5 Ways to Improve Your Decision-Making Process
You’ve tried flipping a coin. Shaking a Magic 8 ball. Even good old eeny, meeny, miny, moe. The next time you can’t make heads or tails of a situation, try something new: one of the savvy and surprising ideas on the next page.
Biologically we’re programmed to make snap judgments. And today’s technology—text messaging and e-mails—encourages that hurried behavior. But instantaneous decisions are not in our best interest and can lead to bad outcomes. Waiting gives you the opportunity to learn more about the situation at hand and to process it in a more nuanced way. When I have a decision to make—even something like what gift to buy for a family member—I ask myself, “What is the longest amount of time I can wait before rendering a verdict?” Then I do just that.
Frank Partnoy is an attorney and the author of several books, including, most recently, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay ($27, amazon.com). He lives in San Diego.
Close Your Eyes
The hardest calls are often those that involve a moral judgment. The next time you face one of those dilemmas, be it small (pondering whether to tell your spouse a white lie) or large (thinking about driving away after hitting a parked car), try this: Close your eyes. I conducted a study that discovered that people make more ethical decisions when their eyes are shut. Why? Blocking out stimuli, even briefly, allows you to imagine the choice you’re facing in vivid detail, and it intensifies your emotional reactions as well. You’ll tend to feel better about being righteous and worse about being unscrupulous. Hence you’ll come to thoughtful conclusions.
Eugene Caruso is an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Assume the Choice is Easy
People believe that to get the best result, they need to work hard. And they apply that same logic to decisions: To make the right choice, the process should be arduous. I know I do that. When my wife and I were apartment hunting, for example, the first place we looked at had all the features we wanted. But instead of being satisfied, we tried to find some downside to the place. When solving a problem seems easier than we thought it would be, we’re apt to make things harder for ourselves, resulting in unnecessary thinking and legwork. Luckily we opted to buy the apartment. But we made the experience more difficult than it needed to be.
Rom Schrift, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Consult Your Polar Opposite
Having someone to bounce ideas off of helps me tame my thoughts and come to smarter conclusions. My business partner, with whom I run a nonprofit, is perfect for this because we’re complete opposites. We disagree on just about everything, and as a result we help each other see unique angles on a problem. Recently we needed new computers. I wanted to buy low-cost machines; he wanted an expensive brand. He convinced me that they weren’t a rip-off, and the ones he advocated for have revolutionized our business. Friction between people who think differently means better decisions.
Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of several books, including Mother on Fire, and the executive director of the nonprofit LDOS Media Lab, which produces the radio show The Loh Down on Science. She lives in Los Angeles.
The next time you need to make a series of decisions in a short amount of time (say, you want to buy a new car and will be asked about numerous options and upgrades), drink a glass of water about 45 minutes in advance. Once your bladder fills, you’ll be less impulsive in your choices. My research has found that when you exert self-control in one area of your life (for example, the need to use the bathroom), you’re more likely to restrain yourself in other aspects, too. So while it sounds strange, holding your urine really can help keep you from making bad calls, such as choosing a bold paint color that you’ll probably tire of within a few years.
Mirjam Tuk, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at Imperial College Business School, in London, and a visiting professor at INSEAD, a business school in Fontainebleau, France.
When making a decision, are you a maximizer or a satisficer? Find out by going to realsimple.com/decisions.