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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.

    Why Negative Emotions Aren’t That Bad (And How to Handle Them) How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power)

    Trending in Brain Power

    1 Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think 2 How People Make Decisions That Are Bad For Them 3 If You Don’t Know What Your Next Thought Is, You’re Not Alone 4 Latest Scientific Research Shows That Coffee Is Actually Good For Your Brain 5 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

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    Last Updated on January 12, 2021

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

    Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

    Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

    Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

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    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

    A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

    Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

    “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

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    When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

    The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

    As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

    “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

    Silence relieves stress and tension.

    It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

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    A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

    “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

    Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

    Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

    The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

    Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

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    But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

    Summation

    Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

    Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

    Reference

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