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How often do you reflect on bad decisions thinking “If only I did this…” or “If only I said that…”?
You would think that you know what is good for you, yet most of us persist in making the same mistakes over and over again.
How do we overcome this pattern of bad decision making?
By taking control over your decision-making process you will make better choices in your life and work.
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” – Murphy’s Law
When things go wrong, we have a tendency to pass blame to other people and events. Though, most often, the cause leads back to our bad problem solving.
The way in which you solve problems and deal with obstacles will determine your success, or failure, in any arena.
Which is why I made this article, in order to teach you how science and philosophy come together to create the ultimate decision-making process.
What is the decision-making process?
When I first heard of the term decision-making process I thought it was just a fancy word for the way in which we make decisions.
Once I scratched the surface, lo and behold:
Decision-making process is best defined as the way in which we deal with problems once we encounter them.
However, if you look closely, you will find that it’s much more interesting than that.
Think about it. Most of what goes on in our minds every day revolves around some situation or dilemma that requires our attention.
Family problems, work problems, health problems, money problems… ring a bell?
All these issues relate to a mountain of small decisions you have to get right every day in order to make your life go smoothly.
So how do we make this work?
Well, first of all, we start by learning more about ourselves.
Science behind the decision-making process
We are supposed to be these super capable problem solving machines, yet sometimes it seems that we are unable to tell left from right. How does that happen?
Well, it may be a small comfort to learn that this is, in fact, completely natural.
How does the brain make decisions?
The frontal lobe, also known as the CEO of the human brain, is responsible for motor function, problem solving, planning, creativity and other executive functions. 1
The temporal lobe, located just below the frontal lobe, is related to comprehension, long-term memory, hearing and other sensory input. 2
How does the mind make decisions?
Bloom’s taxonomy is a classification model that helps educators categorize cognitive abilities and create learning objectives accordingly. 3
Bloom’s taxonomy describes the following division of thinking skills:
Higher order thinking skills are analyzing, evaluating and creating.
Lower order thinking skills are understanding, remembering and applying.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale
When we compare the science of the brain and the mind, we can see an interesting overlap.
However, we are still missing a piece of the puzzle.
Namely, the frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to fully develop toward our late twenties. 4
This means that the way in which the human brain matures reflects how the adolescent mind matures as we grow into adulthood.
For this reason, as adolescents, we rely mostly on our lower order thinking skills. This results in impulsive decision-making, thrill seeking and taking foolish risks with little thought of consequence.
As we outgrow adolescence, we gradually mature through young adulthood as we learn from failures, build social stability and commit to a life’s work.
With this in mind, and our current state of affairs taken into consideration, an important question arises.
How do we get better at being adults?
The elegant answer to this question is in the 7 steps of efficient decision-making process.
7 steps of effective decision-making
I know what you’re thinking… “7 steps? That’s a lot of ground to cover!”
Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty simple.
Think of these 7 steps as a guideline to getting the most out of your higher-order thinking skills.
The efficient decision-making process is the best way to deal with complex problems in science and business. It is also the mature way to deal with the difficult obstacles that life throws at you.
The 7 steps can be an exciting process, if you ask an interesting question.
The beauty of the 7 steps of effective decision-making process is that it scales well. You can use this approach on personal dilemmas as easily as you would use it on a complex problem.
Try playing around with the 7 step process. Examine your work problems, goals or dilemmas. You will find that it’s very easy to find the optimal solution.
But if it’s that easy, then why doesn’t everyone do it to?
That is because we fall into comfort zones, which skew the way we think, and they can be hard to escape from.
In order to find your way out of a comfort zone, you need to understand how biases affect you.
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How bias affects your decision-making process
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” – Henri Bergson
Biases are learned attitudes which we adopt from culture and society through our experiences.
Your biases are a big part of your personality, and they can either work for you or against you.
My favorite example of bias working in your favor is when you have a meaningful goal. When this is the case, you will have a great sense of direction when it comes to making decisions.
On the other hand, an example of bias working against you is the dreaded comfort zone. This is when your priorities get mixed up and you start rationalizing instead of reasoning, becoming increasingly accustomed to a comfortable way of thinking.
Let’s look at some other examples of the most common biases:
- Affinity bias: Having a bias to liking someone who reminds you of yourself or someone you like.
- Bandwagon bias: Believing something because your peers believe it.
- Halo effect: Assuming someone is great at everything because we like something about them.
- Confirmation bias: Looking for information that supports your idea while ignoring evidence to the contrary.
- Fear of missing out: Excessive worry that you are missing out on a rewarding experience, often triggered by seeing someone else profit from it.
“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.” Benjamin Haydon
Biases, or attitudes, are formed as a result of orienting yourself in the world by weighing out your goals, values, fears and insecurities.
The key to making your attitude work for you in the long run is by behaving according to your goals and values, rather than your fears and insecurities.
This way, you will set the best course for your future and make good decisions accordingly.
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How planning improves your decision-making process
A famous study on goal setting revealed that “people who write down their goals are 33% more successful in achieving them than those who formulate outcomes in their heads.” 5
In order to boost those odds to 100%, all you need to do is make a plan and stick to it.
Making plans is how you navigate your decision-making process. For this reason, you need to be smart about making plans for your long-term goals.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The trick to effective planning is breaking down your goal into manageable obstacles, as follows:
Make a goal for the year to overcome one or two of the biggest obstacles to your long-term goal.
Break down your goals for the year into monthly stages. This way, you can easily manage your long-term progress.
By using a monthly planner, you will achieve full accountability for your progress. This is, by far, the single most useful tool when it comes to personal productivity.
Moreover, I feel that this is such an important tool for you to have, that I’m giving out my proprietary monthly planner for free!
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Let’s review what we learned so far:
- Decision-making process is a part of everything you think and act out.
- The way we make decisions is divided into lower and higher order thinking.
- 7 steps of efficient decision-making process stimulates your higher order thinking.
- Without meaningful goals, your biases will keep you hostage in comfort zones.
- Having a good planner will make the biggest improvement to your measurable results
With all this said, if there is one single phrase that I want you to take home, then it’s the following:
Instead of worrying about what to do, focus on what needs to be done. You will find, most often, that your hesitance to make the right decisions is the biggest contributor to turning small obstacles into big disasters.
Did you enjoy this article? Leave a comment and let me know!
- Reasoning, Learning, and Creativity: Frontal Lobe Function and Human Decision-Making
- Neuroanatomy, Temporal Lobe
- Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy
- Goal research results