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Published on March 9, 2021

8 Effective Ways To Make Hard Decisions Easier

8 Effective Ways To Make Hard Decisions Easier

Do you find it difficult to make major decisions? Some people would rather put off making hard decisions than confront them head-on.[1] Others rush through the process, ending up regretful and wishing they had taken more time deciding on a tough matter. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put more pressure on the process because we want to avoid making the wrong decisions as we try to adapt to the new abnormal.[2]

Yet, it’s not about how much time you spent making a decision that matters. Rather, it all boils down to your decision-making process and whether you use effective methods. Using the correct methods will also ensure that you won’t get held back by decision fatigue when the quality of your choices declines after a long bout of decision-making.[3]

Tough Decisions: Should You Listen to Your Gut?

Whether you are deciding on personal or professional matters, many major decisions are life-changing and must be approached with care. Unfortunately, many people rely on intuition for their decision-making process. Gut reactions are considered magical, acquired either by hard-earned experience or possessed by only a few experts. Popular gurus even reinforce these mystical beliefs with their advice.

However, research in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics shows that unbiased methods, not gut-based ones, improve one’s decision-making ability.[4] We have a lot more tools now in the information age to aid in our decision-making. That being said, it’s truly unfortunate that prominent gurus continue to advocate for intuition-based methods.

The reason why intuition is a bad tool for decision-making is that we are prone to dangerous judgment mistakes resulting from how our brains are wired. These errors are what scholars in behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience refer to as cognitive biases.[5]

It’s a good thing that recent studies in these fields demonstrate how you can use pragmatic strategies to identify and defend yourself against these errors.[6]

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8 Effective Ways to Make Hard Decisions Easier

Whether you’re about to make a personal or professional decision, you can follow data-driven and research-based approaches to make hard decisions easier. Note that efficient decision-making doesn’t depend on either innate talent or hard-earned personal experience. The reality is that it all boils down to efficient methods that are teachable and learnable.

Moving to a new city, asking for a raise, getting a graduate degree, deciding on whether to get into or out of a long-term relationship—all of these and many more represent important decisions. You can, of course, recover if you make the wrong ones during such life-altering junctures.

However, getting them wrong can cause terrible disruptions that can be completely avoided if you follow these 8 efficient methods.

1. Identify the Need to Make a Decision

This is crucial because it allows you to take notice even when there’s no outward problem signaling that you need to make a hard decision or when you initially feel that you just need to make a minor one. Don’t forget that your natural intuitions can also make it uncomfortable to admit that a difficult choice needs to be made.

Keep in mind that the best decision-makers take the initiative to admit the need for a decision before they become an all-out crisis. They also don’t let their gut reactions affect their decisions.

What will help you maximize this method is to make sure that you are asking the right questions. It’s common to waste a lot of time trying to analyze a problem by heading straight to the data and a hasty conclusion. Focusing on good questions will help you avoid this.

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2. Get Relevant Information From a Diverse Set of Informed Perspectives

The information could be from a friend, a colleague, a mentor, or even someone you are not closely related to, as long as they have significant knowledge regarding the matter. Furthermore, limiting your data gathering to just informed perspectives will keep you from over-investing in unnecessary data.

Make sure not to dismiss perspectives with which you disagree. After all, opposing opinions allow you to distance yourself from relying on your gut instincts and allows you to see any possible bias blind spots.

3. Decide What Goals You Want to Reach

Using the relevant information you gathered, decide what goals you want to reach. Visualize the intended outcome of your decision-making.

It’s crucial to identify when a seemingly one-off decision is a sign of an underlying problem. Include dealing with these root problems as part of your end goal. This method will help you further streamline your decision-making process because it allows you to identify your targets clearly. This, in turn, helps steer your mind away from having to juggle too much information.

4.  Form a Decision-Making Process Criteria

Form a decision-making process criteria to assess the different options of how you want to achieve your desired outcome. If possible, create the criteria before you even begin looking at your choices. Remember that our intuitions affect our decision-making process by pushing for outcomes that match our instincts. The result? You get worse results overall if you don’t make the relevant criteria before you examine your options.

5. Make a List of Potential Options That Can Help You Reach Your Goal

It’s quite common to generate an insufficient number of options when dealing with hard decisions, particularly when you need to address underlying issues. The best way to tackle this is to generate more options that seem intuitive to you. Aim for 5 attractive choices as the minimum.

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Keep in mind that since this is a brainstorming method, you should avoid judging the options even if they seem outlandish. From what I’ve seen in my years of coaching people who were having difficulty making tough life decisions, the best choices usually involve elements that came from innovative options.

