Is your indecisiveness the bane of the lives of your family, friends and local baristas? Or do you tend to barrel in, only to regret your hastiness down the line?
Let’s face it – a lot of us are bad at making decisions, and especially making them quickly. And according to new research, we waste a huge two years and nine months of our lives deliberating on everyday decisions, from what to wear to what to order in a restaurant.
The research, conducted by ISA and Scottish Friendly, surveyed 2,000 adults, and found that we typically spend seven hours and 36 minutes a week trying to make a decision.
So why do we have such a problem with finally landing on a decision?
Psychologists and behavioural experts see each and every decision we make, from ‘kale smoothie or blueberry muffin?’ to ‘holiday or new car?’ as a fight between logic and intuition. Each of us is capable of using either system, but preferences and circumstances often encourage us to use one over the other. So, how should one approach desicion making? And is there such a thing as a good, failsafe decision making process?
The short answer is yes. Making decisions based on logic requires slow, effortful thinking – when multiple options abound, or the consequences of our chosen course are unclear, we can become paralysed by indecision. In contrast, intuitive decisions are quick, effortless and automatic.
However, thanks to the unconscious influences of emotion and bias, such decisions are often less than rational. Consider the ‘present bias’, for example. This refers to our tendency to reward instant gratification over greater future return. If offered the choice of a bar of chocolate today, or two bars tomorrow, our unconscious brains will prod us to grab the bar on offer today – with both hands!
The good news? Whether you agonise over each and every decision, or jump in without pausing to look, listen or think, you can become a better decision maker. “Good decision making is not a trait like height or eye colour, but a skill that can be learnt,” says Robbie Steinhouse, author of Making Effective Decisions and Brilliant Decision Making. “As with all skills, it’s a mixture of understanding the basics, then learning by practise.”
Follow these steps to making the right decision every time…
5 step decision making process:
1. Set a deadline
Next time you find yourself gripped by the agony of indecision, decide when to decide. Set yourself a deadline, and stick to it. If you’ve spent a week or so weighing your options and failed to reach a decision, it might be time to look to your gut. Instincts aren’t infallible, but they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, either – whilst you’ve been busy tearing your hair out, your unconscious mind has amassed and analysed thousands of tiny little nuggets of information which might just point you in the right direction….
2. Know when to ‘satisfice’
Whether it’s a new winter coat or a new man, are you always holding out for a ‘better’ option? Psychologists believe that, as consumer choice has increased, we have become more anxious about making decisions, and less satisfied with the results. The key could be learning to ‘satisfice’. How? Identify your essential criteria (e.g. mid-length, cosy, under £100), then settle on the first option you encounter that fulfils them. Wait for ‘the one’ to show up (be it the coat or the man) or go on sale (the coat) and you could miss out, not to mention waste valuable time looking.
3. Do it in the morning
If you’re prone to making snap decisions, avoid tackling important dilemmas in the evening. Research on online chess players suggests that decision making becomes faster and more inaccurate as the day progresses. Leave it too late in the day and you could fall victim to sloppy, biased processing – and that applies to night owls as well as larks…
4. Dim the lights
If it’s a sunny day, though, you might want to draw the curtains. Bright light can intensify the experience of emotion (both positive and negative), which could prejudice decision making, researchers have warned…
5. Seek advice
Whether you are a rational or impulsive decision maker, if you have little experience on which to base your choice, seek advice from someone who does. They can help you to untangle that pros and cons list and override biases masquerading as intuition.