While we can’t always know whether we made the right decision or not, what we can attain is a better understanding of how we make decisions.
With such insight, we can hopefully make better decisions in the future.
I’m sure you can relate: there have been many life decisions that you look back on and have mixed feelings about them.
How to avoid it in the future and feel confident about your choice? The answer is that it all starts way before you make the decision.
Read on to learn about personal beliefs about how things should be: what drives our decisions.
1) Your desire for a particular outcome
This goes without saying, but your desire for a particular outcome is often the number one driver of your decisions.
You will most likely pursue the decision that you think will lead to the outcome you desire.
This is why the common denominator for successful people is their drive. They have a burning desire to achieve something, and they’ll always choose whatever brings them closer to that goal.
A person hellbent on fitness, for example, will always choose to get up early and go to the gym instead of sleeping in.
An aspiring author will choose to spend more time and effort to hone their craft than slacking off.
Truly, it’s less about self-control and more about being sufficiently motivated.
Perhaps more importantly, these people don’t let failure affect their motivation. Rather, they learn from it and even use it as fuel to push themselves further.
Do you feel like you just don’t have that kind of ambition? Here’s what I personally did to make myself want my goals more badly:
- Imagine how it would feel if you achieve those goals (pretty damn good, no?);
- Watch or read about people who have reached similar goals for inspiration;
- Or even better, surround yourself with such people in real life;
- Determine what might be hampering your desire;
- And change your perspective from an “I can’t” to an “I can!” one.
Success and external changes begin with a change in your internal mindset.
2) Your priorities in life
You will make decisions that are aligned with your priorities or the things you focus on.
What emotions are you focused on? Love? Fear? Hope? Are you focused on your past experiences or your analysis of the future?
These are key parts of your cognition that will determine what you decide.
Realize this: you need to answer these three questions when making critical decisions.
- What should I focus on?
Is it something that I can or can’t control? The best decision is made when we are at peace with the things we can’t control but are brave enough to change the things we can.
For example, there is nothing to do about the past but learn from it. The future, on the other hand, is completely in our hands.
- What does this decision mean for me?
Do this for each and every option you have. Ask yourself: what does this decision mean for me? Is it life-changing or just an insignificant choice?
Focus on those decisions that’ll influence your life the most.
- What will I do after making the decision?
You need to see the far-reaching consequences of your decision. In what ways will you benefit or suffer from them?
Asking yourself these questions will not only allow you to make better decisions but also help you self-reflect on the decision-making process you’ve been using in the past.
3) Your standards and level of self-respect
Most people mistakenly think that discipline and self-control are the primary drivers of our decision-making process. But studies have shown that some people just inherently have more self-control than others.
What if I’m one of those people with low self-control? Am I just doomed to constantly make bad decisions?
While you cannot control your level of self-control, you can raise your standards. With higher standards come higher expectations, and you will naturally make decisions that will fit with them.
For example: should you leave an unsatisfying relationship even if it’s not exactly toxic?
If you have lower standards for a partner, you’ll stay and settle. But if you have higher standards, then you’ll leave and find someone who actually gives you what you want.
4) Your cultural code
We are all products of our environment. We cannot escape the influence of the social norms we are surrounded by.
Defined as “a scale used by a collective as a way to judge if certain behaviors, events, and opinions are acceptable or not,” social norms define what society celebrates, condones, and condemns.
So while there will always definitely be significant variation between members of a certain culture, social norms will determine the boundaries of such variations.
The Japanese are a great example.
They have a collectivist culture—thus, decisions are only typically made when there is an agreement with others.
Of course, this has its pros and cons. It might be harder to come to a decision if there is a lack of consensus in the group. But once a decision has been made, it’s easier to implement because everyone is on board.
On the other hand, America (and Western societies in general) are more individualistic. Each person makes a decision for him or herself and also typically implements it alone.
5) The limitations of the human brain
The human brain—as amazing and creative as it is—is still limited in many ways.
