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How Keeping a Journal Can Increase Your Chances of Making Right Decisions

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How Keeping a Journal Can Increase Your Chances of Making Right Decisions

The decisions we make can shape our lives in so many ways. But how effectively do we make these decisions? When it comes to big decisions, either personally or professionally, could there be a more effective and thorough way to make a better choice?

What Are the Problems of Our Usual Way of Making Decisions?

Our decisions involve a process of the mind and can often be influenced by our current circumstances, mood or impulse at the time. This means we don’t always evaluate the pros and cons thoroughly, as a decision we make today may not be the same decision we’d make a month from now.

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It’s hard to keep track of how we came to these decisions or examine how we could have made a better choice. Learning from our decision-making processes can help streamline future decisions and understand our thought patterns and subsequent outcomes.

You Can Learn How to Make Better Decisions by Keeping a Journal

This is where the idea of a decision journal comes in which is when you create a physical account of the thought processes you make during a decision. The advantage of writing down your thought processes are three-fold: you can revisit and analyse the various factors you used, it forces you to organise your thoughts and therefore think more carefully about different outcomes, and prevents the habit of hindsight bias because you have a written reference of how you came to a certain conclusion.

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However, with a decision journal comes the need for structure. It’s not a traditional journal where our random, and almost messy, thoughts are therapeutically written. Instead it needs a more precise and strategic approach in order to allow our future selves to look back and understand the process we went through at the time.

If Your Decision Journal Can’t Be Well-Structured in This Way, There Is No Point in Keeping One

When it comes to creating a decision journal, it’s important to include the right kinds of questions in order to allow you to see the decision-making process from all angles. This will help you with the best possible feedback if you were to have to make the same or similar decision in the future. Below is a basic structure you can follow with an example of what you can write down.

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  • Date and time of decision: day/month/year
  • The decision: Whether or not I should go for a new job role at work.
  • How am I feeling?: Confident/focused/relaxed/exhausted/angry/anxious – it’s important to know the emotional circumstances surrounding your decision so be very honest.
  • What is the context of this decision?: I feel stuck in my job role and it’s affecting my passion for the job.
  • What are the problems?: There’s no longer any progression in my role and I’m no longer developing any new skills, my current manager is unsupportive, and I would like to explore a different side to the business/company which I feel I’m currently cut off from.
  • What are the complications?: Causing negative reactions within my team and other co-workers, leaving at a time when workload is high. Will I be happy staying at the same company or should I make a clean break?
  • What are the alternative solutions? Look for a role elsewhere completely or stay in my current position.
  • What are the possible outcomes? I will be much happier in a different and developing role and gaining new skills but it could also cause animosity in my old team making the new role difficult as I’d still need to interact with them on some level. Could it be more beneficial to me to find a job elsewhere to experience a new company?
  • What are my expectations of the outcome and the probabilities? I’ll most likely be much happier in this new role and I’d feel like I’m developing my career in a different direction, giving me more contentment and fulfilment in my life. Perhaps my old team won’t be as upset as I think they will be and if they are, I can handle it. The change and experience is worth it. If I move to a completely new company, will it be a positive experience and is it worth the hassle? It would mean a possible longer commute somewhere or I may end up working with people I don’t get on with.
  • The outcome: Went for the internal job and was hired for it.
  • 6 month review (date) – what happened and what I learned : Still in the job role. It’s been challenging and I’ve experienced some animosity with my old team but I felt I handled it very well and allowed me to develop my interpersonal skills. However, I feel I should have been more courageous and looked elsewhere for another job as I think I’m more unhappy with the company than I thought. I’ve learned that I need to ignore the ‘safe’ route and not let my idea of a comfort zone stop me from pursuing something different in the future.

The example above shows the raw thought process that was taken. By writing it down, they were able to recognise that their decision was really based around their emotions and blocked off the ability to make a more courageous decision. Having this documented will help show how the decision could have been made better.

This idea of a decision journal is to inject quality control. It doesn’t matter what area of your life you are making the decision – whether it’s ending a relationship, leaving a job or buying a car – making a habit of keeping a decision journal will allow you to see your decision-making patterns over time and help figure out how to improve them in the future.

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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