“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. These famous words written by Robert Frost bring to light my topic today–Decision Making. Actually more specifically identifying there is a decision to make and identifying our choices.
The days of simply grabbing a coffee are gone. Today’s order requires surviving a gauntlet of choices: Caffeinated or decaf? Latte or Americano? Flavored or plain? Cream and sugar? Sugar or artificial sweetner? Small, medium, large, grande or venti? Hot or iced? And the list goes on.
Decision Making has Changed
Even though we have all learned to make decisions, many of us give little thought to the process. It is estimated that the average working adult makes over 50,000 decisions–daily. That is over 1/4 million decisions a week. New research shows that such daily decisions use up limited mental resources, creating a choke hold on our own self-control. Which means making too many decisions might be why many people can’t stick to a diet or exercise program, finish a project or even complete simple daily chores. We are drawn to choice, but easily become overwhelmed
by them. By reminding ourselves of the basic process of decision making and becoming more aware of the influences that affect our choices you will be more empowered to make the right choices on a daily basis, that will lead to greater achievement in your life overall.
Good decision making is a complex process that takes years to master. We usually begin teaching children about decision making by offering them choices. It is important to not create too many options at first. Would you like the green crayon or the red crayon to color with. Also it is crucial to not judge the decision early on. As the child gains confidence we introduce more options and begin to teach them the basic process.
Decision Making Process
1. Think before you act. Recognize and define the decision.
2. Identify the choices. What are your options. Realize that no action is still a choice.
3. Evaluate each choice.
4. Assess the possible outcomes. “What are the consequences of my actions?” (or in their language, “How much trouble will I get in?”). Judge the risks and rewards of your decisions. “How will my decision affect others?” “Is this decision in my best interests?”
5. Decide and implement.
I would encourage you to add an additional step- Evaluate the outcome.
This process becomes ingrained in our head and most decisions we quickly follow this series of steps with no conscious thought. ” Do I want breakfast this morning? Do I have time? What do I have time for? Corn Pops or Corn flakes? and within seconds you are consuming a bowl of corn flakes because you realized that you wouldn’t be able to grab lunch until after your noon meeting. But it is important to address influences that you may not be aware of that influence your decisions–especially decisions that seem to happen with very little thought.
Past Experiences Influence Quick Decisions
The first influence is your experiences. Experiences shape our assessment of possible outcomes. If the last time you opened the box of corn flakes you spilled the entire bag all over the floor and it took 15 minutes to clean it al up and you were late to catch the bus you would likely pick toast or something else for breakfast if you were in a hurry. Or maybe just slow down and think if the box is already open.
Our past experiences often influence our quick decisions. Be cognizant that they are not always correct or a true assessment of possible outcomes. Just because it happened once, does not make it a consistent fact.
The next influence is our beliefs and prejudices. We often hold beliefs about ourselves that are not true. These limiting beliefs frequently impact our decision making. If we believe that we work best under pressure we often will make irrational decisions so that we have complete the majority of our work under pressure of a deadline. If you hold the statement ” If you want it done right you must do it yourself” you will likely find fault and be closed off to other people’s ways of accomplishing the same task.
Our beliefs–right or inaccurate– are a major influence over how we make decisions. Becoming aware of our own beliefs and prejudices is a big step in making sound choices.
Fears we hold are another influence over our decisions. I have a good friend who has recently had back problems. His doctor has prescribed muscle relaxers for his ailment. He is unable to drive when he takes the medication and it is affecting his whole family. I have encouraged him to visit my chiropractor and get a diagnosis from him. My friend has an irrational fear of chiropractors. My friend believes that it is unhealthy to crack your knuckles, let alone your back. This fear is preventing him from making a educated evaluation of all his choices and it is impacting his family.
Our fears, especially our fear of the unknown or uncomfortable, greatly influence what choices we identify in our decision making process. Knowing your fears and addressing them head on, allow you to limit their negative impact on your decision making.
Goals Influence Your Decisions
The final influence I want to talk about today is your goals. Your goals act like a compass in the decision making process. As you go through he steps you ask yourself “is this choice in my best interest?” Does this get me closer to my goals or farther away? A compass merely confirms you are heading in the predetermined right direction. Just the same using your goals to influence your daily decisions, merely confirms you are continually heading in the direction of your dreams and desires.
These influences play a part in conscious and unconscious decision making. Up til now I have mostly been concerned with how we make conscious decisions. Now I want to look at our unconscious decisions.
Alex Pouget, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at University of Rochester, has shown that people make optimal decisions–but only when their subconscious mind makes the choice. This current research contradicts previous held research which argued that humans rarely make rational decisions. That research, prospect theory, which won the researchers, Neuroscientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, a Nobel Prize in 2002 has become conventional wisdom among cognition researches. Pouget points out that irrational decision making occurred when the conscious mind was engaged in the primary decision. He found that people really are able make good decisions when they do not over think or over analyze the issue. The unconscious mind picks up cues that help to make the best possible decision with the available information.
So what does this mean for you and me?
Trust your instincts. Listen to your gut.
I spoke before in previous postings that my greatest teacher is a wise little boy. He helped me pick today’s topic. The other morning after breakfast, he came bouncing around the corner, smiling and laughing. As my wife and I sat there talking I addressed him. “Jackson why are you always so happy?” His response, “Because I choose to….”
and with that he hugged his dog and giggled some more.
You see life really come down to our choices. Where you are right now in your life is a direct result of the choices you have made. Struggling, stressed, scared? All choices. Rich, Confident, Successful and even happy–Also choices. The power of the unconscious mind is an amazing asset. Trust your gut. Review the decision Making process. Be aware of the influences.
From the teachings of my son, I have chosen to be happy and successful. I hope you will join me.