The good, bad and ugly of decision making

A recent study shows that people weigh risk and reward differently when they’re stressed. It sounds a little counterintuitive; but making decisions when you’re stressed or tired results in being more optimistic. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

Make the right decision

We’d expect that when we’re stressed, we’d steer our thoughts more towards the negative, but in fact, we’re more likely to anticipate a positive outcome. This means that we’re not taking a balanced approach when making a decision, and we zone out any negativity that we should otherwise be taking into account.

Put it this way, if you’re stressed about money, for example, you might be more inclined to accept a job that’s not a good fit for you. You decide that the salary is better, the company seems more stable, however you discount the additional commute time, or ignore the lack of healthcare benefits.

Stress and pressure, just creates more stress and pressure. The more you have, the less you’re capable of making reasonable, well-rounded, decisions. We all know that, right?

Sleep on it

Typically our best decisions arrive from some deep thinking, consideration of options, and understanding the pros and cons. By giving ourselves time to process all the necessary information, and not rushing, we end up with better results.

Relax! Take it easy! It never hurts to take time out, before making a choice. Believe me, I can stand in McDonald’s trying to decide what to have for longer than it does for me to actually consume the BigMac and fries I eventually order! So practice stress reduction, sleep on it, daydream a little and before you know it, the decision has been made – and it will be the best one for you.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

6 reasons why we make bad decisions

1. Decision Fatigue

We can’t always have endless mental energy. Which means our ability to perform mental tasks AND make decisions tend to wear thin when over used. With the constant requirement to make decisions, we get tired. One way of managing this, is to identify the most important things you need to decide and prioritise these for a time when your energy levels are highest. That, for most of us is during the morning – not too early – and definitely after the first coffee!

2. Manage distractions

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it)…we live with constant technology overload. Emails, social media, Zoom calls – they all have a huge impact on our ability to focus. One simple way to manage these distractions is to ‘unplug’. So, switch off your devices, close the laptop, shut down the noise and get a little peace. I appreciate that’s easier said than done, but you’ll be in a better state of mind to make the right choices and the right decisions.

3. Get input

Most creative people are introverts – and that makes us really good at not speaking up, and we all need a lie down afterwards when we do! Although introverts can have the best solutions to the biggest problems, if they’re not known, there never used. When a meeting request comes into you, don’t just accept and move on, read the agenda. If there is no agenda, ask for one. Once you have that you’ll be able to think (however briefly) about the subjects, plan your input and contribute. It’s also beneficial to ask for time after the meeting to offer your ideas and thoughts – as typically other people’s input could sway your thinking.

4. One at a time

This one can be difficult. But by only focussing on one task at a time, you can dedicate ‘quality’ time to it. Multitasking is inevitable in the modern workplace, however, research shows that our decision-making effectiveness, suffers by up to 40% when we focus on two cognitive tasks at the same time. Carve out time for the biggest task and give yourself some decent time to focus on it.

5. Keep emotions in check

We all know frustration, excitement, anger, joy etc is a part of daily life, and that they all have a role to play. But, all have the ability to push us off course and interfere with our ability to make a good decision. What we need is a little more self-control, to resist the temptation of sending what I call an ‘Atomic Email’, and understand our emotional state at any given point. Practice walking away from the computer, putting the phone down (politely) and pick up a more mundane task for a while. Then jump back in when you’re able to think more clearly and calmly.

6. Data overload

Data – it’s everywhere, it’s larger, more complex and easier to get than ever before. Too much data delays and confuses our decision making. We end up being unable to decide as we’ve consumed too much, too quickly, and it pulls us in rapidly changing directions. Instead, we should work out all the pertinent information, put the miscellaneous aside, set a deadline to make a decision, and stick to it. 

If we are aware of these six enemies of good decision-making then we can take steps to avoid them, make better decisions and avoid wasting valuable time.

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