10 Ways to Avoid Making Bad Decisions
Every day, we are faced with an onslaught of decisions, which can range from the trivial to the more important life choices. Whether you are choosing what to make for dinner, or how to respond to conflict, the choices you make can have a long-lasting effect. When it comes to making decisions, most people try to make the right choices, but sometimes, regardless of our intentions, we make the wrong ones.
Although it may seem like we come to decisions in a split-second, some people rely on random occurrences or patterns to make choices. This method, known as the “Monte Carlo fallacy” involves the belief that if something happens more frequently in a period, it will happen less often in the future. Although this is a mistaken belief, many people base important decisions upon it, resulting in poor choices and unwanted results.
While some people call upon luck, others rely on their gut instincts, emotions, or past experiences when trying to make decisions. Whichever process you utilize in your decision-making process, many people find themselves looking back on their lives and wondering why they made the decisions that they did.
While you may still make some poor decisions along the way, the good news is, you can take steps to improve your decision-making skills. If you become aware of the things that can lead you down the wrong path, you can make more rational decisions. To help you in the process, here are 10 ways to avoid making bad decisions.
10Use a Step-by-Step Decision Making Process
On average, every individual will process thousands of decisions every day. There are major life decisions, such as where to go to college, and there are non-life altering decisions that occur all throughout the day. There are also additional decisions that we may not even be aware of as we are making them. With the amount of choices in front of us every day, it can be overwhelming and stressful. If you find yourself stressed or anxious at the prospect of too many decisions, there are some steps that you can take to simplify the process.
When it comes to making good decisions, it is a process that must be learned. With the five-step decision-making process, you can easily reach a good decision in a simple easy to learn method. The first step involves identifying your primary goal, or the decision you need to make. This is a critical step as it requires you to define the purpose and the nature of the decision you are making.
Once you have clearly identified the decision, the next step requires you to gather information in order to successfully weigh options. Seeking the opinions of other people is always a great source of information. Next, you need to consider the consequences of your final decision and how it could impact yourself and other people. After you have considered all the information, you will make your final decision. Lastly, you will perform an evaluation of your final decision, and the steps that you performed.
9Make Sure You Are Seeing the Entire Picture
At the opposite of good decisions made with clear judgment and common sense, lies decisions wrought with psychological bias. Psychological biases, which are also referred to as cognitive biases, lead people to make actions or decisions in an irrational manner.
A confirmation bias can occur when you are looking for information that supports your existing beliefs, thereby, rejecting anything that goes against what you believe. This bias is motivated by wishful thinking and leads to prejudice towards a preconceived notion or view. This bias can cause individuals only to see one side of a situation and leads to heuristics, or mental shortcuts.
Individuals who seek out confirmation, or evidence that confirms their expectations or beliefs, will make decisions based upon that bias, which can lead to negative outcomes. While it is a natural instinct to want to confirm our beliefs, seeking out data that confirms our ego is counterintuitive, and can lead to poor decisions.
While confirmation bias and other psychological biases are playing a negative role in the decision-making process, you can eliminate the impact they have in your life. By simply recognizing that the bias exists, you will open up the possibility of overcoming it.
After you have accepted the confirmation bias, you should set up some simple strategies, which will open your mind to new possibilities. Consider welcoming a new range of opportunities to counter the confirmation bias and imagine the possibilities of failure. Lastly, discuss your opinions with others and surround yourself with a diverse group of people
8Only Make Decisions When You Are Well Rested
When faced with a big decision, we have all taken a break to “sleep on it,” this phrase refers to putting the decision off until after a good night’s sleep. The effect of sleep on the brain has been a topic of interest and debate among scientists for hundreds of years. One thing is for certain, sleep deprivation is detrimental to our brain functions.
The first known study into the effects of sleep was published in 1896, and hundreds of studies have since followed. While the data and results vary among each focus group, a consensus has established that sleep loss impairs several important cognitive functions. The cognitive areas affected including attention, memory, emotional intelligence, and decision making.
When these important cognitive areas are impaired, and sleep deprivation sets in, the brain’s ability to process new information declines. Additionally, we lose short-term memory, are less inclined to deal with distractions, and all the elements necessary to process information. As a result, sleep deprivation has been linked to reckless and impulsive decisions. In fact, some of the worst environmental disasters have been linked to sleep deprivation.
Anytime the brain continues without rest; we increase the likelihood of making decisions with our prefrontal cortex, or reward center. Alternatively, a well-rested brain has more self-control and willpower, both of which play a huge role in the decision-making process.
