Three Keys to (Much) Better Decisions
How many decisions does a person make a day? Some say thousands if all things are considered. According to researchers at Cornell people make an average of 227 decisions per day about food alone. According to researchers every decision we make potentially affects the next; and that the accumulative process of making decisions progressively depletes the integrity of the process. This explains why when we are under stress we tend to react rather than consider options. It is suggested the body actually experiences “decision fatigue.” Under situations of “decision management” the brain is thought to function automatically causing us to make automatic decisions based on prior orientation. This may explain why we gravitate to the same foods and beverages, and find ourselves in the same places. This lends itself to the question – if you want to change for the better what is the process of making better decisions?
According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) the first step in the process is self-awareness. One has to recognize they have automated their actions to change them. So rather than being reactive, we need to become proactive. Reactive though is a tendency and occurs when someone or something pushes our instinct button – triggering the inherent fight or flight response. Certainly if a car is heading toward you respond instinctively, but if the choice for your future is pending on a decision it would be prudent to function in a proactive manner. This would seem to also be innate to humans, but it is not. If it was, we would not need prisons, diet books, or minimum wage jobs. It is unlikely anyone sat down and weighed all the options and decided on going to prison or achieving their minimum potential. But clearly it happens, suggesting that when we move through life’s decisions without thinking about the outcome, we are not likely providing ourselves with our best chance for success. Therefore it would seem important to take control of the decision process.
Consider this situation. A member comes to you irate about a trainer, suggesting that he has over billed his services and rudely suggested it was “my fault”. A reactive decision would be to apologize for the actions and suggest that the trainer will be dealt with accordingly. The proactive response would be to suggest that you are sorry that they “feel that way” and you will “look into it”. The latter, provides for time to investigate the situation and places no blame on anyone at the time of the confrontation but addresses the members concern. In the reactive situation you have already accepted blame and responsibility for the problem – but after inquiring with the trainer you find out the member is somewhat of an ongoing problem, in the last month she has scheduled four times and not showed up for them without contacting the trainer. The member has a signed contract stating that she is responsible for “no show” sessions if not providing 24 hour notice. You also find out the trainer has forgiven the client and did not bill her on two of the four sessions. In this case the fault clearly lies on the member and in a proactive response can be addressed appropriately. The decision that sparked the outcome though occurred at the initial contact.
To make good decisions one has to engage the process. There are a couple of elements that need to be considered for the right decision to surface.
- Be educated in the facts surrounding the decision – to avoid automated responses and poor decisions it is important to gain as much information about the situation as necessary to attain the best outcome. If you are on a diet, for instance and you enter a restaurant – it would help to know the nutritional facts before ordering. You find yourself at a TGI Fridays and look to save some calories – you order the Chicken and Shrimp Skillet assuming it is the healthy choice – but without the facts you actually selected a food choice that has more than 300 kcal more than the half rack of ribs (850 kcal/ 52 g fat) and twice the fat. The seemingly healthier chicken/shrimp skillet has over 1100 calories and 72 grams of fat. In some cases it helps to rely on other perspectives to better address the decision process. Sometime other people have experienced the same decision quandary and know the outcomes - here it helps to rely on prior evidence in the decision making process. It has been said that hind-sight is 20/20 so if you have not had the experience yourself it may be beneficial to talk to someone who has and can provide the experience.
- Take out the potential for a stress response - respond based on fact not emotion. To improve the likelihood of a good decision remove the stressful component of the situation. This begins with self- awareness and recognizing a stressful decision process. Elements of time, other environmental factors, peer influences all affect the decision making process. The more the process is controlled the more likely the outcome will be positive. Part of this is due to the fact that stress affects primitive action and according to HBR the “primitive parts of our brains aren’t wired to take the future into consideration, and tend to seek out instead the most immediate source of gratification, or the route to the least pain and discomfort.” Cultivating the appropriate perspective is an important step. I will stop at this fast food restaurant for lunch because I am in a hurry – I’ll workout harder later. This though only works when the history of this trend ends in the facts of the decision process. How many times have you made an unhealthy decision and thought – “I’ll offset it with something healthy later”? If there is a consistent track record then the decision may make sense but if every time an unhealthy balancing act tilts to the unhealthy it is not an accurate decision perspective. The better perspective would be to fulfill the answer to this question: Which choice is going to add the greatest value and serve me best over time?
- Know what the consequences of the decision are before making it. A bad decision is anyone with negative consequences when compared to other possible outcomes. Going to the bar instead of the gym is more likely to be negative than positive. Not studying for a test because of a music concert could be perceived the same way. In most cases the positive decision requires time, effort, sacrifice and even discomfort, whereas bad decision usually function with our reward system. Drink several beers to blow off stress will make you feel better temporarily, but a workout will have a more positive outcome on both the stress and your health – make a decision.
All free- lives are about decisions. A while many people wish they were not as fat, had a better job, found relationships more fulfilling, had more friends, and experienced more of life they, at some level, must realize many of the factors affecting their lives was based on their decisions. Once again, you can begin by asking yourself the simple question: Which choice is going to add the greatest value and serve me best over time? The answer is not selfish as your actually finding out who you really want to be. The answer will embody you r values, beliefs and your desires. Since as an adult we have the choice about how to behave the hard part is always making the right decision.