How To Make Better Decisions In Your Life And Job

We make decisions all the time, and those decisions have an incredible impact on our life. Is there anything we can do to make better decisions?

I recently read Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work by Chip and Dan Heath. Now I’d be the first to say that this doesn’t sound like a title that I’d normally like since I’m not a big fan of the “Self Help” section of the bookstore. But Decisive is more like a combination of “Business/Leadership” and “Self Help”.

Decisive: How To Make Better
Choices In Life And Work

by Chip and Dan Heath

Decisive targets the kind of decisions that aren’t obvious, such as whether or not to buy a new car, take a new job, break up with your boyfriend, start a new business, or allocate limited resources between departments. The book was enjoyable to read not only because it helped me with a felt need (to make better decisions), but also because it’s filled with stories and examples that flesh out the principles.

The four sections of the book (each section contains 2-3 chapters) outline a process that will put you in a position to make better decisions.

  1. Avoid Narrow Framing by Widening Your Options.
    Try to avoid “whether-or-not decisions” such as “Should we buy a new car or not?” There are almost always a variety of options that you should consider. One way to force yourself to widen your focus is to pretend that the main option under consideration is no longer available. “If buying a new car weren’t an option, what would I do?” You can’t make better decisions if you don’t consider all your options.
  2. Avoid Confirmation Bias by Reality Testing Your Assumptions.
    We are all prone to confirmation bias, which is hunting for evidence that confirms what we want to be true and discounts or rejects evidence that runs contrary. The more time, effort, and emotion we have invested in a particular view, the more we are susceptible to this bias. One way to combat confirmation bias is to ask a friend to “argue the other side.” In other words, ask a friend to try to talk you out of buying a new car (or any significant decision you are about to make). The Pentagon does this by commissioning a “Murder Board” whose job is to try to “kill” projects before they happen. The murder board “argues the other side.”
  3. Avoid Short Term Emotion by Attaining Distance Before Deciding.
    To prevent being hijacked by our short-term emotions, try to gain some distance between you and your decision. One way to do this is to ask what you will think about this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Regarding the decision about the new car, you might think, “In 10 minutes, I’ll be glad to have this cool car. In 10 months the car won’t feel that special because the newness will have worn off. In 10 years I might wish I had invested those dollars in my retirement.”
  4. Avoid Overconfidence by Preparing To Be Wrong.
    We are very confident about our ability to predict what will happen in the future, but often our confidence is misplaced. If we make a bad decision, how will we know it so that we can begin to correct it? One suggestion the book gives is to set a trip wire. David Lee Roth was the lead singer for Van Halen, a band known for their major stage shows. The set up for the stage was pretty complicated and depended on the people in every city carefully following the plan or someone could get seriously hurt. Seemingly unrelated was the rumor that the band demanded a big bowl of M&Ms backstage with all the brown ones removed and, if this requirement wasn’t met, the show would be canceled with the band fully compensated. David Lee Roth may have been a diva, but it turns out that this odd demand didn’t prove it. The brown-less M&Ms served as a trip wire. That’s because the M&M request was buried in all the technical details of stage set up. If the band got to the backstage area and there were no M&Ms, or if the brown ones hadn’t been removed, that was a sign that the crew either hadn’t read through the whole contract or hadn’t taken their instructions seriously. The band would stop everything and do a top-to-bottom safety check.

I’ve used the decision-making process described in this book on a couple big decisions lately and I’ve found it very helpful. You might consider reading it and seeing if it could help you too.

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