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Published on June 26, 2019

How to Make a Decision: The Secret to Making the Right Decision Fast

How to Make a Decision: The Secret to Making the Right Decision Fast

When you are chasing goals to lead a more fulfilling, greater quality of life, personal growth is inevitable. Growth often means you need to change and acquire new skills as you charter new and unfamiliar territory. It can also require you to make choices and decisions you feel ill-equipped to navigate.

Some of these you might possess sound judgment to make. Others can scare the living daylights out of you. At many times, you can feel damned regardless of which pathway you choose to take.

It may seem a strange notion to grasp but you can actually make the right decision in any pivotal moment your heart is wrenched with pressure to choose the best pathway when you’re at a crossroads. When you become familiar with what your decision-making process is and develop a strong foundation from which you make each decision from, you’ll be well on track to make the right choice every time.

Here’re 5 essential principles on how to make a decision:

1. Understand the Role Emotions Play in All Your Decision-Making

Many studies have shown the role our brain plays in decision-making.[1] Our amygdala serves as an instinctual guiding light to help us learn what is good for us (i.e. keeps us safe, happy and secure) and what is not (i.e. any stimulus which poses threat to our safety and wellbeing).

We attach a different emotional value to stimuli – people, places, events and objects – depending on what we’re taught prior to experiencing them and through experiencing them ourselves. With each stimulus having a different value, we learn how to make sense of and navigate our worlds. Our amygdala plays a huge role in how we, therefore, make decisions.

Have you come across people who tell you they always make decisions purely based on facts, figures and evidence? Do they tell you they don’t let their emotions get in the way? What is most likely occurring is they feel safe when they see certain figures and enough of them.

Dubbed as the single most common concern that keeps people awake at night with worry, money is a particularly emotional subject that repeatedly requires us to consciously make the right decision. Even though you calculate your expenses can still be comfortably paid and you can afford that vacation you’ve been itching to take for the last three years, you still hesitate to book your flights.

Despite the numbers on your budget spreadsheet more than stack up in your favor, you strongly resist. Somewhere in your memory network of lessons around money and finances, there will be different levels of emotional comfort you have with all the varying aspects of earning, managing, having and not having money. As a result, you will have developed attitudes which shape your decisions as to what you do or don’t do with it. And that’s just considering your emotional attachments around money!

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When you hit a crossroads, take note of what emotions and feelings arise for you. Pay attention to these as you consider the different choices available to you.

Just because you might be experiencing fear and/or anxiety….a resistance, this does not mean you may be making the wrong decision. Your emotions are just looking out for you and warning you.

As long as you can recognize how and why your emotions – positive and negative – are serving you and you make a conscious decision about how you want to go forward, you can ensure you will be making the right decision.

2. Bring to Consciousness the Underlying Expectations You Have When Making Decisions

We might think we’re making decisions which are purely our own, but we aren’t. Peer-pressure is also not what we’re talking about here. We need to learn to identify whether or not we are making choices that subconsciously satisfy a cultural or societal norm and seeing if we can separate ourselves from this when we make our decision.

Psychological researchers Luke Chang and Alan Sanfey conducted a study showing how pre-conceived social expectations influenced the decision-making of participants who were on the receiving end of a bargaining exercise.[2] Participants were presented with offers from proposers of different splits of $10 being divided between them. The participant might be offered to receive $3 whilst the proposer kept $7. Other splits of the $10 were also offered by proposers. How participants believed proposers would make their offers, influenced whether or not they accepted or rejected offers they were given. Where participants received offers they did not expect, they rejected them.

Simply put, we hold (often subconsciously) pre-conceived expectations about how we expect potential outcomes – good and bad – to unfold.

Consider trying this exercise. Walk down the street and offer someone a $10 bill. Don’t offer any explanation as to why you are giving them the cash apart from that you simply wish to give it to them. Chances are you are going to be met with doubt, resistance and curiosity. Some people you approach might even ask you: “What’s the catch?” You might be surprised people decline taking it from you, think you’re crazy and walk away or even ignore you!

Receiving and giving money for nothing is generally unheard of. Where’s the exchange? So we hesitate. We question it.

Would you accept someone randomly giving you $10? What pre-conceived, unconscious expectations might be at play? The expectations we attach are fashioned from social experiences and lessons we’ve been exposed to that are most relevant to circumstances we find ourselves in. These expectations can work in our favor but can also work against us.

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We can be presented with difficult decisions where we have no previous reference to help us make a choice. The key is to try isolating your context for what it is and making the decision purely based on whether or not it serves you, or not.

3. Make Decisions That Satisfy Your Values, Principles and Priorities for the Long-Term

When you do this, you will always feel your decision is right. Even when consequences turn pear-shaped, you will find you’re still able to face yourself in the mirror and feel your conscience is clear.

Your choices could cause turbulence in your relationships. You might feel uneasy for some time but eventually, you will be able to sleep at night.

The choice you made honored what you believe to be right, just and ethical. You’re staying true to your inner compass.

