Looking back on your choices last year, you may have made some good decisions and some bad ones. As you take on 2011, here are our favourite methods to aid in better decision making.
Illustration by Rubens LP
Use Both Emotion And Logic
While your instincts need to be developed and aren't terribly useful for decision-making purposes right out of the gate, if you've made similar decisions in the past your gut probably knows what's best. Even though emotion-based decisions can often lead to problems, they're still a necessary part of the process. For example, fear can be used to help us understand when something might be a bad idea. This may seem obvious, but we have a tendency to either ignore our emotions or follow them completely. Hitting the snooze button in the morning is never really a good idea, or one logic would approve of, but we do it anyway because we want to. Alternatively, we'll sometimes agree to do something we feel we're going to hate but do it because we consider it an obligation or beneficial to our future. Both of these examples are problematic because the first ignores logic and the second ignore emotion. You need to consider both for a good decision, and then you can rely on your properly-tuned gut instincts for similar decisions in the future.
Schedule Your Important Decisions
Most of the time you can use your instincts for the usual decisions you need to make every day, but for the few you consider very important you need to set aside some decision-making time. For some, the best time is the afternoon when things have died down a bit. Others may find it best to schedule decisions in the morning because they're more awake and aware. Think about your usual day and what factors need to be present for you to make good decisions, then schedule the necessary time every day to think and choose. While you can't really ever know, for certain, how a decision will pan out, you can give yourself the optimal environment and state of mind to make the best choice you're capable of making.
When You Ask For Advice, Avoid Your Own Bias
Asking for advice on an important decision can be helpful, but it can also be dangerous. When you ask someone for their opinion on a decision you cannot give them all the information you're working with. You'll generally offer up what you think is important, but you could potentially leave out something that could change their opinion entirely. This is not to say you shouldn't ask others for advice, however. Nobody's perfect and letting others weigh in can be very helpful, especially if you're already pretty sure of your decision and your confirmation bias may be at play.
When you ask for advice, try to avoid your own bias. For example, if you're having trouble deciding who to hire for a particular job, be careful what you say when you ask a coworker for their opinion. Avoid describing the person yourself because your bias may colour the information you give. Instead, give your coworker the same information you have (or as much of it as you can). If that's a little much, you can ask simple questions instead, such as "do you think this job would be better suited for an introverted or extroverted person?" These sorts of questions can help you confirm if what you think is the best way to go.
Any Decision Is Better Than No Decision
Ultimately, you're not living your life or moving forward when you sit and think about things endlessly. The only thing worse than making a wrong decision is not making any decision at all. In fact, as psychologist Dan Gilbert points out, we're much happier when we decide regardless of the outcome. This is because our minds are capable of synthesizing happiness. If we made a bad decision, we're capable of creating a "fake" happiness that, to us, is just as good as the real thing. If you can decide which laptop to buy or what to wear on a date, ultimately you'll find a way to be just as happy with whatever decision you make.
Got any great tips for making better decisions? Let's hear 'em in the comments!