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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

Effective Decision Making Process: How to Make Wise Decisions

Effective Decision Making Process: How to Make Wise Decisions

Mastering the decision making process is key in both life and leadership. Many people are overwhelmed by choices, plagued by indecision, and stressed by analysis paralysis. However, it’s possible to overcome all of this and learn to make great decisions.

You want to make the right personal or business decision, and, in many cases, the sheer amount of options you have to wade through sets you up to question the very decisions you make.

Research from Cornell University suggests we make over 200 decisions per day on food alone[1]. Imagine how many decisions we must make in general!

If you find you’re struggling to make a specific decision, often second-guess yourself or have post-decision regret, or would like some additional resources in your decision-making toolkit, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive into the decision making process.

The Three P’s of the Decision Making Process

The 3 P’s of the decision making process are as follows:

  • Perspective: what to think about when making a decision
  • Process: the steps for making a decision
  • Preference: identifying your best strategies for decision-making

Perspective

As you now know, we make tens of thousands of decisions daily. So much of making good decisions lies in the way we think about the decision itself. Here are some things to consider:

Put the Decision in Context

How important is this decision? Sometimes we agonize over the smallest decisions, like what to have for dinner or what to wear.

Next time you get stuck on a decision, take a step back and ask yourself to rate the importance of the decision. Use a scale of one to five, with five being a very critical decision to your life (career change, who to marry, or whether to have kids) and one being fairly innocuous, with smaller effects (what meal to order or whether to comment on a social media post).

If it’s a four or five, you’ll likely want to spend more time on it, but if it’s a one, you can quickly make the decision and move on.

Know Yourself

Many ancient philosophers from Aristotle to Socrates touted the benefits of “knowing thyself”. This applies to decision-making, too. We make decisions through our own perspective and lens and it’s critical to know yourself: your style, values, beliefs, fears, stories and what works for you.

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When you have strong self-knowledge, it makes many decisions much quicker and easier. For example, when you know your values, and, for example, know that you value family, it’s easy to decide to miss that work event for your kid’s soccer game.

Learn to Satisfice

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the power of satisficing (yes, it’s a word) instead of maximizing.

Maximizers want to make the absolute best decision. They exhaust all alternatives trying to find the one right choice. This often leads to analysis paralysis, stress about the decision, and regret once a decision has been made.

Satisficers seek to find what is “good enough.” They know there is never a perfect choice and seek to find a decision that meets most of their needs or requirements.

When you learn to satisfice instead of maximize, you can make better, faster decisions with less regret.

Accept That You Won’t Always Like Your Decision

Often, people hesitate to make a decision because they don’t like the decision–even when they know it’s the best decision to choose. And just because a decision is right doesn’t make it any easier to make.

I come across this with clients all the time. They tell me they don’t know what to do; but as we talk, they actually do know exactly what they need to do; they just don’t like the answer. This is especially prominent when people have a true dilemma, when all options are equally terrible, but a choice is unavoidable.

Identify Which Decisions to Streamline

The more decisions that are made, the more energy is used. Ultimately, this comprises your ability to make wise decisions. This is called decision fatigue.

One study, for example, showed that “patients who met a surgeon toward the end of his or her work shift were 33 percentage points less likely to be scheduled for an operation compared with those who were seen first”[2]. The surgeon’s were experiencing decision fatigue and were less likely to decide to operate on a patient, even though the patient may have needed it.

There are many areas in your life where you can automate decisions so you don’t have to make them at all. This leaves more mental bandwidth for the important decisions.

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Think about decisions you make in your daily life where you could streamline the process and set up an automated choice instead. Perhaps it’s what you eat. Could you simplify and have eggs on toast every morning so you don’t have to make that decision?

How can you reduce or eliminate choices in your life so that you make space for those that are most important?

Process

In 2007, Pam Brown of Singleton Hospital in Wales created a 7-step decision making process. Many others have followed in his footsteps, with hundreds of different adaptations of this same formula.

Here are the 7 steps:

1. Outline the Goal and Outcome

What decision are you trying to make? What are you trying to accomplish with this decision? Get crystal clear on the problem and decision.

2. Gather Data

Here, you need to gather relevant information to make an informed decision. What do you need to know before you choose?

3. Develop Alternatives

Brainstorm and identify your options. You want to make sure you have enough options that you can make a good decision, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed.

4. List Pros and Cons

In this step, weigh the evidence and identify the advantages and disadvantages of each. You can also consider how likely it is that each option meets your goals.

5. Make the Decision

It’s decision time. Here, choose among alternatives based on the information you’ve collected.

6. Immediately Take Action

You’ve picked your course of action. What’s your first step? Do it as soon as possible—no excuses!

