“Making Choices That Matter”
When I finally decided to write this piece on ‘decision-making’, I was determined to write about the challenges I faced. So you can consider this a personal piece and benefit from my mistakes.
Firstly, I did not know any specific context to write about. Then it dawned on me that, whatever the context, some universal truths hold. Maybe I should write about those annoying yet challenging matters.
Obviously, there is some kind of issue, and that is why you are trying to arrive at a decision. The solution has to be derived, considering a lot of factors.
Interestingly, some make quick decisions, whereas others take months for even minor problems. Both are different paths to the same goal of finding a solution. The quicker the decisions, the more erroneous they can be. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but a slower decision makes you think about the pros and cons calmly. That helps to make a rational decision rather than an emotional one.
American game developer, creative director, author, and screenwriter Kevin Levine:
"We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us."
With that out of the way, let's take a step-by-step approach.
Identify the problem: The key to effective problem-solving is clearly defining the problem at hand. By articulating the problem with precision, you can maintain focus on crucial factors and prevent distractions. Prioritising these factors further ensures a steady and concentrated approach to finding solutions.
Gather information: Before making an informed decision, gather all pertinent information, including data, opinions, and feedback from various sources. Collecting more information than initially deemed necessary is advisable, as unforeseen circumstances or alternative ideas may arise. This surplus of information is a valuable resource for reference and consideration during the decision-making process.
Evaluate the options: Thorough decision-making involves considering all possible options, evaluating them based on personal preferences, and assessing their positive and negative aspects. Exploring even unconventional or seemingly improbable choices is essential, as innovation often stems from daring to dream beyond the conventional. A comprehensive evaluation ensures a more well-rounded and creative approach to decision-making.
Finalise the decision: Sounds simple, right? But you may have overlooked some elements. Therefore, going back and forth with the process is a good idea. Just because a solution makes you happy does not mean it is right. The possibility of another family member(s) or coworker(s) getting upset also lurks. So be wary of such avoidable situations.
Additionally, there is probably no single solution that creates a win-win-win situation.
Are we done with this piece? No, not yet.
I decided that, at this point, it was not time to wind up.
The Blind Spots
There are several common blind spots in decision-making. Some of these include:
- Doing too little or too much research (spending adequate time to overcome this)
- Mistaking opinions for facts (tricky and pesky)
- Decision fatigue (should avoid taking too many in a short period)
- Failure to learn from past errors (spank yourself)
It's essential to be aware of these blind spots and to take steps to avoid them. One way to do this is to challenge your biases and adjust your approach.
Some other aspects to consider include the following:
Confirmation Issue: This falls into the second category mentioned above. Your mind sometimes leads you to believe in something that makes you feel satisfied. Don’t give into the mind so easily. Question it until the truth emerges.
Overconfidence: Everyone likes to be self-confident. Yet, that should not become the reason to ruin a healthy decision. Self-confidence works best when it allows you to make the right decisions. Over-confidence and under-confidence can mar the process of appropriate decision-making.
First-decision Bias: Some have a propensity to stick to the first decision they make. That is when the back-and-forth process helps. You can also discuss this with your well-wishers. Open talks can give you a peek into your mind.
Fallacy: Just because you made the wrong decision much earlier does not mean you are obliged to stick to it. Of course, this depends on the scope of the first error. If it is huge and unrepairable, you might as well think afresh (like a clean slate) in an objective manner.
Groupthink: This works if you have a good circle of friends or family with whom you can talk heart-to-heart. Different viewpoints arise, some in contradiction to your value system and beliefs. Hear them out, however absurd they sound. Carry on with the conversation without getting upset. In short, keep an open and calm mind so that the best decision for the situation can flower properly.
Hindsight: Our minds are like monkeys - jumping all the time. It is difficult for even the most mindful to focus steadily on an issue. Write down your problem if you wish to. That will slow down your pace of thinking scatteredly and help you reach a solution quickly.
Rule of thumb: Some of us are satisfied when we think we have a solution. Some even know they should probe further, but laziness stops them. If you are trying to help another person decide, you must refrain from giving half-baked solutions. Do the back-and-forth method, and you will be surprised at how you could have missed certain aspects.