Here are just three of the main reasons why:
1. First and foremost, our memory is not only limited but also flawed.
Do you know why you don’t remember much of your childhood? And you only seem to remember certain memories? Or how do other people recall an event differently from you? That’s what I mean here.
2. We can only calculate or envision a finite amount of things in our heads.
Therefore, we may not be able to thoroughly compare all the options we have when deciding. Or we may not even realize that other options existed.
3. We’re emotional
Your brain knows when it’s making big decisions. That’s why there will always be a certain amount of doubt, insecurity, and uneasiness when we make a decision. We’ll never really know if we made the right choice until we see all of its effects.
6) Your biases and beliefs
Just as every single one of us is affected by our emotions, we’re also all biased in one way or another. And, of course, we’ll usually make decisions that align with our biases.
Our biases come from how we perceive things.
However, the thing about our perception is that it’s filtered because it’s highly selective.
Our minds will typically perceive things in a way that we want. The information we receive is processed through the beliefs and other biases we already have.
Let’s take a look at a simple example.
Let’s say one of your parents died young. The doctor said it was mostly due to an unhealthy diet. It only makes sense that you’ll grow up to be a picky eater and prioritize healthier foods.
7) Your risk-aversion
We all have a certain level of risk aversion. Like many other human traits, it’s the result of a mix of personal characteristics and learned behaviors.
For example, in a company that punishes mistakes more than it rewards successes, one can expect that most employees will then be more risk-averse. They’ll play it safe instead of going for high-risk yet high-reward decisions.
Generally speaking, our attitudes toward risk-taking and uncertainty are influenced by two main variables:
1. Your intellect
People with higher levels of intelligence will, broadly speaking, be more conservative with their decisions.
This is because they tend to be very calculating and will, therefore, not just take on any risk. They’ll only take risks if the possible rewards are large enough to merit the risk.
2. Your expectations of the future
Optimistic people who expect highly of the future will tend to take on more risk—even with less information and calculations. Those with lower expectations will be wary of taking on more risks in the future!
8) Your past experiences and expectations
From your unconscious biases and personality traits to your personal experiences and even your age and social class—countless elements go into your decision-making in various ways.
For example, one’s past typically impacts their decision-making in a fundamental way.
After all, when somebody benefits from a past decision, why wouldn’t they make similar decisions in the future?
At least, I do so.
But if a person suffers from the consequences of a decision they made, then of course, they’ll avoid repeating past mistakes (unless they fail to learn from them).
However, using past experiences as a gauge and basis for future decisions is not always the best thing to do.
Take the financial world, for example. Smart investors know that because an asset has been going up in value, it doesn’t mean it will continue to do so.
So, you shouldn’t hope for the same outcome in different circumstances either.
9) Social and peer-induced triggers
Some triggers are not caused or activated by external factors. Rather, they come from our own thoughts, emotions, and psychology. This impacts decision-making at a fundamental level.
Anticipating something and our ingrained habits will play a key part in the choices we make.
On the other hand, there are triggers that come from our external interactions with our peers. And peer pressure is an incredibly powerful thing—something that we often underestimate, in my opinion.
We desire to connect with or gain approval from similar people or people we admire. This is the concept of social proof. For example, we see this in the form of reviews and testimonials when it comes to advertising.
That’s also why influencer marketing has grown in the last decade. When someone we respect says something, we take their word for it.
Finally, scarcity further amplifies this. When something we deeply want is in limited supply, we’ll want it urgently, like ASAP—and makes us more willing to pay a higher price for it!
It triggers a deep-rooted and primal fear of being left behind or missing out.
Why is it so hard to make decisions?
When making a decision is hard, it’s usually because:
- You have insufficient information about the situation;
- You don’t feel like you’re the right person to make the decision;
- You really don’t know what the right decision is and are afraid you’ll make the wrong one.
I’m sure you can all relate.
Here’s what I personally did to make the decision-making process easier: actually have a process for it.
If you approach decisions methodically, it’ll be easier to make logical choices. It’s also a great way to ensure that you don’t overlook anything and consider everything relevant to the situation.
