How Do We Make Good Decisions?
Do you ever wonder why you don’t wake up every morning and eat a giant piece of chocolate
cake for breakfast and why it’s more difficult to put down the pint of ice cream after the
sun goes down? The answer has to do with our ability to make decisions throughout the day.
When examining the number of decisions we make each day, research tells us it can be as many
as 35,000. In fact, Cornell University completed a study that found we make approximately
225 food-related decisions every day. As we expend so much effort and energy in making
decisions and preparing for the next, it is no wonder we tend to make our less than ideal
decisions in the evening.
Not all of decision making is the same. Some decisions are collaborative, while others are made
under the stress of high uncertainty. We rely on our gut feelings for many decisions, while
others fall victim to our cognitive biases. Moreover, research has also found that rationality,
access to information and intelligence do not fully account for the quality of our decision
making or risk taking. In addition, individuals are twice as likely to take risks to avoid loss
than they are to achieve gains.
Making sound decisions is a skill set that can be improved and develop over time. So how do we
know if we are making good decisions and taking reasonable risks?
• First, we can work on minimizing or streamlining trivial decisions.
For example, Steve Jobs was known for wearing the same outfit every day so he never had to think
about what to wear. It is important to recognize which decisions require more effort and
distribute our mental energy accordingly.
• Second, identify the ultimate goal of the decision or risk.
For instance, which choice will make the largest positive impact or, of all the individuals you
could satisfy or displease, which one do you least want to disappoint.
• Third, ask for a second opinion.
Many poor decisions or unnecessary risks can be thwarted by merely asking someone, whose judgment
we respect, to weigh in on the issue. This method has two benefits. By explaining the details of
an issue that requires a decision, we gain new insights about the decision before the other
individual even replies. Then, the individual’s perspective offers a second bonus.
• Finally, once you have thought through the decision, let go of the alternative research
and ideas, doubts and exceptions.
Simply choose the best option and move on.
By Amber Fasula, Psy.D., BCN