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How to Make Difficult Decisions

Automate some easier decisions

  • Select from only a handful of lunch options that you rotate each week.
  • Use a shipping service to get common items like paper towels directly to your house.
  • Consider asking the wait staff for dinner recommendations so you don’t have to stare at an overwhelming menu.
  • Connect the apps you use and automatically move information between them.

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How to Make Difficult Decisions

How to Make Difficult Decisions

https://zapier.com/blog/difficult-decisions/

zapier.com

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Key Ideas

Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman

"The best measure of quality thinking is your ability to accurately predict the consequences of your ideas and subsequent actions."

Think in Years, Not Days

Before jumping to a conclusion, think about the long-term consequences of your decision.

We may respect those able to fling themselves into a hard problem and make a quick choice with seemingly little thought, but making a meaningful decision needs to be done with care for the long-term effects.

Understand Decision Fatigue

It’s important to be aware of what state of mind you’re in before tackling a hard choice.

Decision fatigue happens when the mental energy required to weigh the tradeoffs of our decision becomes too much for us to handle. 

Fewer Decisions

Perhaps the easiest way to make sure we can face a hard decision with our full attention is to simply make fewer decisions.

Think of people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama, who limit their wardrobe choices to a few staple pieces, in order to save mental energy for important decisions.

Automate some easier decisions

  • Select from only a handful of lunch options that you rotate each week.
  • Use a shipping service to get common items like paper towels directly to your house.
  • Consider asking the wait staff for dinner recommendations so you don’t have to stare at an overwhelming menu.
  • Connect the apps you use and automatically move information between them.

Do More With Less

You might think you need as much information as possible before you’re able to make a choice, but too much research can hurt as much as it helps.

Gathering too much data and asking for too many opinions can lead to mental overload, analysis paralysis, and ultimately making the wrong choice.

Get An Outsider's Opinion

The power of the outsider comes from escaping the cognitive biases we all fall victim to. 

Main benefits:

  • Reducing your overconfidence about what you know.
  • Reducing the time it takes to make the decision.
  • Bringing light to our thinking errors.

Stay away from the ‘What if’ game

Psychologists call this phenomenon Counterfactual Thinking and it describes how we dwell on the outcomes of actions we didn’t actually take.

At a certain point, you need to trust you’ve put in the thought and work to make the right decision and just commit.

Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor

"The bottom line of decision making involves determining which potential decision will offer the best possible outcome based on what we know now."

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

The perfect nudge

Nudging involves gently coaxing someone into a decision or behavior. The successful nudge is one that results in the desired choice or behavior without the person realizing any external influenc...

Multiple systems of the mind

The mind seems to involve various simple systems throughout the body that are not always in agreement. Some systems are shortsighted, some care about relationships, and some prioritize the future of humanity.

We are not always aware of each mechanism. Sometimes we make decisions carefully and other times intuitively.

Nudging methods
  • Highlighting the decisions of others you consider influential. Reading “Most other guests staying at this hotel reuse towels,” may make you feel compelled to align your behavior with the majority.
  • “Injunctive norms” focus on how one should act in a particular situation. “Reusing towels meets a high standard for environmental responsibility,” highlights self-imposed standards. It involves a belief about right and wrong that consider abstract concepts.

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Default choices
Default choices

90% of your daily decisions happen automatically, many shaped by your environment. Thus, most decisions are a habit, not a deliberate choice.

To make smarter choices, design smarter...

Designing your life

Design your life like a choice architect:

  • Encourage smarter decisions you want to do by making them more accessible.
  • Add friction to habits you want to quit, making them less accessible, or remove the option to perform them completely.
Richard Thaler
Richard Thaler

“First, never underestimate the power of inertia. Second, that power can be harnessed.” 

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Desire or Fear

When you consider your decisions, are you motivated by desire or fear?

  • If you are motivated by desire, you will tend to see the positive in every situation. You...
Internal or External

When you consider making a decision, who do you turn to?

  • If you seek your point of reference internally, you will make the decision for yourself.
  • If you seek your point of reference externally, you will reach out to people for their feedback and validation.
Possibility or Necessity

What drives you in your work?

  • If you are a possibilities person, you focus on the possible choices in a situation. You are likely curious about the potential your job has for growth.
  • If you are a necessity person, you are content not to think outside the box. You prefer being shown what to do and enjoy knowing how to do your tasks well.