6. Examine the Options and Select the Best One

Avoid going with your initial choices when weighing your options. In addition, try your best to view your own preferred option in a harsh light. Another key point is to do your best to assess each choice from your opinion of the person who suggested it. This will minimize the effect of internal politics and relationships on the decision itself.

When examining options, avoid automatically choosing your original preferences. Also, view your own preferred choice in a harsh light and from many angles. Moreover, do your best to evaluate each option separately from your opinion of the person who proposed it. This will minimize the impact of personalities, relationships, and internal politics on the decision itself.

7. Implement the Option You Selected

Implementing this method calls for careful brainstorming and imagination. You will need to minimize your risks and maximize rewards because the goal is to arrive at the best decision possible.

To do so, first, imagine that your choice completely fails. Next, think about all the issues that led to its failure. Then, think of how you can solve these problems and integrate those solutions into the implementation plan.

The next step for this method is to imagine that your decision was a success. Next, think of the factors leading to its success, brainstorm how you can bring these reasons to life, and include what you came up with into rolling out the decisions.

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8. Assess the Implementation of the Decision and Revise or Fine-Tune as Needed

Develop clear metrics of success that you can use during the implementation process. Check regularly if your implementation is meeting or surpassing the metrics. If it’s falling short, revise the implementation. There might even be instances when you’ll need to revise the original decision itself. That’s not a bad thing. Just go back to the particular method you need to reexamine and start again.

In broader terms, you might experience going back and forth among these 8 methods. Remember that these revisions are just part of decision-making and do not mean that there’s a problem in the process.

For instance, if you are at the choice-generating stage and you find that you need to add relevant new data, you may need to go back and change your goals and criteria.

Let me just add that these methods are battle-tested and you can elaborate on these methods for the most part. I’ve used it extensively with my consulting and coaching clients who previously found themselves stuck when trying to make different sorts of hard decisions. After using these methods several times, they soon got into the habit of approaching each hard decision with a pragmatic mindset and had an easier time deciding eventually.

Conclusion

Don’t be fooled by the advice of popular gurus to listen to your intuition when making hard decisions. Your gut reactions are not a good way to gauge life-altering actions. Instead, follow the pragmatic strategy of using these 8 research-based and data-driven decision-making methods to conquer difficult junctures in your personal and professional life.

More Tips on How to Make Decisions

Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on April 28, 2021

What Is a Fixed Mindset And Can You Change It?

What Is a Fixed Mindset And Can You Change It?

I sometimes think that I will never be a good cook or that I just was not born to be bilingual. Occasionally, I catch my daughter saying that I cannot do it. And I hear people say things such as they are not good at math or not cut out to be in business.

These are all examples of a fixed mindset, and we are all guilty of it from time to time. Fortunately, a fixed mindset does not have to be forever.

What is a Fixed Mindset?

Psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the leading experts on mindset and the author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Early in her career, she identified two mindsets: growth and fixed. These two mindsets explain why some people face challenges head-on while others are crushed by it.

People with fixed mindsets think that their skills or abilities are set in stone and determined at birth. If you think you are bad at math, not good at sports, or a born musician, you are demonstrating a fixed mindset.

People with a growth mindset think that their skills and abilities can be improved and refined through effort and perseverance. When you take steps to improve yourself and stick with it, you are exhibiting a growth mindset.

False Growth Mindset

Dweck clarified her work by explaining that everyone has a fixed mindset at one time or another about one thing or another.[1] People do not permanently have either a fixed or growth mindset.

I might work hard in the gym to get stronger and more flexible while giving up on my piano lessons because I think I am not a musical person. This example shows that I have a growth mindset regarding my fitness but a fixed mindset regarding my piano playing.

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It is also an oversimplification to say that a growth mindset is just about effort. Dweck explains that effort and strategy are needed for a true growth mindset. It is not enough for me to just keep trying and failing. A true growth mindset involves effort, reflection, reassessment, and then more effort.

Self-awareness is a critical component of a growth mindset because you have to accurately assess your current progress to make appropriate changes toward meeting your goals. Just showing up is not going to cut it.

Fixed Mindset Triggers

A fixed mindset trigger is something that shifts your mindset away from thinking that abilities can be improved to thinking they are fixed or predetermined. Think about what might make you raise your hands in defeat and proclaim you are not good at something and never will be.

The most obvious fixed mindset trigger is someone telling you that you are not good at something. This can make it seem like your ability is set in stone.

