12 ways to make smarter, better decisions

Practice being decisive, plan ahead, and simplify the battlefield. Also, be confident like ‘The Fonz.’

Is indecisiveness holding you back at work?

Whether you’re a perfectionist or a procrastinator—or if you just struggle to complete projects on time—lack of action could be damaging your career.

Here are 12 ways to improve your decision making, increase confidence, and get more done.

1. Use both sides of your brain.

“Each time we make a choice, I believe that our left-brain arm-wrestles with our right,” writes Michael Levine. “The left (and more pragmatic side) tells us to act logically, while our right puts up a dramatic fight for following the heart’s content.”

The solution here is to strike a balance between both sides when making decisions. To do so, conduct a quick cost-benefit analysis weighing potential benefits against the negatives.

2. Simplify the battlefield.

“As a leader in the U.S. Navy SEALs, I had to ‘simplify the battlefield’ and make rapid-fire decisions that had life-and-death consequences,” Mark Divine, retired U.S. Navy SEAL commander, told CNBC. To “simplify the battlefield,” Divine developed a system called PROP, as in “prop up decisions.”

The PROP model works like this:

  • First, identify and determine your priorities, such as “get cash positive.”
  • Second, “outline the realities you face, such as limited resources or timeline.”
  • Third, after considering your priorities and realities, come up with “the most plausible options available.” For example, making the decision “to cut staffing or offer a deep discount.” Sometimes the best option is obvious.

However, Divine recommends ranking your choices to be certain.

  • “Finally, choose the best option as your path forward,” says Divine.

3. Rest, or sleep on it.

Crisis situations require swift action. For example, if your business just experienced a cyberattack, you need to attack.

However, most decisions allow for some time to mull options—and stopping to think through things is often in your best interest.

“When you have to make a big and important decision, it may be best to do it when you are rested, focused and motivated,” writes Jeremy Nicholson, Ph.D.

If you can’t “sleep on it,” take at least 30 minutes to consider how best to proceed. Take a walk, go grab lunch, or bounce ideas off a colleague. Use whatever extra time you have to gather feedback and differing opinions to formulate a well-rounded strategy.

4. Practice being decisive.

“If you’re chronically indecisive, build that decision-making muscle by starting small,” recommends “decision coach” Nell Wulfhart. “Give yourself 30 seconds to decide what you’ll have for dinner, what movie to watch, or whether you want to go out tonight.”

The key is to follow through with whatever decision you reach. Repeating this process helps train your brain to make decisions faster.

Start with small choices, but work your way up to making more important decisions—quickly.

5. Go beyond your hunches and ask for input.

Let’s say you didn’t hit your monthly sales goal. Is it because you targeted the wrong audience? Did you not follow up well with your leads? Maybe the price point is wrong?

Look at the facts instead of your assumptions and feelings. Analyzing data and soliciting feedback from your employees and customers will help you make more informed decisions.

6. Practice mindfulness.

“Most people have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” writes Andrew Hafenbrack, lead author of a study published in Psychological Science. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.’”

According to his research, “a brief period of mindfulness meditation can encourage people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment, while ignoring some of the other concerns that typically exacerbate the ‘sunk cost bias.’”

7. Outsmart the anchoring bias.

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when you get strongly swayed by the first piece of information presented to you. You’ve probably seen this in action when purchasing a new car or home. You’re shown an item that’s out of your price range and then one that is cheaper. The second option may appear to be the better buy, even though it’s still overpriced.

Thankfully, there are ways to outsmart this bias. For starters, beware of the weaknesses and prejudices in your thoughts. Next, delay your decision by doing some research before committing to anything.

8. Set time limits.

For smaller decisions, give yourself just five to 10 minutes. Waffling on trivial decisions can squander your productivity, and it’s a bad habit to get into. For more important choices, allow more time, but don’t spend an hour trying to decide what’s for lunch.

9. Shake up your routine.

To prevent getting stuck in a decision-making rut, challenge yourself to learn different skills. Get out of your comfort zone and enjoy new experiences. Hang out with different people. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas.

Apply your new knowledge and fresh insights toward your decision-making process.

10. Disprove yourself.

Confirmation bias occurs when we seek out evidence that supports pre-existing beliefs. We often reach faulty decisions just because they happen to align with our beliefs.

To combat confirmation bias, try to disprove yourself. To do this, Mayo Oshin suggests that you “seek out all possible ideas that may contradict your current beliefs” whenever faced with a challenge. “This will prepare you to make a well-rounded good decision instead of an irrational bad decision based solely on your beliefs and emotions.”

11. Plan ahead.

It’s not realistic to plan for every scenario. However, there are multitudes of things you can do to cut down on decision-making time in the future.

For instance, on Sundays, you could plan out your meals for the week. Even if you don’t prep your meals, you could at least come up with a menu. Doing so saves you time (and money) at the store, and it prevents you from agonizing over what to cook.

You could also pick out your clothes before your week begins, or review your schedule to get an idea of how you’ll divvy up tasks on Monday.

You should also consistently prepare for that inevitable workplace crisis.

12. Trust your first instinct.

Henry Winkler once wrote, “Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything. If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path.”

“The Fonz” is on to something. Dr. Joel Pearson, one of the world’s leading authorities on human consciousness, states that intuition does exist. His research has discovered that unconscious emotions have the power to improve the speed and accuracy of decision-making.

Should you solely rely on your gut? No, but there are times when your first instinct is right—and whenever you have that feeling, you shouldn’t ignore it.

The next time you’re unsure which way to go, take a breath. Be confident and decisive. Be like “The Fonz,” and trust your instincts.

A version of this post first appeared on the Calendar blog.

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