Better Decisions – Part 3

In previous posts here and here, I wrote about ways to make better decisions. I received a lot of positive feedback on those posts, as well as requests for more information on the topic.

Obviously, it’s an expansive topic worthy of a complete book, and more. I’m not inclined to write one right now, or even recommend one. But I can try to cover more of the most important ground in at least one additional post.

So let’s have another go at improving your decision-making powers:

Develop Heuristics

As you probably know, heuristics are mental shortcuts we use to minimize cerebral effort. Many heuristics are helpful, while some are detrimental. But what’s important here is this: you can create your own mental shortcuts as part of the effort to improve the decisions you make in your own work and life.

For example, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barrack Obama have all reportedly made comments about why they wear pretty much the same outfit every day. It’s in order to conserve their decision-making energy for more important matters.

Warrant Buffett does much the same with his personal heuristic and advice about saying “no” to nearly every request for his time and attention. That leaves him free to concentrate on making better decisions about what’s most important to him, which tends to be investments.

You can get the same kind of advantages by formulating your own mental shortcuts for relatively unimportant or routine decisions. With your personal heuristics in place, you will be able to think longer and harder about your most important choices and opportunities.

Ride the Waves

Many of us – particularly men – grow up believing we operate nearly all of the time at a fairly consistent level of strength, intelligence, and rationality. The truth is these traits vary greatly throughout the days, weeks, months, and years of our lives. That’s one of the reasons why some of our decisions turn out better than others.

You can start making better decisions by becoming more aware of your personal ups and downs, and then by timing your decisions for the peaks rather than the valleys. For example, don’t make career or relationship decisions when you’re feeling blue. Save them for when you’re happy or at least optimistic. Don’t make financial or business decisions when your brain is sluggish or fatigued. Save them for the sharpest moments of your day or week.

Not that “biorhythms” are entirely determinative, but the notion that your emotional, physical, intellectual, and other strengths vary on a regular schedule may be of help to you here.

If you try, you’ll find it’s fairly easy to make a point of paying attention to variations in your specific abilities – regardless of whether they are cyclical or random. Then you can start holding off at least some of your key choices until the relevant capabilities are at a peak.

Go Slow

We’ve all heard the advice to “sleep on it” before we commit to important decisions, particularly when they carry long-term implications.

Sure, there are probably important advantages to the snoozing, such as giving your unconscious more time to process the decision without the minute-to-minute distractions of daily life. However, you’ll find any slowing down of your decision-making process moves it farther from the often-foolish realm of “impulsivity.”

For example, you will find yourself making better decisions if you go to lunch first, or just take the time to savor a cup of coffee or tea.   

It’s somewhat similar to driving a little slower on the street or highway: your brain immediately experiences less time pressure to process all the inputs and possibilities. As a result, perceiving the best way forward becomes both easier and more clear-cut.

Check Your History

It’s remarkable how much benefit you can obtain by looking back on your own work and life, and taking note not only of where you have been, but the path you followed enroute to and from those experiences.

In this context, reviewing your past decisions will help you recognize those you made well and those you made less well, or even poorly. You’ll also remember which ones turned out favorably, and which ones led to sub-optimal results.

There is much you can learn from all of these decisions.

Perhaps most significantly, past decisions will help you pinpoint both red flags and green flags you will do well to honor while making your present and future decisions.

Obviously, the quality of the decisions you make will have a major impact on the results you produce in both your work and your life. While some people may naturally have a knack for making better decisions, anyone can upgrade their ability to choose the right course of action in a great many situations. In fact, whether or not you try improving your decision-making ability is itself a decision you are now in a good position to make.

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