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7. Learn and Reflect

Now, it’s time to review your decision making process, understand the consequences and results of your decision, and use that information to improve future decision-making.

Preference

Once you have perspective and understand the process, you can proceed using the strategy that works best for you.

Listen to Your Inner Voice

Trust your gut to solve the problem. Stop listening to everyone else and what they say you should do, and get clear on what you believe.

For more on how to listen to your inner voice, check out this article.

Identify the Risk and Reward

Is the reward worth the risk? Is the benefit worth the cost? There will always be trade-offs in life; are they acceptable?

Phone a Friend

It’s hard to make decisions alone, so get some help! Consider a best friend (who knows how to listen), a coach (who can walk you through the relevant questions to reveal your thinking), or a mentor (who has been in that situation before).

Be cautious about who to involve. Part of the challenge in decision-making is to not get swayed too far off your own beliefs. Everyone is going to have an opinion. Don’t let someone convince you otherwise when you know something is best for you.

Use Your Learning Preference

Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic decision-maker? How do you know? Think about a decision you’ve made recently that went well, and put yourself back in the mindset when you went through that decision making process. Did you make it based on the picture you had of what it would “look” like (visual), your internal self-talk or dialogue (auditory), or on a feeling you had (kinesthetic)?

Take Action

Sometimes you don’t know until you’re “in it.” When you’re faced with two choices, make the best choice with the information you have and what you feel is best, and then start moving. You’ll know if that choice is right for you if you feel good as you move forward.

Leverage Your Emotions

Our emotions affect our ability to make decisions. When you are aware of and understand your emotional states, you can make better decisions.

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On the flip side, when you aren’t aware of your emotions and whether they are truly connected to the decision itself, then you can make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons.

See the graph below for details on how to identify and read your emotions[3]:

Use emotions to help you through the decision making process.

    Sleep on It

    If you have a big decision to make, think about it before bed, but wait to make the decision until you wake up the next morning. When you sleep on it, you make better decisions with a clearer mind[4].

    Wait

    Sometimes we pressure or put false deadlines on ourselves, and we don’t have an answer because we’re not ready or it’s not the right time…just yet.

    If you have the freedom, sometimes the best thing you can do is wait until the right decision emerges on its own. Sometimes this could be as little as a few minutes or hours, and other times it could be months.

    The Bottom Line

    Making decisions can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. If you use the strategies outlined above, you can make the decision making process work for you in the long run. Find what helps you the most, and incorporate it into your own process to make decisions that will lead you to a better life.

    More Tips on the Decision Making Process

    Featured photo credit: Brendan Church via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Tracy Kennedy

    Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

    How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life 10 Powerful Ways to Be More Confident 10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck Why Negative Emotions Aren’t That Bad (And How to Handle Them)

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    Published on April 14, 2021

    8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

    8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

    Whether you’re dealing with a creative block on a personal project or you’re facing challenges in the workplace, finding sustainable solutions to problems is an integral part of personal and professional growth. As the British-Australian philosopher Karl Popper once said, “all life is problem-solving.”

    As important as problem-solving is to success, not all approaches are created equal. The best problem-solving strategies ensure both efficiency (finding a solution as quickly as possible, with the minimum number of barriers) and effectiveness (finding a solution that actually solves the problem long-term).

    To accomplish both, you may need to try out some new ways of seeing and handling challenges. Here are 8 surefire problem-solving strategies that work, no matter what you’re struggling with.

    1. Break It Down Into Smaller Pieces

    Staring down a big problem can feel overwhelming, especially when the stakes are high. That sense of overwhelm doesn’t just cause you to feel on edge, but it also compromises your ability to work effectively. Studies show when the stress response is active, the part of the brain required for problem-solving tasks essentially shuts down.[1]

    To ease that stress and enlist the much-needed logical part of your brain, try breaking the problem down into smaller, individual issues you feel more confident tackling. For example, if you’ve missed your revenue goal two quarters in a row, try to resist framing the problem as “we’re losing money.”

    Instead, identify the individual problems contributing to the larger one—for example, marketing, supply chain, or communication issues that may be at play. Then, work—slowly but surely—to overcome barriers in each area, ideally, in order of importance. Not only will you feel less stressed in the process (which leads to smarter decision-making), but you’ll also feel more motivated to press on as you gain a sense of accomplishment, one step at a time.[2]

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    2. Ask Someone Else for Input

    I remember it clearly: I was sitting in my office, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out where I went wrong in a line of code. Two hours in, and I wasn’t any closer to figuring out where I’d messed up (and, more importantly, how to fix it). Then, a colleague I’d planned to have lunch with came in. Almost instantaneously, she looked over my shoulder and saw the issue. I had to laugh—she hadn’t even been working on this project with me, but her fresh set of eyes solved my problem.

