Q: What activity do you do the most each day which is only exceeded by breathing?
A: Make Decisions!
It is estimated that the average person makes over 35,000 decisions a day. Most are automatic and incidental but there are probably at least several dozen that could be important over the long term.
You will make thousands of decisions today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, ad infinitum. You would think that something you do this often would be as important as anything you might do on any given day, but it’s generally not, is it? I’ll bet you hardly even think about the decisions you make most of the time. That’s OK, you’re in good company. Most people don’t even give a second thought about the decisions they make, even though they arguably are the one thing that determines whether you are happy or sad, rich or poor or live a fulfilling and successful life or not.
By now you might be asking, “What’s the RIGHT WAY to make a decision?” (drum roll please!) THERE’S NOT ONE RIGHT WAY! Decision-Making methods and processes are just as numerous as paparazzi around a Kardashian! There isn’t one right way but there are many wrong ways. Let’s start with our worst practices and work backwards to see if we can identify some “Best Practices” that can help you with your next decision.
There are as many types of decision methods as there are decision-makers. Here are just a few. See if you spot yourself in one of them!
- “Gut-Instinct” – this is seldom as good as the person that makes decisions this way thinks it is. While there is certainly a place for human intuition, I wouldn’t want to make a life or death decision using this method. Far too many people do and they generally make the evening news. Do you really want what’s in your gut to make a decision for you? I didn’t think so!
- “Coin-Flip” – Statistically, a flip of the coin produces a 50% probability over time. However, it can also provide less or more than 50% on any particular set of flips. But the reliability of it coming up heads when you need it to – at the “decision-point” which is a finite moment in time – is not enough to base a decision of any importance on. Also, it is a “Binary” decision that contains only two options. “A” or “B”. In decision-making, only having two options to choose from is likely not going to provide the outcome you are seeking. Three is the minimum number of options that you should seek and more, within reason, is better. This method is the kissing-cousin to that “Gut-Instinct” dude.
- “Scarlett O’Hara” – As already noted, procrastination taken to the extreme results in poor outcomes. However, there are times when a little procrastination is a good thing! IF (notice the emphasis), you have a time frame to make a decision in that has a little wiggle-room, waiting 24 hours or even more, is generally a wise move. This gives all of the information, advice and your risk/reward analysis, to ruminate and simmer so that emotion can be drained out of the process. Emotion, while sometimes a motivator, often clouds a reasoned decision and creates less than optimum outcomes.
- “Well-Diggers” – Yes, most people that dig wells find themselves in a hole. Seriously. Researching a decision is a smart thing to do. It is encouraged! However, there is a “sweet-spot” in acquiring decision options and facts that beyond which, decisions get much harder to make. “Paralysis by Analysis” is the term most often used to describe a person that can’t make a decision because they’ve identified too many options. They can’t see the forest for the trees – OK, I taken the hint. No more metaphors! You get the idea.
- “Social-Media” – The “Wisdom of the Crowd” is often touted as the magic new method for doing about anything these days. And while it is a good idea to get some widely divergent thinking about your decision from others, abdicating your role as King or Queen of your life to a bunch of nameless minions is not the best way to make decisions, particularly personal ones that need more nuanced replies than your probably comfortable sharing the information necessary to who knows who in who knows where.
The 5 Simple Steps to a Better Decision
“In all things, moderation!” This wisdom has many fathers including the Bible. It is generally a true statement and one we can use to take the “good parts” from each of the decision personas we’ve identified above and combine them in a decision-making method we call, “The 5 Simple Steps to a Better Decision“. It goes like this:
- OPEN YOUR MIND! – Watch out for “BIAS“! This will gum up the works for sure! The way to remove bias from your decision process is to (A): OPEN YOUR MIND! and (B): Be HONEST WITH YOURSELF! – If you can’t be really, painfully, truthfully honest with yourself, you’re going to introduce your biases into the equation which will skew the decision, and it’s outcomes, from the get-go. DO NOT go to step two until you can get past this point. If you don’t, why do it? You’ve already made the decision in part before finishing the entire process!
- CLIMB YOUR LADDER! – Imagine that the top of your head flips open and out comes a ladder that extends upwards into space! The “ladder” is how you gain the second part of your decision process – “PERSPECTIVE“! You have to climb your ladder, pull out your binoculars, and take a good 360 degree look around at all of the potential factors that might impact your decision for the worse. As you now have this incredibly open mind and are filling it with all of the facts, figures and other stuff that is generally known as “INFORMATION”, you will be ready to proceed to the next step, prepared like a Boy Scout for anything that comes your way!
- OPEN YOUR EARS! (AND CLOSE YOUR MOUTH!) – My mother told me, “the reason God gave you two ears and one mouth is so you can listen twice as much as you talk!” She was right. Ask someone you admire or trust for their advice or experience in making your decisions like yours. Then SHUT UP and LISTEN! You don’t have to agree. You just have to listen and be grateful! Now you probably have some more information that you didn’t have before, perhaps some wisdom and a different way of looking at things. These are good things! You are now ready to proceed to step 4.
- ON THE OTHER HAND! This implies the “ONE HAND” in which you hold one or more possible decision cases that you’re pondering. And in the “OTHER HAND”, you have several more countering options to your one hand. You need to have two hands full of NON-BIASED, PERSPECTIVE-LADEN, ADVICE & WISDOM with THREE OR MORE OPTIONS before you go to step 5.
- TAKE YOUR TIME! – Go ahead. Hit “Reply All” when you email your spouse about how stupid your boss is because you were mad and wouldn’t take a minute to make sure you weren’t sending it to your colleagues including your boss! Now do you wish you’d waited to make that decision? Yeah, I know. Been there, done that… The final best practice is to “WAIT 24 or MORE” before making your final decision, if your time constraints allow it. Not only will cooler heads prevail, you’ll probably find some additional information or a changed situation that can either help you make a better decision or avoid a really bad one. Time really is on your side.
There you have it! While this simple method isn’t a panacea for making absolutely perfect decisions every time. It should help you make better decisions as a rule. In fact, if you can count to 5 without pulling your shoes and socks off, you can make better decisions. Give it a go and let us know!
Here’s the method in pictures in case you need them.