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If You Want To Make Good Decisions All The Time, Read This

If You Want To Make Good Decisions All The Time, Read This

Life is a series of decisions, the results of which are oftentimes difficult to see. It may be challenging at times to know that your decisions are the right ones, which makes it all the more important to focus on improving your decision-making process. Below are nine ways to help you make informed, reasonable and balanced decisions.

1. Explore the Available Alternatives—Even the Unlikely Ones.

We live in a world where people tend to wear either black or white hats; there is no continuum of moral relativity, just personal opinion and everything that falls outside of it. What if we lived another way? What if people were willing to explore alternatives?

For starters, Congress would probably see heretofore unimagined increases in productivity. We’d also avoid a great many conflicts with our significant others once we open the world of compromise. Deep convictions are healthy, but unblinking devotion to them is not.

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decisions - Jose maria cuella

    2. Renew Your Commitment to Meaningful Communication.

    Silence may be golden and—in the right situation—it may be your best course of action. The thing is, most decisions shouldn’t be made in a vacuum. Talking it out with someone, like your significant other or even your parents, is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign that you want to make an informed decision.

    Talk to any relationship expert and they’ll tell you something like “communication is key.” They’re not wrong; talking about the things that stress you, or the decisions you don’t want to make, can help to open up paths that you didn’t know were there.

    3. Use Sound Reasoning Instead of Your Instincts.

    We’ve all seen our share of movies where the hero is counseled by an older, wizened character to trust his/her “feelings” or “instincts.” That’s all well and good in fiction, but in the real world our gut instincts can get us into trouble.

    Reasoning is your friend. It will help you to weigh the consequences of your actions after your instincts have totally failed you. Instinct is what prompts people to get in fistfights while waiting in line at the self-checkout; reason is going home with all of your teeth intact.

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    4. Keep Your Expectations Realistic.

    You were probably told as a child that you could be anything you wanted when you grew up. The fact that you’re not a cowboy-astronaut hybrid proves that was a lie. Part of growing up is learning to measure our expectations against harsh reality.

    There’s nothing wrong with some healthy self-confidence. Believing we’re destined for important things is a natural impulse, and shouldn’t be fought. In fact, it goes by another name in the professional world: ambition. What you don’t want to do is lose focus on the here-and-now in favor of unrealistic goals and expectations.

    shoe shopping-satya murthy

      5. Take Care When Making Important Purchases.

      Whether we’re thinking about buying a new mattress, a car or even a house, purchasing big-ticket items can be as stressful as it is exciting. While most of us tend to look for the absolute best deals on important purchases, sometimes spending a little more can be the better course of action in the long run.

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      During our formative college years, buying cheap furniture or even renting furniture for our temporary housing made sense. After we strike out on our own, however, it makes a lot more sense to buy something that’s going to last. Instead of buying a new $100 couch every year for ten years, why not buy a high-quality couch just once? It might be a larger one-time expense, but you’ll thank yourself down the road.

      6. Think About the Pros and Cons.

      While we said somewhere above that nothing in life is black and white, that’s not to say that certain decisions don’t call for a thorough breakdown of their positive and negative qualities.

      This kind of bilateral thinking may seem counterproductive or even juvenile, but it may help you to think of upsides and downsides that otherwise would have remained hidden.

      7. Use Appropriate Framing When Looking at the Big Picture.

      Most of us begin each day with a single thing in mind: making it to sundown in more or less the same condition as when we awakened. In only the most extreme situations are our waking thoughts given to someone else.

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      That’s why it’s important to think of our lives as a piece of a puzzle, and to determine anew our piece in it each day. Having a myopic view of the world and our place in it is to lack context—a frame, if you will—for our lives. Having an unrealistic idea of our own importance is the road to regret, and possibly a lot worse.

      8. Realistically Evaluate Your Commitment to Action.

      Have you ever heard the phrase “no half measures?” It refers to a mindset in which you are wholly committed to a particular course of action. We too often skate through life without actually making a decision, whether because we don’t feel equipped or because we don’t feel particularly invested in the outcome.

      If you want to know that you’re making the best decisions, there’s a simple test: Ask yourself “Am I committed to this?” Are you interested in how it’s going to play out? If you find your commitment to something flagging, it’s a sign that you may have the wrong motivations.

      9. Fight Procrastination. Today.

      That last-minute scramble to finish your assignment or work project is doing you no favors. It’s going to lower the quality of the final product and induce unnecessary stress. The same goes to make good decisions.

      If you’ve got a decision to make, a reasonable amount of examination and discourse is not only natural, but necessary. The last thing you want to do, however, is to use that as an excuse to put off making that next important decision.

      Featured photo credit: Rachel via Flickr Creative Commons

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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

      Reference

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