Our path forward is illuminated by the decisions we make. In many ways, we are a product of our choices.
It’s useful to remember that only some of our decisions are conscious. Much of our decision-making happens when we’re running on autopilot or occurs beneath the level of our consciousness. This behaviour is largely driven by habit or by biases of which we have varying levels of awareness.
Perfection in decision making is essentially unattainable. We can’t always rely on making the right call. Realising that can actually free us up to a more open mindset, and allows us to improve, to avoid ‘analysis paralysis’ and the dubious practice of postponing important decisions by days, weeks and even years.
One of our roles as a professional is to pursue mastery in decision making. By resolving to be a life-long student of the topic, we can increase our percentage of successful decisions, gain a deeper understanding of our biases and experiment with technical approaches. We can broaden our perspectives beyond pithy cliches such as ‘Go with your gut!’
Coaching work can be helpful in two domains, firstly by raising awareness of our existing decision making approaches and secondly by giving appropriate space to the exploration of more significant decisions as they arise. In my experience, at least one-third of sessions focus on those types of decisions that can weigh heavily on us, at least until we’ve gained clarity and can then move forward with purpose.
Here are a couple of exercises to get you started on the path to being a better decision maker:
1. Useful techniques
In their book Decisive, one of the best books on decision making in recent years, Chip and Dan Heath identify four ‘villains’ of decision making and suggest approaches to overcome them.
(a) Widen your options. We’re prone to ‘narrow framing’, shrinking the choices available to us. But by seeking alternatives we can open up better outcomes.
(b) Reality-test your assumptions. We tend to be slaves to confirmation bias, seeking out evidence that validates what we already believe. To overcome this, we can adopt an experimental mindset, identifying hypotheses that we can look to prove or disprove.
(c) Attain distance before deciding. We’re emotional beings and often short-term emotions play a stronger role in decision making than our rational minds might want to admit. It’s very useful to shift perspective and move away from in-the-moment feelings.
(d) Prepare to be wrong. We’re so over-confident in our predictions about the future. But it’s more useful for us to prepare for unexpected outcomes.
2. A decision inventory
It can be very useful to give yourself some time and a blank page to ‘dump’ from your mind all of the decisions that are relevant for you now. Use these questions to get started: What decisions do I need to take? What am I putting off? Do I really need someone else’s input or am I just avoiding action? What’s coming up that I need to prepare for? What needs to change in my immediate environment?
This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.