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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
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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

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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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Published on August 2, 2021

What Is Loss Aversion And How To Avoid This Bias

What Is Loss Aversion And How To Avoid This Bias
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Have you been feeling particularly cautious lately? Do you find yourself avoiding making major or seemingly risky decisions until you feel life has returned to “normal”? This isn’t unusual, and you are not alone. In these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, people would rather stick with what they perceive as safe. They veer away from making any sudden changes that could rock the boat and resort to loss aversion instead.

After more than a year of having to take drastic measures to secure our safety as well as those of our loved ones, it’s not surprising to find that some people would choose to hunker down even when faced with issues that don’t pose any mortal danger to them.

The pandemic has challenged us to become more resilient—a good thing—and even pick up an additional useful skill or two.[1] However, the flip side presents us with a potentially unfortunate side effect—that it could have altered our risk-taking behavior.

Read on to learn what loss aversion is and how you can avoid this bias.

Taking Risks, Making a Change

Why is it important to have a healthy view of risk? Shouldn’t we approach life with caution to avoid making mistakes?

I would say that, indeed, making careful, decisive choices will yield great results, so long as you can identify the line between being reasonably cautious and being downright fearful. There are also certain patterns in decision-making that you must watch out for.

To illustrate further, I present you with this example: Let’s say you meet a kind stranger who offers you your choice of a great deal with absolutely no tricks. He gives you $45. Then, he asks you if you want to hold on to the money or give it back to him in exchange for a coin flip. If it’s heads, he’ll give you $100 right then and there. If it’s tails, you get nothing.

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So, which one do you choose? Instant cash in your pocket or a chance to flip the coin? Think hard before you read further.

When I present this coin scenario to different audiences, about 80% say they’ll take the $45 from the stranger. That’s the choice I made when I was also presented with this scenario many years ago. The same can be said for most people in studies of similar choices.[2] And why not? The $45 is a sure thing, after all.

Back then, I thought that I’d certainly feel foolish if I took the risk just for a shot at getting $100 only to lose out. My gut instinct told me to avoid losing. I suppose anyone would feel the same way initially.

Here’s the thing, though. If we run the numbers, the chance of getting heads is 50%, so in half of all cases, you’ll get the $100. In the rest of the cases, you won’t get anything. So, that’s equal to $50 on average, compared with just $45.

Now, imagine if you flipped the coin 10 times, then 100 times, 1,000 times, on to 10,000 times, and then 100,000 times. At 100,000 times, on average you would win $5 million if you picked the coin flip for $100 every time, compared with $4.5 million if you picked $45 each time. The difference is an amazing $500,000.

This means that picking $45 as your gift from the stranger leads to you losing out. The correct choice—the one that will mostly not lead to you losing—is to pick the coin flip. Pick the other choice and you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose over multiple coin flips.

However, you might reason out that I presented the scenario as a one-time deal and not as a repeating opportunity. Perhaps, you’d say that if you knew it was a repeating scenario, then you would have picked differently.

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The problem lies with this: studies have shown that our gut addresses each scenario we face as a one-off.[3] In reality, we are presented with a multitude of such choices every day. We are goaded by our intuition to deal with each one as an isolated situation. However, these choices are part of a broader repeating pattern where our gut pushes us towards losing money. We avoid risks—fearful of losing—and end up losing in the end.

Why Are People Afraid to Take Risks?

We are prone to shying away from risks due to a mental blindspot called loss aversion.[4] This is one of the many dangerous judgment errors that result from how our brains are wired—what scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases.[5]

Research has shown that people are more sensitive to possible losses than potential gains.[6]

Loss aversion goads us into having an unhealthy view of risk, causing us to have a knee-jerk and one-size-fits-all approach to risk-taking, which is to outright reject it. This rejection runs counter to the resilience and flexibility we gained during these uncertain times. It also poses a threat to how we can continue to adapt to the shifting nature of this pandemic, as well as how to smoothly transition to a post-COVID life.[7]

The Sweeping Influence of Loss Aversion

It’s easy enough to think that loss aversion only comes into play during major decisions or turning points. However, we are presented with a multitude of similar choices daily that—much like in the coin-flip scenario—represent a broader pattern that could cause us to lose out in life.

Remember that loss aversion isn’t just limited to decisions that have a corresponding monetary result. It also applies to situations and circumstances where avoiding a possibly negative outcome might blind you to potentially positive changes in your life.

Here are some aspects of life that can easily be derailed by loss aversion.

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1. Exiting Toxic Relationships

Have you ever stayed in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) that has clearly already run its course? Perhaps this relationship already causes you distress or keeps you from reaching your personal goals.

Yet, despite indications that you would have a healthier, happier life without this stressful relationship, you find it difficult to walk away because of the disruption it would cause in your life. You worry about the loss of your routine, and this holds you back.

2. Making Much-Needed Career Changes

People are particularly cautious about making career changes especially during this pandemic, opting to “wait it out” and just trudging on until life returns to “normal.”

We need to remember that we may never get back the version of normal that we had pre-pandemic. Just as the world changed and readjusted to COVID, so did each individual, and so did employers.

Jobs and employment are constantly shifting and evolving, more so now than before, so you have to weigh and consider if the loss of an old job is truly that daunting versus transitioning to a new career that could enrich your life mid- and post-pandemic.

3. Dealing With Your Current Pandemic Life and Looking Forward

Loss aversion can trickle down even to the smallest perceivable things in life. With our wariness of COVID-19 modifying our behavior when it comes to going out, physical distancing, and socializing, it’s perfectly understandable to someday come out of this pandemic more cautious, more health-conscious, and more aware of our security than we were before 2020.

However, as we start to consider what the world will be like after the pandemic, we should also plan our lives accordingly. This means that while our social and networking circles were forcibly shrunk in the last year, there is no need to let our lives deliberately stagnate for fear of leaving our comfort zone.

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It also means that, when the time is right, we must be willing to reintegrate our lives into a changed world and balance the risk with a potentially more meaningful life.

Conclusion

While it might seem daunting, looking ahead into the future calls for a reexamination of loss aversion. If left unchecked, it will keep you from living your best life as it goads you into focusing on what you could lose versus what you might gain.

With or without the pandemic, viewing risk with a steady perspective can indeed be helpful when weighing how to proceed with major life decisions. However, focusing too much on the risk may lead to abject fear, which can keep you from making balanced, decisive choices.

Identifying the repeated pattern of our choices and knowing how to tackle and transform each possible loss into a gain will go a long way in winning in life—with or without a pandemic.

More Biases That Unconsiously Affect Us Every Day

Featured photo credit: AJ Yorio via unsplash.com

Reference

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