn’t just that they’re hard to make in the first place. It’s that they’re hard to commit to. If you’ve followed a sound process for determining the best course of action, and the advice you have attained is sound advice, the best course of action should be clear by now.

That doesn’t mean it’s the easiest course of action. The best one rarely is the easiest. Be sure when you make your final decision, and commit to it. Start implementing it as soon as your situation allows, because once you’ve made the first steps it’s harder to fall back into your indecision.

We have all just entered into a new year, and an uncertain one at that. It’s a time when many people want to make changes in life and make big decisions, and we also live in a time when many more people are facing difficult times than they’ve had to in years past. So it seemed pertinent to suggest a way of dealing with these things, and I hope these guidelines help you through.

It’s impossible to give a process of flow chart-like proportions that will hold your hand throughout every step of the  decision-making process. That’d be great for making the best choice even when the pressure of the world is doing your head in, but the situation that comes with each decision changes too much for that. We’re left to deal with principles that are flexible enough to help us through many different situations, but they’re solid principles, and followed properly, the finer steps will reveal themselves.

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