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Default options

Deciding is too much effort so we’re likely to just stick with the default or safer option if it’s already been chosen for us. 

When we get offered too many choices, the same...

Best decision making happens in the morning

This is when serotonin is at it’s natural high, which helps to calm our brain. Thus, we feel less risk averse and so we can face risks and make harder choices.

The part our bodies play in decision-making

If we’re feeling hunger, thirst or sexual desire, that can actually spill over into the decision areas of our brains, making us feel more desire for big rewards when we make choices. 

This can lead us to make higher-risk choices and to want for more.

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Pretend You're Advising a Friend

Think outside yourself a little and pretend like you're offering advice. 

The reasoning here is really simple: your short-term emotions get in the way of decisions, and that clouds yo...

Limit The Information You Take In

We usually believe that the more information you have, the better decisions we can make. However, at some point, we cross a threshold where we have too much information. That's when we start to fill in gaps and add weight to information that doesn't matter. 

This makes decision making way more difficult.

Reverse Your Assumptions

You're so prone to continue making the same kind of choices throughout your life that challenging yourself and doing the exact opposite is often the best way to get around this problem. 

The idea here is to confront your default behavior, step outside your comfort zone, and use your imagination to test some completely new ideas.

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Anchoring Bias

A common occurrence of heuristics in which we use an initial starting point as an anchor that is then adjusted to yield a final estimate or value.

Example: estimating the value of an o...

Being Too Optimistic

People who are told that the risk of something bad happening is lower than they expected, tend to adjust their predictions to match the new information. But they ignore the new information when the risk is higher.

Part of this overly optimistic outlook stems from our natural tendency to believe that bad things happen to other people, but not to us. 

You Often Make Poor Comparisons

Sometimes we make poor comparisons or the compared items are not representative or equal.

We often decide based on rapid comparisons without really thinking about our options. In order to avoid bad decisions, relying on logic and thoughtful examination of the options can sometimes be more important than relying on your immediate "gut reaction."

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The rational manner

When faced with a difficult dilemma, we should carefully assess our options and spend a few moments consciously deliberating the information. Then, we should choose the best fit for our preferences...

The emotional system
It's only in the last few years that researchers have demonstrated that the emotional system might excel at complex decisions, or those involving lots of variables.

This would suggest that the unconscious is better suited for difficult cognitive tasks than the conscious brain, that the very thought process we've long disregarded as irrational and impulsive might actually be "smarter" than reasoned deliberation.

How emotional decision-making works

Thinking in a rational manner is more effective when there are limited pieces of information.  However, those focused on feelings prove far better in complex conditions

The advantages of emotional decision-making could be undone by a subsequent bout of deliberation, which suggests that we shouldn't doubt a particularly strong instinct, at least when considering lots of information.

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Stress and smart choices

When we are in a stressful situation, we are prone to make poor choices.

Even a little stress can influence our decisions and make us slip up.

Stress motivation

Don't let stress motivate your decisions. When you're feeling the most stress, you'll also feel the biggest urge to make a poor choice.

If you do make a decision while you are under stress, ensure to re-evaluate it when you are calm.

De-stress regularly

When you're under regular stress, you'll never get a chance to make good, rational choices.

If you set aside 30 minutes each day to relax, you will be in a better state to make smart choices.

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Paradox of Choice
Paradox of Choice
It means that while increased choice allows us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction.
Overthinking lowers your performance

Our working memory is what allows us to focus on the information we need to get things done at the moment we’re doing them. It is also in limited supply. You can think of it like our brain’s computer memory. Once it’s used up, nothing more can fit in.

When you overanalyze a situation, the repetitive thoughts, anxiety, and self-doubt decrease the amount of working memory you have available to complete challenging tasks, causing your productivity to plummet.

Overthinking kills your creativity

A recent Stanford study suggests that over-thinking not only impedes our ability to perform cognitive tasks but keeps us from reaching our creative potential as well.

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For decision-making success:
  1. Book time to think: It’s counterintuitive, but making decisions faster requires consciously giving yourself time to make them.
  2. Define the decision: Before delving into de...
Fall back on your values

Having clear values that you try to live by can make tough decisions easier.

For example, maybe you know there’s a certain amount of time you want to spend with your family, or a baseline level of debt you’re willing to carry.

Talk it through

You don’t need to speak with someone who’s knowledgeable on the topic. 

You just need a good listener who’ll give you time and space to hear out your monologue and occasionally reflect back to you what you’ve shared.

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