Are you aware that we typically make several thousand decisions a day?
From what to eat, where to shop, what to post online, and with whom you spend time, average adults are faced with a plethora of choices from the moment we wake up. This is one of the reasons why we usually find it difficult to make the right decision. But it’s not so much as the number of options that seem scary: it’s the likelihood of picking the wrong choice.
Is there a single right way to make better decisions in life and work? What is the role of emotions in decision-making? Can we really control how we feel in order to obtain the desired results?
Editor's note: to culminate Mental Health Month, we are happy to share today's contribution by Cris Antonio, Chief Editor of Scoopfed.
The Science of Decision-Making
Notable psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that there are two systems in the brain that collaborate whenever we want to make a choice.
The first system is in charge of quick, automatic responses. For instance: say you’re asked to complete the phrase “like a hot knife through ______”. It probably didn’t take much time for you to answer “butter”. That’s system #1 at work. On the other hand, the second system is accountable for solving more complex problems, such as advanced mathematical formulas or how to parallel park.
Every time we need to make a decision, systems one and two interplay so we can seamlessly do tasks with minimal effort. However, we tend to choose more poorly whenever much of our mental energy or focus is compromised. This usually happens when we feel burned out from our jobs, lack quality sleep, or have been over-thinking. Thus, we sometimes say things we regret in the heat of a moment, or disappoint ourselves for choosing a poor alternative.
Controlling Your Emotions = Making Better Decisions
Now that we understand how we make decisions, the next question becomes: can we make better ones even though we’re so riled up by our emotions? Given practice and patience, the answer is YES – it’s possible. Here are six tips to get you started.
Pause and assess the situation.
This simple act can save you headaches down the road. Give your brain enough time to evaluate the current situation so you can make the right choice. Use this tactic when:
- You’re asked a complicated question
- You’re feeling agitated and might snap at another person
- Your response could mean the difference between loss or gain
- You feel that you might say something you’ll later want to retract
For bigger decisions (like marriage or a career switch), you may want to take more time in weighing your options. Why not use the weekend to hike or meditate? This should clear your mind so you can think about the pros and cons of each choice. But for situations that need lightning-fast answers, pausing for a second is your secret weapon to give better responses – without being snarky.
Don't always rely on your gut.
Intuition, more commonly known as “gut feeling”, is one of our most basic instincts. It helps us identify cues in the environment so we avoid danger and survive. But avoid trusting this human sense when it comes to games of chance (i.e. circumstances that rely on a 50/50 probability). The best examples would be gambling and the stock market.
So when can you rely on your gut? When there are skills or experience involved.
You’re ready to shift to the nonprofit sector but your experience is in finance. You’re worried that you might be making the wrong choice. Using tip #1, pause before finalizing your decision. Ask yourself: “how do I feel about this job?”. Then list the pros and cons of what could happen once you make the switch. If you have an inexplicable feeling of assurance, then that’s your gut telling you to assert yourself and grab your dream job.
But if you’re playing poker and you sense that it might just be your lucky night, don’t bet on it. Games of chance don’t rely on skill – so you might end up losing more than you bargained for.
Put it in writing.
Various experts such as psychologist James W. Pennebaker, have pointed out how writing can help us understand our lives better, keep track of our growth, and yes – aid us in picking the right choices. If you’re at a crossroad in your life right now or have experienced a traumatic situation, writing down your feelings can help you gain a different perspective.
You’re not going to feel better right away – however, keeping notes about your day is a tried-and-tested form of therapy. It’s free, it gives you some alone time, and you can review your thoughts later for more clarity.
Narrow your options.
Ever wondered why Trader Joe’s keeps their grocery options limited? It’s because the bigger the selection, the more room there is to make a regrettable decision. This may sound counterintuitive, but narrowing your options will indeed help you avoid picking something you’ll later be unhappy about.
Let’s say you’re a fresh graduate who has plenty of talents: you’re good with people, can write 500-word articles for the press, and don’t mind speaking to a room of 100 executives to pitch an idea. This means you can take on a bunch of jobs. But sending out resumes to 10 or 20 companies at once is only going to give you a headache. And it goes without saying that if you don’t target your application to the talents that best apply to the job, you might not be considered for the position.
Focus instead on two or three companies while asking these questions:
- Why do you want to work for these firms?
- Are you qualified for the position you’re about to fill?
- What is their benefits/compensation package?
- What experience do you plan to gain from them?
- How long do you intend to stay?
- What’s the percentage that you’ll be hired over other candidates?
Narrowing your selection will not only save you a lot of stress, science says you’ll be happier with the choice you’ve made, too!
Ask the majority.
Humans are very prone to bias. Although some of these biases can help us form opinions, it’s not wise to follow them when making decisions. Confidence for example, is a great trait to have. It allows us to view things in a positive light and sell our talents the right way. However, we may become overconfident of the skills we’ve acquired over time. Notice how even the most powerful leaders and managers typically make wrong decisions?
One of the best tricks to choosing the right decision – especially if it involves big risks – is to ask for a second opinion. For example:
You’re surprised that your organization’s leader doesn’t approve of the crowdfunding video you just made. He’s convinced that it doesn’t reflect the group’s vision. This makes you upset as you spent days working on the project. You now have a choice: upload it on the video platform without his approval OR call for a team meeting.
Don’t just trust your experience or gut-feel. The reason for this is because our overconfidence often makes us overlook critical details that would be important for the final outcome.
Do you have a huge decision to make? Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Lynda Shaw suggests sleeping on it.
We all understand that sleep is important; yet, many of us still stay up late to finish assignments, binge-watch, or mindlessly scroll on social media. Getting enough rest has plenty of benefits, but one of the most critical is that, a good night’s rest helps our brains analyze information faster and more accurately.
Feeling stressed, confused, or anxious? Get some rest. Not only will you feel refreshed after waking up, your mind will be clearer to pick a better option.
Everyone can be afraid of picking the wrong choice. So how do you make sure you get the right one 99 percent of the time? Take care of yourself. Take a second to analyze your emotions so you can better manage them. Our feelings are a huge part of who we are – but they don’t have to control us. Once you have a better grasp of your mind and body, you’ll have less regrets about the decisions you make.
About the Author: Cris Antonio is the Chief Editor of Scoopfed.com. She’s currently focused on helping healthcare workers find better career opportunities through Locum Tenens. Aside from writing, Cris also enjoys painting, collecting toys, and reading German novels.