How to Improve Your Decision Making Skills [It’s easier than you think]

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Three Steps to Improving Your Decision Making Skills

Do you want to improve your chances of reaching personal or professional goals? Are you ready to decrease your stress levels and reduce anxiety?  One answer lies in improving your decision-making skills.  

It's not only a simple process, it's one you can begin working towards right now! 

SMALL CHOICES, MADE ON A CONSISTENT BASIS, HAVE GIANT CONSEQUENCES!

The first and most important step is being mindful. 

The average adult makes thousands of choices every single day.  Most of the choices are so automatic we don't even realize we're making them. 

By the time we reach adulthood, we have accumulated a large store of premade decisions that allow us to put most of our daily choices on autopilot. 

But many of these decisions, even small ones, can result in negative consequences. 

In fact, the overall quality of our life is shaped by the collection of decisions we make on a daily basis. We make more than 200 daily decisions about food alone.

Here's a seemingly simple example of how a tiny choice packs powerful consequences: 

stack of cookiesIt's 2 p.m. and you have the post-lunch munchies.  You can grab an apple or a pastry.  That's a relatively insignificant choice on an occasional basis.

But what happens when you make this simple decision on a consistent basis. 

If you choose the pastry the cumulative outcome is ultimately going to be a negative impact on your health, weight, and mood.  The future choices presented will be centered around those negative outcomes. 

If you choose the apple, you're not only avoiding those negative outcomes, you are also opening up the door to the type of positive choices you will have if you are at your optimal health, weight, and mood. 

Beng mindful of our choices includes being aware of the environmental influences on our decision-making abilities.  Three important environmental factors include:

  • Temperature: our decision-making skills may be temporarily impaired by a change in temperature. 

A temperature shift of even a few degrees requires our body to use energy, in the form of glucose, to regulate our body temperature.  While we are using our stored glucose to warm up or cool down, we have less available for cognitive functions such as thinking and memory.  Being in an environment where the temperature is comfortable (for most folks that's around 72 degrees) will improve our decision making ability.

  • Music: our decision-making skills may be enhanced by background music.

Do you like classical music? Rock? Hip Hop or Country?   The genre doesn't matter.  Research has shown that listening to music with an up beat tempo can boost both alertness and mood.  This boost can enhance your decision-making skills.

  • Time of Day:  decisions made later in the day may be negatively influenced by mental fatigue.

All the tiny, even inconsequential, decisions we make over the course of the day have a cumulative, depleting effect on our cognitive ability.  As the day goes on, we have a decreasing amount of mental energy to assign to our decision-making process. Our will-power is on the decline and we are more likely to make impulsive decisions or make an important choice while in auto-pilot.

illustrated question marks

 Be mindful of small choices and environmental influences to prevent an accumulation of bad decisions

 

Consistently making poor choices limits future options.

Consistently making good choices exponentially expands future options.

 

 

The second step is understanding your decision-making style. 

Every style has it's positive and negative aspects - depending on the situation.  The problem is that we too often cling to a decision-making style we are familiar with - even when it doesn't suit the situation.   

It's like using a hammer for a nail..and a screw...and a bolt - simply because we are only comfortable using the hammer.  

By examining your primary decision-making style and understanding when it benefits you, and when it does not, you can begin making better choices.

IDENTIFYING YOUR DECISION-MAKING STYLE

So, what's your decision-making style?  Not sure?  Try this fun exercise

Three friends are meeting for lunch:

  • One friend is ready to order after a brief glance at the menu.  
  • The second friend spends time reading the entire menu and quizzes the waitperson in detail about food preparation and ingredients.  
  • The third friend is reluctant to order before knowing what everyone else is having. This diner wants an appetizer, a drink or a dessert - but only if "everyone else" is having one too.

Which friend are you most likely to be?   Congratulations, you've identified your decision-making style!

Your predominate style is that of a Snapper, a Flipper or a Grouper. 

Of course, there's a fancier term for each style...but I bet you'll remember these!

 A Snapper easily makes on-the-spot decisions, does not get bogged down by small details, does not seek (and often disregards) outside input and is comfortable making unpopular choices. 

Flippers seldom make quick decisions, is only comfortable after conducting a detailed analysis of all possible outcomes and may change his/her mind based on new information.

Groupers are reluctant to make decisions, even personal ones, without first seeking approval or reaching a group consensus.

The third step is matching the decision making style to the situation

Because little time is wasted on overthinking simple situations, being a snapper is an incredibly efficient decision style under the following circumstances:

 

  • the choice MUST be made in a short time frame
  • the choice is relatively inconsequential
  • the choice does not significantly affect others
  • the choice occurs infrequently

If this is your "go-to" style of decision making you may shine in a professional leadership role and are excellent in emergencies.

On the negative side, consistently making snap decisions means that small, but crucial, details can be overlooked. 

If your quick decisions frequently lead to negative situations that could have been avoided, you can quickly lose the confidence of others and find it difficult to garner support and trust in the future.  Even if you have reached a decision, take a moment, take a step back and take a closer look at the other options, including viewing things from the perspective of others who may be impacted by your decision.  Remember, there is a fine line between making quick decisions and acting impulsively.

 

A flipper evaluates situations from multiple angles, seeing pitfalls AND positives that others miss.  This style is not only thorough but insightful and is best used when

  • the choice does not have an immediate deadline
  • the choice made will have long-term effects
  • the choice may be a small one, but occurs frequently enough that the outcome is cumulative

If this is your most often used style you may be excellent at long-term planning, management, and risk reduction.

On the negative side, when this approach is used in the wrong situation, it can lead to procrastination in the guise of preparation and added stress as deadlines approach without a decisive plan in place.

If you are facing a choice where the outcome relies on a timely response, this style can mean missed opportunities or diminished returns.

One thing to keep in mind is that for every choice you face today, you have probably faced a similar situation in the past.  Use the knowledge you gained from previous experience to guide you in reaching a timely decision.  In other words, don't feel the need to reinvent the wheel with every decision.

Groupers may seem indecisive, but they actually do know what decision they want to make - they simply want others to approve of that choice.  This is an excellent approach when group co-operation is needed to achieve a shared goal.  It may also be the optimal style when

  • there is no need to reach an immediate decision
  • the choice being made will have a significant impact on others, especially if that impact is negative
  • group cooperation is needed to reach a shared goal

If you this is your preferred style, you probably have great interpersonal skills. In the right situation, you can use these skills to help achieve your own goals while gaining the support of others.

The downside to using this style indiscriminately is that you never fully develop, or learn to trust your own gut instinct.

We can't rely solely on the approval of others to inform our decisions.  The crowd is not always going to be headed in the direction we want, or need, to go.

We start making better decisions as soon as we:

  1. become mindful of our actions. That means taking it off auto-pilot and recognizing that almost every single thing we do involves making a choice
  2. ask ourselves relevant questions:  Is this a choice I make frequently? Is this a decision I need to make immediately? Will my decision impact anyone else?
  3. deliberately select the decision-making style that best suits the situation

The reality is that sometimes we will all make "the wrong" choice.  But, by being mindful of our choices and using the best decision-making style for the situation, we can minimize the times we make poor choices and increase the times we make better choices.

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3 steps to making better decisions

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