How to make personal decisions, better

Decision making is the most important thing on earth. Certainly with respect to human well-being. 

We spend our entire lives with ourselves. So deep down, we need to feel satisfied with the decisions that we make. Even though our decisions shape our lives, most of us are making decisions all wrong. 

You see, a decision is not made good or bad by the outcome. A decision is made good or bad by how it was made. 

When I was to make a big decision, I was either impulsive or overly deliberate. One moment I let my emotions get the better of me and next I became motionless in my analysis. Then I’d pull a brilliant (or not) decision out of thin air and wonder how I did it.

What’s your decision-making process like (if you even have one)? Some of you likely favor exciting options and immediate rewards. Others try to reason or rely on how you feel. Some seek advice and some avoid making a decision all together. It’s okay, competence in decision-making does not come routinely.

I’m going to help turn your goals into your outcomes through better decision-making. Use the new process for big decisions where you have time. If you use the process enough, your subconscious will tap into what you’ve learned and the decisions that you have to make on the spot will also improve. 

To start, let me explain the pitfalls of decision making so that you can avoid them. 

Pitfalls of decision making

Take a deep breath. 

Then assess your state of mind. 

How are you feeling?

Assessing the state of mind is a step that is void from the decision-making process of most. Troubling when such an assessment should be the first step. For example, if I’m having a bad day and as a result, I’m in a bad mood, then I’ll benefit from postponing the making of an important decision. But if I’m not conscious of the fact that I’m in a bad mood then I’m likely to make a decision that I will later regret. 

Starting to take assessment helps. If it was the be all end all, then I’d stop the guide here. But the lack of self-assessment is a symptom of not having a process. And if you’re going to institute a process then it should be one that at least navigates you around the pitfalls of decision making.

What are the pitfalls?

We favor the short-term

We tend to optimize for now rather than later. In psychology, this is referred to as the “present bias.” The present bias causes us to pay attention to what is happening now, but not to worry about the future. 

If I offer you half a box of sweets in a year’s time or a whole box in a year and a day then you will probably choose to wait the extra day. But if I offer you half a box of sweets right now or a whole box of chocolates tomorrow then you will most likely take half a box of sweets now.

Though it’s the same difference, waiting an extra day in a year’s time seems insignificant. And waiting a day now seems impossible when faced with the immediate promise of sweets.

We are bias 

The biases that especially interfere with our decision making are the self-service bias and the confirmation bias. 

The self-service bias is a tendency to focus our attention only to that information that enhances ourself esteem and protects us from any negative feedback.

Confirmation bias on the other hand, is the tendency to look for information that confirms what we already know. It’s why we tend to read the news that agrees with our views. 

The principal difference between the two biases is that with confirmation bias we are putting together a puzzle of a picture of a belief, and in the self-serving bias we’re putting together a puzzle of a picture of ourselves.

Biases exist in an effort for the mind to feel in harmony. 
We have to fight the harmony because it triggers selective perception (meaning that we miss all the contradicting information).  Sometimes we start the decision-making process from a wrong picture and the contradicting information is what can turn a wrong into a right decision. 

The good news is we can actively reduce our biases with the process and will power.

We think through all the possible choices

Generating more choices can actually be hurtful. 
Feelings of well-being initially rise as choice increases but then level off quickly. 

While zero choice evokes virtually infinite unhappiness, bad feelings escalate as we go from having few-choices to many-choices. 

The net result is that at some point added choice only decreases our happiness.

We increase the likelihood of feeling dissatisfied 

It’s likely to feel dissatisfied even by the best possible outcome because expectation increases as the number of choices increases.

We tend to neglect our state of mind

The traditional decision-making process untethers fear. And fear activates our survival instincts from a more primitive mind. Decisions driven by survival instincts from the past hold us back [2].

We don’t systemize our decision making

Finally, the traditional decision-making process leads us to wonder about ’how we decided.’ Which is not helpful because the more we understand how we make decisions, the better we can manage them.