When it comes to making a good or bad decision, always remember to face choices when you are rested, and consider “sleeping on” your biggest decisions.
7Remove Your Ego
When dealing with life decisions, there is a good chance that someone else has also faced the same choice at some point. This is a perfect opportunity to seek the advice of another person, which only boosts your chances of making a good decision, but often our egos get in the way. Ego-motivated behavior is not always obvious; sometimes it is shown on a small scale, which affects the way we make decisions.
The ego nurtures our physical, emotional, and social needs, and ensures that we are safe and secure in the world. The majority of the needs, which are met by the ego are stored in the subconscious, and if not met, they can derail our decision-making abilities. Since your ego is responsible for safety and security, when it is lacking, it will take over key decision-making roles. An example of this can be seen with a boss who takes credit for another’s ideas.
Luckily, you can run through a quick checklist, which will tell you if your ego is calling the shots, so you can break free from the egos effects and make sound decisions again. If you find yourself always wanting more, craving control, taking things too seriously, or becoming too competitive, then your ego might be taking over.
To reverse these effects, try focusing on generosity and live in the present. Additionally, stay content in the moment, and focus on courage, rather than fear. Although these are difficult concepts, this will greatly increase your chances of making successful decisions.
6Avoid Analysis Paralysis
The decisions we make can reflect our morals, and values, which is why many people weigh them with much consideration. Some people put so much thought into the process that it leads to something called “analysis paralysis.” This is when a decision, or situation is over analyzed to a point where a decisions or action is never taken, essentially paralyzing the outcome. The decision then becomes over-complicated, resulting in too many specific options, and a choice is never made.
When you are faced with huge life decisions, this does not mean that you shouldn’t give it the time and consideration that it deserves. You should, however, avoid counterproductive behavior when making decisions, especially when it comes to small everyday decisions. Over complicating decisions, or paralyzing an outcome out of fear can force other people to make decisions for you. This can result in negative, or unwanted outcomes.
There are some things you can do to avoid paralysis by analysis; the first involves finding the difference between big and small decisions. Ask yourself how important the decision is, and how important the outcome will be in the future. Once you have done this, only devote effort to the decisions you have determined to be important. Next, identify your objectives and set an end goal. After you have completed these, you should look at the decisions you are facing, and remove any negative options, to eliminate frustration.
With these tips, you will decrease the chances of analysis paralysis and increase your possibility of making successful decisions.
5Make a Pro-Con List
If you find yourself faced with a difficult decision or even a relatively simple one, and you just can’t reach a solution, a pros and cons list can help you sort through your options. You can avoid making bad decisions by carefully weighing the negative and positive aspects of your decision with this helpful tool. This decision-making strategy allows you to break down the situation from varying angles, to consider different solutions, and come to a reasonable solution.
Weighing the pros and cons can speed up the decision-making process and increase your understanding of the situation. With an increased understanding, you are more inclined to make good decisions. This strategy is commonly used in groups to help with team members who favor one idea over another.
You can easily implement this method to avoid making bad decisions in your own life. The first step involves writing your decision on a blank sheet of paper, then divide the paper in half and label one side “pro,” and the other, “con.” Once this is completed, you should list all the positive aspects of the decision in the pro column, and the negative aspects in the con column.
As you write your pros and cons, your decision might become glaringly obvious, if not, you may need to take the tool one step further. To do this, go through each pro and con and assign a rating score. When you are finished, add up your overall scores, and it will determine what you should decide.
4Take Steps to Overcome the Sunk-cost Bias
A sunk-cost is a cost that cannot be recovered, it is something that you have already spent money on. For instance, a gym membership, regardless of if you reap the benefits of the gym, you have already spent the money every month, and it cannot be returned. So, how does this affect our ability to make decisions? Many people get stuck in a thinking trap called the sunk-cost bias, which causes people to make irrational decisions because of the time, or money they already invested into an activity.
The sunk-cost dilemma is the reason why people watch movies they do not like or continue with bad business investments. This trap causes people to persist with bad decisions due to an irrational attachment to costs, which cannot be recovered. Big organizations and governments are infamous for falling into this trap.
This trap can affect individuals at a personal level and leads to a variety of bad decisions including following through on unfulfilling jobs or career prospects. An individual would find themselves doing that because they are attached to the time and energy they put into it. This same justification applies, with bad relationships, many people stay in bad relationships because of the sunk-cost bias.
The sunk-cost bias can also lead to bad everyday decisions like overeating and keeping useless clutter in your home. To avoid this trap and the bad decisions it causes, it is important to allow yourself to make mistakes and act like everything you own is in the present.