Here are 7 tips to help you make decisions easier.
How to make better decisions
1) Gather as much data as you can
Most people rush their decisions.
They decide before they know everything they can know about the situation.
Deciding without enough data is pretty much like going in blind. It’s simply irresponsible to make a decision without knowing all the facts first. After all, making a decision will always cost you something: time, effort, energy, or money.
Knowing all the information about your choices will save you a lot of regrets should you make the wrong choice.
Because even if you end up making the wrong choice, if you make a choice based on the facts you knew at the time, then at least you still did your best to try to make the right decision.
Here are a few things to always do when making a big decision:
- Talk to the people involved;
- Look at reviews;
- Read relevant studies or articles;
- Look back at relevant history.
Knowing as much as you can about your choices is truly half, if not most, of the battle.
2) Envision both short and long-term effects
Every decision has short-term and long-term effects, and knowing them should be the first step to any decision.
Let’s say I chose that cheeseburger for dinner.
Maybe it doesn’t have too many short-term effects (aside from craving a soda after, I guess). But let’s also say I’ve been eating a cheeseburger every night for the last few months.
That would definitely have a long-term effect on my health.
It’s not uncommon for decisions with beneficial short-term effects (like frequently indulging in a cheeseburger) to have negative long-term consequences (gaining too much weight).
It’s the same for the opposite: sacrificing in the short-term (like exercising) can yield many benefits in the future (being healthier when you’re older).
3) Be ready to adjust
Every situation is different, so it’s important to stay flexible. Your decision-making process may not always be the right one for every decision you’re faced with.
Your decision-making process might not work for every decision, so be prepared to tailor your approach to suit the situation.
Making a business decision, for example, is entirely different from choosing what gift to get your partner for their birthday. The former usually requires deep research and analytical thinking. The latter requires intuition and emotional awareness.
So while there are key concepts to always keep in mind, there’s actually no single, cookie-cutter process to making decisions. Approach each situation with an open mind.
Rigidity, quite ironically, will only lead to inconsistency when making decisions.
4) Analyze your choices…
When we’re drawn to a particular decision from the start, we tend to analyze that choice and only that choice. We don’t put in as much time and effort to examine the opposite choice.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who you think might make the opposite or other choices:
What’s their reasoning? What would be the potential effects of such a decision?
By doing so, you’re effectively trying to minimize your biases, all while gathering information about the topic as a whole.
It’s the only way you can be as sure as you can be about your decision.
5) …and accept that you might still make the wrong choice
Even if you did your best, you might still make a wrong choice.
You got all the facts, weighed the pros and cons, and analyzed each choice to the best of your ability—and you still made the wrong decision.
It’s okay. We’re all human, and no one can predict the future. Sometimes things just don’t pan out the way we envision them to.
It’s part of growing as a decision-maker. You need to be willing to take risks and sometimes lose in order to learn.
You need to come to terms with the possibility—no, the inevitability—that you’ll choose poorly. You can’t always cower and play it too safe. You’ll never build the confidence and resilience you need.
Plus, this also teaches you how to develop contingency plans.
6) Learn to manage your emotions
Having a stable emotional condition is also a part of having a clear mind. None of us are perfectly logical people, devoid or unaffected by emotions, after all.
Emotions will almost always—and sometimes should—affect your decision-making. But it’s important to be emotionally stable and emotionally intelligent.
At the core of this is balance.
Too much emotion or allowing yourself to be overpowered by your emotions will cloud your judgment. But so will repressing or ignoring it!
This is applicable to both positive emotions (like joy and optimism) as well as negative emotions (like anxiety and anger).
Far too many decisions have been made out of excitement or anger. I know I have! And I’m sure you have too.
7) Don’t ignore your health
Having a clear mind is crucial to good decision-making. Otherwise, you won’t have adequate focus to make good decisions.
And make no mistake: your mental health is closely tied to your physical health.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Exercise regularly. Get at least eight hours of quality sleep every night.
