The Secret to Effective Decision-Making

April 28, 2016

 

The secret to effective decision-making is the answer to the question, “what is best moving forward?” Sound obvious? The problem is the human mind is not hard wired to think this way.

 

Most of our decision-making is done on autopilot, which is full of biases and emotional baggage. Even when we engage our analytical cognitive system our “decision tree” is filled with useless branches. Here’s a more analytical way to put it: Our decision-making process is like an equation filled with variables. Unfortunately, our brains add variables that don’t belong in the equation. These misattributed variables create irrelevant noise, which clouds our decision-making ability.

 

In order to make the best decision moving forward, we must only focus on the information that is critical to making a sound decision. All other inputs are a distraction.

 

Here are just a few culprits:

 

Justification. Our human thought process is to decide, then justify. Studies have shown that even the smartest people with the “best” education follow this cognitive methodology. Why? Because that is how we are wired to think. Unfortunately, justification heavily relies on stereotyping and snap judgments. Our unconscious mind drives most of our decision-making and it is filled with biases.

 

When you find yourself listing all of the data points (benefits and attributes) that support a decision, recognize that you are justifying and remove the non-essential factors. Distill the decision down to the one or two most important factors. This is how to filter out the noise.

 

Familiarity. We gravitate to the familiar. This is a mental shortcut and a form of risk aversion. Familiarity is the seed of inflexibility, which is the biggest deterrent to growth and innovation. “We have always done it that way” is a poor justification for continuing to do anything. Do you remember Einstein’s definition of insanity?

 

Doubling Down. This is the mistake of throwing good money after bad. Why do we do it? It is difficult for us to let go of both material possessions and ideas. Most of us feel a sense of loss with much greater intensity than the joy of gain—even when the net gain or loss is equal. One theory is we inherited this loss aversion. Loss of any basic need (food, water, shelter) to our not to too distant ancestors was catastrophic. Unfortunately, this thinking drives us to double down on existing ideas, processes, tools and even people, who may no longer be able to help us achieve our goals. We hold on… even when things fail to work like they should.

 

The economic concept for loss aversion is the sunk cost, which is the cost of something that has already been levied and cannot be regained. The sunk cost, whether financial or emotional, should be left out of the decision-making equation.

 

The lesson is this: the past is gone. Effective decision-making answers the question “what steps are necessary to create the future we desire?” Removing all the noise in our cognitive system that clouds our judgment is the key to answering this question.

 

So, what’s best moving forward? Forward thinking.

Learn more about the science of decision making in my book, PERSUADED. Get it now on Amazon.

 

 

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