Be ruthless with yourself. Short-term satisfaction may screw up the right decision. Think carefully and consider the pros and cons. The pros may look better than the cons; at other times, the reverse happens. Without clarity of thought, you cannot arrive at the best solution for the problem. Don’t hang on to the most salient aspects of a decision. There will be pros and cons in what you think of as a less-optimal choice.
Emotional influences: This is common sense. Yet, because it is not so common, here is an explanation. When you are angry or sad, do not make major decisions. Don’t promise the moon when you are happy. Any emotion that rocks you even a bit is a no-no condition for most to say something and forget to decide due to turmoil. A calm mind can quickly reach the point, just as you can see in clear water rather than a muddied one.
Short-term rewards: We all have a child in us. Yes, even the 80-year-old wants instant gratification. Therefore, be wary of your instant gratification sense, for it may prevent you from thinking of any further possibilities. Do not worry because it can clutter the mind and become detrimental to moving forward.
Awareness of these blind spots can help individuals and teams make more informed and rational decisions. Encouraging diverse perspectives, seeking feedback, and employing decision-making frameworks can mitigate these biases.
Have you ever caught yourself thinking, ‘Oh! I am tired of going from one task to another. It’s never-ending.’
The essence is that you are mentally tired of decision-making and physically tired of doing things to make stuff happen. It applies to anyone and everyone who does not take adequate breaks.
At times, it is a fallacy that you have to finish some task. The world will go on even if you do not complete the task, especially in the office scenario. You will be replaced within a week. The family is a different matter. Even there, you are replaceable, but not so easily. So if you want to be with your family longer, do not overwork yourself. Self-love is a topic of discussion among millennials and Gen Z. They have realised that nobody can live well without self-love.
Love yourself. Once, someone told me that unless there is a canvas, you cannot paint. According to her, I (as a mother) am the canvas upon which the family's painting (welfare) is done. So, if I don’t care for myself, the system will crumble. At that point, I did not fully understand the meaning of her words. I went on and on, contributing to the family, irrespective of my fatigue, both mental and physical. Now that I am a lot older, I fully grasp the depth of her statement. I try to convey this to those women I feel are forgetting themselves in the name of duty and love.
How to simplify the process
Mindfulness is a practice that enhances self-awareness and reduces cognitive biases. By fostering an awareness of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, mindfulness helps individuals recognise patterns and biases influencing decision-making. Through non-judgmental observation of thoughts and emotions, mindfulness promotes objectivity and reduces reactivity, aiding in identifying blind spots. Additionally, mindfulness cultivates open-mindedness, fostering receptivity to new ideas and contributing to improved decision-making.
There are several strategies to overcome cognitive biases. Here are some tips. Ask yourself:
Do I have any biases?
The initial step in addressing cognitive biases is acknowledging their presence. Understanding that biases are inherent in everyone and can impact decision-making is crucial.
Am I assuming anything?
Attempt to question your assumptions and view situations from various perspectives. This approach can assist in recognising biases and enhance the quality of your decision-making.
Do I have to listen to others?
Actively seek a variety of opinions and perspectives to foster more objective decision-making. This practice aids in steering clear of groupthink and other biases that may impact the quality of your decisions.
What about data and evidence?
Rely on data and evidence to substantiate your decisions. This approach can prevent dependence on biased opinions and assumptions.
Refrain from hastily making decisions. Allocate sufficient time to gather information, assess your choices, and carefully contemplate the potential consequences of your decisions
How much feedback?
Seek input from others to pinpoint biases and enhance your decision-making. This practice aids in steering clear of blind spots and mitigating biases that may impact your decisions.
To make life easy and satisfying, despite having to make major decisions now and then, I have devised a strategy I see solving as similar to solving a puzzle. Unlike small puzzle games, life’s decisions have moving parts, and that’s why it is challenging to make decisions. It also involves other people, and you cannot afford to make the wrong decisions.
Approach issues with poise. Add a pinch of stoicism. And there you are, prepared for any outcome of your decision.
I know that life is not to be played with. Yet, I urge you to try this method: it will save you some anxiety. I have seen people who can laugh at themselves—those with a good sense of humour—live a healthy, long life. Laughter is the best medicine, right?
May you and I become one of those rare tribes who will win in this game called life.
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