Imagine you are trying your hardest in Spanish class, and the teacher offhandedly says, “It is a good thing you are good at math.” That comment can make it seem like you have always been bad at Spanish and always will be, regardless of the effort and determination you bring to the table.

Another fixed mindset trigger is people overreacting to failure. When people make a big deal out of your mistakes, it can seem like you’re just not meant to be pursuing whatever it is you failed at.

Let’s use our Spanish example. Let’s say you are working on your Spanish project—a film. You show it to a friend who starts laughing and points out how you said the word “Bota” instead of “Barco” over and over as the film zooms in on a boat. Instead of thinking about all the Spanish words you got right, your mind might dwell on that one egregious error, shifting you to a fixed mindset about your Spanish abilities.

Finally, people rescuing you from failure can trigger a fixed mindset. Continuing our Spanish language example, if your mom stops letting you do your Spanish homework and starts doing it herself to prevent you from failing, you might start to think that you are not good at Spanish and never have been and never will be.

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How Can You Change a Fixed Mindset?

Dweck talks about process praise as the antidote to a fixed mindset.

Process praise is when you compliment and encourage someone to put in the effort and use strategies and appropriate resources to learn and improve. While praising someone’s abilities often leads to a fixed mindset, process praise contributes to a growth mindset.

So if I want to help someone change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, I should say something like, “You worked so hard on this” or “What could you try to do better next time?” instead of “You are so good at this” or “It is so unfair. Your opponent must have cheated.”

You can try process praise for yourself, too. If you catch yourself making excuses, blaming someone or something else for your failure, or assuming your abilities are fixed, try process praise.

Focus instead on the effort you put in and strategies and resources you used to improve. Dweck recommends being matter-of-fact and not too strong or passive with your process praise. Be direct without being harsh or too accommodating.

Here are 8 other ways to shift from a fixed mindset to growth:

1. Do Not Blame

If you catch yourself blaming someone or something else for your failure, stop yourself and refocus on your role in your success or failure.

2. Aim for Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is key to a growth mindset. If you do not give much thought in your role in your success or failure, it is going to be difficult for you to strategize and improve.

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So, ask yourself questions about your effort, strategy, and resources. Could I have practiced harder? Am I using the best schedule for my rehearsals? Is there a better way for me to study before the next test?

3. Avoid Negative, Fixed Mindset Self-Talk

Try to catch yourself when you think in fixed mindset terms. Stop saying that you were not made to do this or were not born to become that. Instead, start focusing on the effort and strategy you put in.

4. Ask for Feedback (and listen to it)

Feedback goes in one ear and out the other when we have a fixed mindset. When people think their abilities are set in stone, they tend to make excuses, get defensive, and place blame when receiving feedback.

Break that cycle and actively seek out feedback. Do not get defensive or make excuses and listen closely to feedback, no matter how harsh. Use feedback to develop a better plan for improving your abilities.

5. Do Not Overreact to Failure (keep it in perspective)

Failure is a natural part of learning and improving, so do not overreact when it happens to you.[2]

Try to keep failure in perspective, so you do not fall into a fixed mindset.

6. Reflect and Reassess

Set aside time to reflect on your progress and plan how to improve. Remember that effort is only one part of a true growth mindset. You also need to refine your strategy.

7. Do Not Compare

When you compare yourself to others, it is easy to fall into a fixed mindset. We do not usually see the effort and perseverance others put in, which is why it can lead to a fixed mindset.

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If someone seems naturally smart, you do not actually know how much effort they put on studying. This is why comparing ourselves to others is a fixed mindset trap.

8. Celebrate Effort (process not product)

Finally, celebrate your effort and perseverance. Compliment yourself on how many piano classes you have taken or how you did not give up when Calculus class got tough.

If you get stuck on how good or bad you are, you may find yourself shifting back to that fixed mindset.

Final Thoughts on Changing a Fixed Mindset

It is somehow comforting to know that everyone experiences a fixed mindset from time to time. However, we should not oversimplify shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It takes more than focusing on effort.

Do your best to notice when you start to compare yourself to others, make excuses, blame others for your mistakes, and disproportionately focus on your shortcomings. These are all fixed mindset traps.

Instead, practice focusing on your effort and strategy. How hard did you work? And is it time to switch up your game plan for learning and improving?

It is possible to change a fixed mindset as long as we are open and honest about what we need to do and change about ourselves.

More Tips to Improve Your Mindset

Featured photo credit: JD Mason via unsplash.com

Reference

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