3Consider Your Emotions
Some research finds that our ability to make decisions is not purely cognitive, but that emotion also plays a big part in our ability to make rational decisions. If you think back on a time when you had to make a hard choice, you will probably recall your emotions getting in the way. Every time you think you have settled on a decision, a conflicting emotion will place you in a tug of war until you end up back where you started.
Our emotions can be helpful in determining how we feel towards some of the most important aspects of our lives. When we are guided by overwhelming emotions, however, it can cause us to make quick decisions and rational justifications. It can also distort facts and create biases and errors. According to several studies, even emotions unrelated to the decision at hand can influence the outcome.
Fortunately, you can take some steps to remove the emotion from your decision-making process. You can start by bringing in an objective outsider, this can be a colleague or friend, but it should be someone who has no emotional connection to the decision you are making. Next, consider implementing your own set of decision-making rules, these should be objective and will guide all your future decisions.
Lastly, you can implement “zero-based thinking,” which involves removing everything except hindsight from your thought process to gain clarity for decision-making. With these simple techniques, you can determine when your emotions are affecting your ability to make rational decisions.
2Listen to Your Body
When the body experiences stress, a physical reaction occurs resulting in a variety of symptoms including muscle tension, rapid breathing, and headaches. Anytime we feel threatened, our nervous system reacts by releasing the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones, not only prepare the body for emergency action, they cause the blood pressure to rise, raise your heart rate, and increase our senses.
Making decisions under stress can leave individuals flustered, distracted, and incapable of making any decisions at all. In many cases, when we are feeling stressed, or afraid, our decision-making ability is skewed and we will default to making risky, snap decisions.
Individuals who listen to their bodies find they are much more equipped to cope with stress, thus can make more sound decisions. When you find yourself feeling stressed, or anxious, you can employ some strategies to help you calm down; the first involves taking a simple time-out from whatever you are doing. This could include meditation, a nap, yoga, or just simply listening to music, whichever it is, the objective is to step away and clear your head. Next, always remember to eat well-balanced meals and limit your intake of alcohol. There are also breathing techniques you can try including inhaling and exhaling slowly, and counting to 10.
To avoid making bad decisions in the future, listen to your body and focus on taking calming breaths. The goal is to allow your body time to return to a calmed state before making any further major decisions.
1Make Your Most Important Decisions First
If you find yourself faced with several decisions throughout the day, make your most important decisions first. Many times, we will make unproductive and unhealthy decisions, even when we know better as a result of decision fatigue. This phenomenon has been cited as the reason why many judges do not give criminals a fair trial. At the end of the day, our brains get tired, and after so many decisions we get fatigued and need a break.
Many people think that our decisions are influenced by sheer willpower alone, but after researchers studied judicial rulings over a 10-month period, they found the opposite to be true. The choices made by judges in the morning, when they were refreshed were favorable and the percentages would drop at the end of the day. Once the judge took a lunch break, however, the odds were back in the defendant’s favor. This trend held strong regardless of the crimes committed, or the details of the cases.
What we can learn from this is that when we make decisions repeatedly, we become fatigued, and lose our objectivity. The researchers who performed this study likened this to performing a repetition in a gym and coined the phrase, “decision fatigue.”
You don’t have to be a judge to suffer from decision fatigue; it can happen on a particularly busy work day, or in the comfort of your own home. To avoid decision fatigue, plan your daily decisions the night before and tackle the most important ones first.
Whether you are making a major life decision, or a trivial one, the choices you make can greatly impact your life. Although it may seem like the decision itself is most important, how you make decisions can mean the difference between a good and a bad decision. The weight of a bad decision can weigh on your finances, personal life, and your career. Learning how to recognize a bad decision is a significant step in stopping it in its tracks.
For starters, if your gut is telling you something conclusively in regards to a specific situation, this is a good warning sign. While our instincts are not always right on track, it is a safe bet that there are good reasons for our apprehensions. Additionally, if you find yourself rushing through something or telling half-truths, you may be headed towards making the wrong decision.
If you do not see any of those signs, then you are probably making the right choice. There are however, characteristics to a good decision, which you can look for to ensure that you are well on your way.
Your decisions should have a purpose, which you can follow with a rational description of your process. The criteria used to reach the decision should be relevant and transparent. Finally, throughout the process, you should solicit the experience of others before reaching a conclusion.
With these simple strategies, and learning how to avoid making bad decisions, you will be well on your way to conquering the decisions in your life.