Decision making

Decision making

People who are intelligent, thoughtful and creative often have great difficulty when it comes to decision making.  Partly that can be from trying to use a problem solving approach to consider all the possible factors and outcomes in order to make the “right” decision.  When this tips over into trying to predict the future and make sure that they won’t regret the decision this leaves people unable to make a choice at all.

Problem solving is the wrong approach to use because it’s not about getting your decision making “right” but about making the best decision you can at the time.  There are a couple of techniques that you can use to do this, and the first one uses the benefit of hindsight, which people always wish they could have had at the time they made the decision.

I encourage people not to spend their lives looking back and thinking “if only”.  Not only do they beat themselves up about the way things are, they also torture themselves with a vision of what could have been instead, and which is always better.  However imagining yourself in the future looking back at the decision you’re making now can give you the benefit of early hindsight in your decision making. All you need to do is to imagine that you are looking back from the future and that everything went as badly as you ever worried that it could.  What you need to do is to ask yourself why.

The reason that you focus on a failure is because it’s failure that people are normally unwilling to fully confront and think through.  Another reason that this works is because it’s easier for you to think through the causes of one outcome than it is to try and do that for multiple and contingent outcomes.   In fact it can help you to find the strongest reasons for failure and then incorporate them into your decision making.

The second technique is about the effect of physical distance instead of time.  When we are told about discoveries or situations in other countries or continents we often find it easier to imagine them in the abstract than we do when they’re closer to home, when we get distracted by details and “what-ifs”.  It’s the effect that sees people’s suggestions ignored by their partners or bosses until they hear them from a stranger or expert, and that see’s people talking about “getting some distance” from their problems.

Getting as far removed physically from the situation, as well as imagining being removed by the passage of time, can help your decision making by allowing you to see the issues more clearly.