In my experience, it’s the sleep that most people have the most consistent trouble with. Here are a few tips for that:
- Don’t use any electronics at least an hour before bed: if you must, put the screen on black and white to get rid of the blue light (which makes our brains stay awake).
- Keep your water balance: drink eight glasses of water a day, and your body will be in the right condition to get good sleep (plus your skin will thank you too).
- Exercise regularly: even when you’re tired, the deeper sleep your body will put you into.
- Invest in quality mattresses and bed sheets: you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night because you’re uncomfortable (plus your back will thank you too, trust me!)
- Consider a white noise machine.
- Keep the temperature in your room cool.
8) Know how you take risks…don’t be a scaredy cat!
As I’ve mentioned above, your risk aversion is a key part of how you make decisions.
You should be self-aware of the risks you take and how you take them. After all, habitual behavior can lead to a lack of self-awareness.
When you do things automatically, you usually don’t reflect on them.
For example, you might be accustomed to speeding in the morning to get to work. So far, you’ve never been hit with a parking ticket, so why stop doing it? You’re saving time.
However, doing this might make you forget that it’s actually illegal—and, more importantly, just how much you’re jeopardizing both your own and other people’s safety.
This might spill over to your other decisions. You might adopt an “as long as I can get away with it” attitude every time, even during times when you really shouldn’t.
Benefits of having good decision-making skills
We’re faced with decisions virtually every waking moment. Most of them are uncomplicated, easy, and fairly inconsequential.
But during the big, life-changing decisions? In one way or another, we’ll all feel:
Then, we’ll bottle up and become indecisive, incapable of arriving at a decision. This will only amplify the negative feelings.
So while I want you to be careful when making decisions, I also want you to actually decide instead of sitting on your hands indefinitely.
Only then you can gradually develop the confidence to make decisions even in tough situations.
Because when you make the right choice, it’s a massive confidence booster. You’ll be better off when facing future decisions.
But even when you end up making the wrong decision, as long as you put a lot of thought behind it, then it’s still a valuable learning experience.
The skills you need to make good decisions
- Having self-awareness: Knowing your values as well as biases is critical, as I’ve already explained. Additionally, it helps you work around regression to mean and the illusion of control
- Managing risks: Effectively analyzing the risk-to-reward ratio of any decision is critical. After all, almost every big decision you’ll make requires resources, so you’re always at risk of wasting them on the wrong choice.
- Being ethical: This one’s less of a skill and, well, more of being a good person. Don’t make decisions purely based on the potential benefits to yourself. Consider the effects your decision might have on the other people involved. For example: maybe that business project will be profitable—but will it harm the environment and the locals?
- Leadership: This is particularly important when you’re leading a team or if your decisions will affect other people. You need to have the confidence and integrity of a good leader to become a good decision-maker.
- Effective communication: Also important when you’re working in a team, being able to communicate your reasoning behind a decision is crucial to getting the support you need in an organization.
- Analytical thinking: Gather as much information as you can, but if you’re not able to analyze them properly, then they’re pretty much useless.
- Decisiveness: I know, I know. Quite circular to include this, but you need to be assured and decisive when making decisions. As I said: you can’t keep sitting on it forever. On the flip side, it’s also important to admit your mistake and maybe take back your decision (if possible) when you learn that it was actually the wrong one to make.
Because we’re faced with decisions constantly—in all aspects of our life—it’s crucial to develop these skills to make better decisions.
Before you leave…
Our lives are determined by the decisions we make. Every decision—whether seemingly small or inconsequential in the moment or large and life-changing—shapes our future.
Deep inside, we all know this, and yet we all still make questionable decisions all the time.
But actually, how do you even know whether a decision you made was good or bad?
Our decisions are affected by countless factors, from our own internal cognitive processes to external influences. That’s why it’s outright impossible to always make the right choice.
But that shouldn’t stop you from trying to grow as a better decision-maker. In fact, it’s even more reason to do so! Who doesn’t want to minimize the bad decisions they make in life?
Do your best to be aware of the things that affect your decision-making and develop the necessary skills to be a good decision-maker.
And if you have kids, make them do the same!
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