3 Ways To Lend Decisiveness To Your Decisions

What to do when you don’t know what to do.

3 Ways To Lend Decisiveness To Your Decisions

Humans are predictably irrational, readily sidetracked and constantly making decisions.


And the more we make decisions in a given day, the worse we get at it.

But the social sciences have helpfully lent some rigor to approach our innate irrationality: as best-in-the-game psych writer Christian Jarrett writes for 99U, we can use a few psychology hacks to lend more precision to our decisions. Onward to the incisions then.

1) Compare notes on life.

We’re pretty terrible at predicting how we’re going to feel later: Recall the pains that seeped from your heart before your first breakup, when you thought you’d have to spend the rest of your life weeping ‘neath a willow rather than moving on. Psychologists call this affective forecasting.

We tend to trust our instincts–whatever that means–about the trajectory we’re trying to predict rather than just talking to folks that have done the same thing. As Jarrett explains, instead of straining our brains over WHAT COULD BE, we’d be better off talking to someone who has done it: If you’re thinking of moving to San Francisco, ask someone who lives there. If you’re thinking about switching careers, talk to someone who does that work and call it non-hubristic career planning.

And if you’re comparing notes in this way, learn to take good ones.

2) Make–and counter–your own argument

If you don’t have a committee following you around all day to help you sort through your decisions, Jarrett says so “summon the crowd within”; that is, articulate the multiple perspectives of a decision to yourself. If you want to sound fancy, you can call it dialectical bootstrapping.


Jimmy Fallon, skilled dialectician.

And it goes a little something like this, Jarrett says:

Let’s say you need to decide how many orders to make for a product used in your work. Ask yourself once and write down your answer. Now assume this first estimate was wrong and think about the reasons this might be. In other words, put yourself in the shoes of someone inclined to disagree with you. Take these two results and walk through the logic for each. The combined insight gained can help you form a better-informed decision.

3) Map it out.

After the fact, we tend to think that we were right all along: Such is the nature of hindsight bias, where people “view events as more predictable than they really are. After an event, people often believe that they knew the outcome of the event before it actually happened.”

But life is a complex, weird thing, and we have to make complex, weird decisions, often with a range of both obvious and opaque inputs. Which is why, if we’re going to get better at deciding amid all this mess, we need to name the factors that we’re making a decision on, creating a record of our own idiosyncratic decision-making methodology–creating a handy little map, if you would.

Investment strategist Michael J. Mauboussin ferrets out the cranial-cartographic factors:

Whenever you’re making a consequential decision . . . just take a moment to think, write down what you expect to happen, why you expect it to happen and then actually, and this is optional, but probably a great idea, write down how you feel about the situation, both physically and even emotionally. Just how do you feel?

By following this practice, the thinking goes, you’ll get a little more acquainted with the unfamiliar neighborhoods of your mental map. And learn to navigate our decisions a little better.


Hat tip: 99U

[Image: Flickr user Sunshinecity]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.