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What Makes A Good Decision?

We all make hundreds of decisions every day. Some are so easy we are not even aware that we are making a choice. But some are so tough we put off making them, and despite spending more and more time thinking, we still haven’t found an answer. Good decision-making is a crucial skill for success both in business and in our personal lives and there are a few things that we need to remember to avoid making common mistakes when it comes to decision-making.


The best place to start to gain momentum and confidence with your decision-making is to make more of them! It’s important to be able to distinguish when momentum on a business or personal project is more important than taking the time to analyse and research. Sometimes it is best to make a decision and then move on, rather than agonising over it. If it turns out to be a bad decision, then you can take the opportunity to learn from it. If you practice making decisions frequently then you’ll naturally begin to improve.

Avoid Common Mistakes - With a commitment to start making decisions comes the responsibility to become more aware of the common mistakes that we make when it comes to decisions.

Anchoring - People have a tendency to be drawn towards the first good idea they hear or come up with. This is tough to overcome, but recognising the possibility of this happening is a good place to start.   There have been many studies into anchoring. In one, participants are asked to estimate the percentage of African nations in the UN after first being given a predetermined number. Participants given the number 10 guessed lower values (25% on average) than participants whose number was 65 (45% on average).

This effect can obviously be dangerous when it comes to decision making. Taking the time to research and make balanced assessments of different options is a good way to avoid this.  Having a ‘cooling off’ period after hearing an option will also reduce the anchoring effect.

Confirmation Bias - Another natural bias that we have is the confirmation biases. We seem to be hard wired to prefer information that supports what we want to hear or believe. This has a strong impact on our deductive reasoning abilities, and is why some of us struggle with tests like the following... Try this: How many cards must be turned over to test the idea that if a card shows an even number on one face, then its opposite face is red? Click to select the card(s) that you would turn over to prove this rule.

Correct! The last 3 cards need to be checked

Incorrect! The last 3 cards need to be checked

If the "3" card is red (or any other colour), that doesn't violate the rule so it doesn't need to be checked.

All other cards must be checked:

  • If the "8" card is brown, that violates the rule.
  • If the red card is odd (or even), that doesn't violate the rule.
  • If the brown card is even, that violates the rule.

Only 10% of participants in the original study in 1966 and the repeated study in 1993 found the correct solution. Most of us look to confirm the rule rather than disprove it. When it comes to decision-making, it is possibly better to consider options that would disprove or throw doubt on what we want to hear rather than looking for more supporting evidence.

Decision making under stress - Studies into the effect of stress on decision-making have shown that it changes how people think about a decision.  Men and women are affected differently, with men often taking great risks whilst under stress, while women often become more conservative. Big decisions can be stressful anyway, so it is worth noting that you might not be as balanced and logical for large decisions as you might be for smaller ones. If you're able to take some time, it might be best to try and find space to relax a bit while considering your decision. Take a Break. Set a time that the decision has to be made by, then take time off from actively thinking about it. A lot of people find that taking a walk, going to the gym or for a run clears their mind. Sometimes – if you’re really lucky – giving your brain that bit of space means that the answer then comes to you without any further ado. It's possible that the increased blood flow to the brain during excercise can improve cognition - helping you to think through a problem.

10 animation running men.

Are you really undecided? Sometimes it is possible to resolve indecision by flipping a coin.  This isn’t simply a way of handing the decision over to fate, but it can give you the jolt that you need to move forward.  Sigmund Freud famously recommended this as a way of overcoming indecision, because once you see the result from the coin you can gauge whether you’re pleased or disappointed with the result.  If this doesn’t resolve the issue immediately, it at least sparks a reaction that can be explored further, reflecting on why you did or didn’t want a particular result.If you have to be more precise, avoid the common mistakes and recognise when to take time to consider and research. Recognise and avoid your biases and remain as objective as possible to start making truly great decisions.The best way to practise decision-making is by making more of them. Get used to making decisions and moving on where possible to maintain momentum on projects, and recognise where speed is more valuable than accuracy.  .

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