    One of the most effective ways to reach a solution, faster? Don’t rely only on your own mind for an “aha” moment. Involving people who see the world differently than you—ideally, someone with a different skillset or from a different department—to chime in will help you more easily and quickly find the right approach.

    3. Understand the Root Cause

    Albert Einstein famously said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

    It sounds like common sense, but it bears repeating—you can’t solve a problem unless you know what the issue actually is. Before you start mapping out potential solutions, ask yourself, “why did this problem occur in the first place?”

    For example, imagine one department in your business is consistently not meeting its goals. That’s certainly a problem, but it may not be the problem. When you dig a little deeper, you might find a need for better communication or more training.

    Ensuring you have a deep and accurate understanding of what’s causing the problem will save you time working toward a solution and prevent you from having to backtrack to find a better one.[3]

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    4. Define Success

    One of the most important things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: start with a clear vision of success. Before I launched my business, I envisioned what people’s lives would be like if my product succeeded. I try to follow the same approach when I’m tackling challenges.

    Begin the problem-solving process with a clear understanding of what “success” would look like when the problem is solved. How will your company and team function if this problem isn’t an issue anymore?

    Once you see how you want things to be, you can work backward to find practical ways to achieve that vision. For example, if you’re consistently frustrated by low morale among your employees, imagine what a motivated, positive team would look like in everyday operations. What do you want to achieve, and how would it change the course of your business?

    By picturing your ideal situation, you can more easily pinpoint the steps you need to take to make it happen—in this case, perhaps implementing team-building events, more paid vacation, and incentives for reaching goals.

    5. Try Silent Brainstorming

    Enlisting other people’s perspectives can be a good way to find the answer you’re looking for. But if you’re attempting to tackle a problem with others, keep in mind the dynamic of the group.

    Think back to your last Zoom or in-person meeting. Whose ideas do you end up hearing or applying most often? If I kept a running tab, I’d guess my most outgoing, assertive team members “win” these brainstorming sessions most often—simply because they’re not afraid to speak up.

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    If you’re hitting a wall in problem-solving, you’ll need to find a way to hear everyone’s voice. One way to do that is a silent brainstorming session. Invite team members to spend a designated amount of time coming up with solutions for the same problem. Then, have them share their approaches and ideas in front of the group, or individually with you.

    When everybody has a chance to contribute equally—without the distraction of a lively discussion—you’ll be more likely to develop an effective problem-solving strategy and find the answer you’ve been looking for.

    6. Imagine Someone Else’s Perspective

    Can’t get a group together but feeling like you need someone else’s brain to solve the problem you’re struggling with? One of my favorite problem-solving strategies is to use someone else’s perspective to see all sides of a problem and potential solutions.

    As you brainstorm, imagine you’re sitting at a table with different personality types and thinkers—for example, a critic, an optimist, an artist, and a data analyst. You can think of real people you know and imagine how they’d respond to the problem, or you can simply imagine people who think differently than you.

    The idea is that by using your own creativity to adopt different perspectives on the same issue, you can more quickly reach an effective solution.

    7. Decide What Won’t Work

    Process of elimination can be a helpful tool when you’re trying to figure out how to overcome a challenge—mostly so you don’t waste time “reinventing the wheel.”

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    Next time you come up against a problem at work, ask yourself (or someone else) if you or anyone else in the organization have encountered similar issues in the past. If so, what are the solutions people tried, and more importantly, did they work? If not, cross it off the list and keep brainstorming.

    If the past solutions proved to be effective, then ask yourself one more question: “Do I have the resources to apply this solution in my current situation?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have a resource at hand—and you just saved yourself some time.[4]

    8. Take Breaks

    It might sound counterproductive to step away from a problem you’re trying to solve, but doing so can actually save you time and help you develop an even better solution.

    Sometimes called the “wanderer technique,” taking breaks has long been shown in research to boost creativity and attention span.

    When you’re focused on (and stressed about) a problem, your brain can grow fatigued, which prevents you from finding innovative ways to deal with the issue. On the other hand, when you step away and think about or do something else, your brain can wander. Given some stress-free time with your unconscious mind, you can make connections you wouldn’t have if you were staring at a screen or notebook.[5]

    Final Thoughts

    As common as it is to encounter challenges at work and in life, it can be frustrating to spend time finding solutions, especially if you’re not sure if the solutions will be effective. By approaching your problem-solving with a bit of strategy and intention, you can both save time and find better solutions. It’s a win-win!

    Just follow these 8 surefire problem-solving strategies and you’ll have higher chances of overcoming obstacles in your journey to success.

    More Problem-Solving Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

    Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

    Reference

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