Do the simplest decisions bring you out in a cold sweat?
For example, you may be paralysed by indecision when ordering at a restaurant or overwhelmed when asked by friends where to meet.
As a chronic indecisive, it’s important to know what decisions are and how you can befriend them.
In this guide, we’ll explore the topic, along with ways to make better choices.
What is Decision Making?
Decision making is the cognitive process used to make a selection from various potential courses of action.
And in academic lingo:
“The learned habitual response pattern exhibited by an individual when confronted with a decision situation.” Scott and Bruce, 1995
According to experts, it’s not a personality trait, but a habit based reaction, to react in a certain way in a specific context.
That’s good. It means if we’re poor decision makers, we can change.
There is a suggestion that your values affect your decision making and choices, and changes in one may lead to changes in the other.
You’ll see how this can help improve your decision making below…
The Science Behind Decision Making
Decision making is highly linked with emotion.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Antonio Damasio, demonstrated how damage to the emotion producing area of the brain causes indecision paralysis with even the most basic choices.
Just look at savvy marketers, who tout their wares with benefits rather than features.
They tap into your emotions and encourage you to make the decision to buy.
Damasio also showed that intuition, derived from emotional memories, is involved heavily in the process…
But that it’s concealed from conscious awareness.
So, let’s look at the common types of decision making…
Types of Decision Making
According to Myers Briggs, your decision-making style depends on how you assess information and perceive the world around you, in what’s called your cognitive style.
So let’s check them out…
This is one of the more common types of decision maker.
It involves a logical, sequential model of thought. You list the alternatives to decide on the best option.
It’s a method which favours objectivity over insight.
You’re adept at assessing the pros and cons of the situation, although it’s a model which assumes all the information is readily available.
It’s mainly performed by the logical, left side of the brain…
Which likes structure, order and reason.
This is where you dispense with the logical rationale and decide to use intuition.
You know…the gut feeling, where it either feels right or it doesn’t.
These moments appear common after a period of intense concentration on a decision…
Which may be the result of alternating between focused and diffuse thinking.
You subconscious kicks in and magically provides an answer.
It’s a type of decision making that may be made in the absence of important information…
Or be susceptible to emotional corruption.
You have to consult other people before you make an important decision.
It may be regarded as a diplomatic choice.
Or a way to gather facts that may contribute to the decision.
It could also be a decision avoidance technique; a way of going with the flow to absolve yourself of the responsibility and outcome of the decision.
As the name implies, you avoid making a decision until the pressure is really on.
It functions a little like procrastination in this way and has been linked to social anxiety disorder.
In this way, it’s linked to the dependent decision-making style outlined above.
This is characterised by a sense of immediacy and desire to make a decision as quickly as possible.
Even if the facts aren’t available, spontaneous decision makers frequently pull the trigger.
Although the decision may be made in haste, often these decision makers don’t regret their choices…
Possibly because they’re not as conscious during the decision making process.
Decision Support Systems
If you’re paranoid like me, this is where you tell everyone that machines will one day take over the world.
Decision support systems rely on computers to crunch information and provide alternative options.
With more variables to consider, especially in an organisational setting, these algorithms can be useful.
However, the computer is only as good as the information it’s fed…
So you still need a human calling the shots.
Recognition Primed Decision Making
This is a combination of rational and intuitive decision making and relies on pattern recognition.
Experts suggest that we absorb information from our environment, before playing the scenario out in a mental picture.
If it goes to plan, we’re more likely to select that option. If not, we choose another and rehearse that…
It’s thought that this is one of the more effective approaches to decision making and is a technique which has been adopted by the military.
As you gain more experience, you develop improved pattern recognition and can make more effective choices.
Other Types of Choices and Decision Makers
Rational and autocratic style of decision making, where you use your own knowledge, skills and judgement to choose the best option.
Often these decision makers are quick to act, even though they may not possess all the necessary information.
They think mostly about the short-term benefit as opposed to long-term gain.
Rarely do you have all the information to make a reasoned decision and often you don’t seek outside help.
The conceptual method employs a more artistic, creative approach to decision making.
It’s focused more on long-term results and the big picture.
The problem that’s presented may be complex or uncertain, in which case this technique works well.
Often a conceptual thinker brainstorms lots of alternatives and is a bigger risk taker.
The analytical decision maker is innovative and likes to crunch a large amount of data when making choices.
Therefore this method works well with complex problems.
An analytical problem likes to be very involved and hands on the process, assessing the decision through observation and data derived facts.
Because of that, it can be a slow process.
The behavioural decision maker works well in team situations.
You’re often a persuasive talker and good at aligning the team’s beliefs with your own.
You’re adept a conflict resolution and can negotiate decisions that suit everyone.
4 Cognitive Biases That Affect Decision Making
Self Serving Bias:
We attribute any success to ourselves and blame any failure on an external situation.
If we charm people, we think we have a charming personality. If we get rejected, it’s because they’re crazy.
Bias protects our self-esteem, but it can also prevent us learning from past events, which could aid decision making in the future.
Research shows that when you’re with good friends, self-serving bias disappears.
This bias states that if something is easier to understand, it’s more easily believed.
If something sounds good, people have more confidence in it and believe it to be true.
This includes how simple ideas are to understand and even if words sound catchy or rhyme.
Sunk Cost Fallacy:
Aversion to loss means that you continue with a task, idea or project even when it’s a lost cause.
You worry about the money or time you’ve invested.
Take a bad relationship for example. You’re unwilling to break up with your partner because you’ve spent so long together.
However, by persisting with the situation, you invest more resources…
This type of cognitive bias can often affect decision making negatively.
You only consider evidence that confirms your existing beliefs.
The way a potential decision is framed can change your approach to the problem, depending on the evidence you select to support your choice.
To counter confirmation bias, you must actively consider contradictory evidence.
If you think something’s a good choice, first seek out contradictory information.
For example, if you’re wondering whether to try homoeopathy and believe in it as a treatment…
Seek contradictory information before making a final choice.
I highly recommend you read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.
Other Factors That Prevent Effective Decision Making
– Not enough information
– Too much information
– Too many people
– Vested interests
– Emotional attachment
How to Make Better Choices
Your personal values affect your decision making.
Consider your values when weighing your options and you can improve the choices you make…check out the video below…
You only hit around 50% of your values with your decision making during a day. That declines as the decisions become more complicated.
Consider the following in relation to your values:
– Goals and objectives
– Available options
– Potential outcomes and consequences
– Compromises – what compromises are you willing/unwilling to make
Before applying this formula, consider how important it is to get the decision right.
After all, most daily decisions aren’t life or death.
If you’re making a big decision, consider your personal values in the decision making process.
Often it seems that people who blindly make decisions without any considerations are fairly happy because they don’t consider the consequences. That’s fine for most small decisions.
It’s easy to forget about the decisions you’ve made, but if you monitor their outcomes, you can improve your choices in the future.
You might even notice subtle changes in your values, pattern recognition, or decision style.
My final recommendation for improved decision making would be meditation.
Research shows that by meditating for only 15 minutes a day, you’re better able to assess the information before you to make more informed choices.