In addition to paying attention to emotions that arise within you when you need to make a decision, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I believe to be true, right and ethical that needs to be honored here?
  • What unanswered question does making a choice to go this particular way, answer for me?
  • What principles, beliefs or priorities is this satisfying (or not satisfying) for me?

Many of us hit roadblocks trying to discover what our purpose is in life. We struggle to get bearings on what our career vocation is or should be. If you go back to thinking about what’s important for you to be able to repeatedly experience, receive and give of yourself, you’re pretty close to being on track to making the right decision every time.

If you’re not sure what your highest values and priorities are, look at what you spend the majority of your time:

  • Thinking about
  • Spending your money on
  • Researching and learning about
  • Making time for instead of doing other things

The more you review this, the greater clarity you’ll gain. Where and what you spend the majority of your time, energy and most of your waking hours doing is going to clearly indicate what’s important to you. Those things will be important to you because you get to feel good as a result of dedicating your energy toward them.

Beware of getting caught up in the transient recommendation of simply doing what makes you ‘feel good now’. If your bigger picture goal is to self-fund back-packing around the world for six months or to buy your first property, regularly splurging on items which reap no return on investment that you don’t even need is not going to help. It’s interesting how that pair of shoes or handbag in the display window are almost smiling at you when you’re feeling confused.

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Long-term goals can require us to make choices which bring short-term discomfort. Expect this. However, long-term goals when achieved, bring far greater gains on many more levels.

4. Never Make Decisions in an Unbalanced Physical, Emotional or Mental State

Looking to never make judgments or decisions when you are emotionally, mentally and physically depleted where you can help it, goes without saying. You lack the capacity to consider all possibilities, recognize if you have any biases and risk being emotionally skewed to only see certain parts of the equation depending on your mood state.

However, you also need to be aware of shiny, attractive opportunities which appear to be to your direct benefit, but deceptively may not.

Let’s say you’re highly motivated to develop a property portfolio. You’ve always believed developing one will financially secure you and your family’s future. You decide to attend a free property conference weekend being held in your closest capital city. The speaker line-up looks mighty impressive on the landing page. The topics they’re speaking about sound EXACTLY like what you need to know.

Attending the conference, you find the information invaluable. You ask yourself why you didn’t do this sooner! The speakers are warm, friendly and highly personable. You feel honored to receive their individual attention to answer your questions. They also have a $6,000 program to teach you certain aspects about developing your portfolio and there’s a free gift valued at $500 for only the first 15 buyers of the program. Gosh! It’s too good to miss! What do you do?

Do not touch your credit card!

There are always going to be events and opportunities like this where clever psychological tactics are heavily in play to position people to buy. You’ve been psychologically primed over a few hours at least to say yes to everything you’re being taught and are hearing. You might not believe it but you will have been emotionally softened to make the golden purchase. You feel wonderful, positive and so excited about all the possibilities.

What you don’t realize is that you could be in danger of dropping $6,000 on a lemon or a completely unsuitable program.

What’s involved that you’re not being told? What are the downfalls? What are the odds of success? You’re positioned only to focus euphorically on the glass being at least half full.

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Auctions, sales, apparently lucrative salary packages and job advertisements…all these paint a bright shiny picture of improving your circumstances. To make sure you make the right decision, wait.

Where you can, wait and wait some more. Then, ask yourself if you still feel the same. Ask yourself again: “Is this right for me?” If it is, then give yourself the green light.

The same goes for the argument you have recently had with your boss or the new person you’ve just started dating. Don’t quit your job or whimsically dump him/her at the first uncomfortable instance. Cool your jets. Let the storm settle. Orchestrate yourself a place you can recalibrate away from any influencing variables or people. Consult a mentor with no bias or personal agenda. Only when you’re back in a balanced state of mind and energy stores can you see all aspects and ensure you make the right decision.

5. Ask the Questions No One Is Asking

Seek perspectives outside your own. When all facts of the case seem beamingly positive, ask to be shown the (potential) downfalls.

Ask the questions to call-out the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge or address. Proactively defy the dangers of group think[3] mentality and equip yourself more thoroughly with fuller insight and confidence to capitalize on making the right decision.

The Bottom Line

There will be times where time is not on your side. Remember to stay true to your values, ethics and beliefs. Keep in sight your long-term goals and aspirations and proactively look to engage perspectives wider than your own.

When you can create pauses and find space to make your choices in a balanced emotional and mental state, you can make decisions fast.

When you decide, always remember that you chose with all the resources you had available in the actual moment you made it. When you remember this, the decision you make will always be the right one.

More About Decisions Making

Featured photo credit: Gilles Rolland-Monnet via unsplash.com

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Malachi Thompson

Executive Leadership and Performance Consultant

What Is Mentally Tired? 11 Ways to Combat Brain Exhaustion How to Create Your Road Map to Success (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Make a Decision: The Secret to Making the Right Decision Fast How Successful People Think: 10 Mindsets to Cultivate 15 Inspiring Ideas to Boost Your Motivation for Success

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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