Techniques for decision making
If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.Unknown author
Decision making is nothing more than mental processes that helps us select a course of action or belief state. Every decision making process whether conscious or unconscious will produce a specific and final choice at any given time, though some choices can be refined or revisited and re-evaluated.
A number of techniques exists for making decisions that are commonly used in everyday life:
- Pros and cons which aims to list or summarise advantages and disadvantages.
- Cost analysis which aims to weight the benefits versus losses of a decision (often in terms of money).
- Simple prioritising where one lists and ranks alternatives according to highest probability of working out.
- Polar opposite consideration where the opposite decision is considered and evaluated.
- Coin flip or other technique to emphasise randomness.
- Astrology, tarot cards, revelations, dreams etc.
- Giving up responsibility for decision making by relying on or allowing others to decide on our behalf.
Stages of the decision making process
A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.Mahatma Ghandi
Common stages of the decision making process are:
- identifying that a problem or decision point exists
- brainstorming options and/or identifying competing drivers
- examining motivation for various options
- making a judgement
- following through with action/decision
- reflection on action taken to aid learning.
Making quality decisions
The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.Sun Tzu
Because the brain is involved in decision making both in terms of rational/cognitive centres as well as emotional areas of the brain, there are many biases that can pollute good decision making. Here are some common biases I notice in my client’s reflections on actions/decisions they have taken:
- Confirmation bias – paying attention only to facts that support their conclusions, seeking out information to confirms the view taken, failing to see alternative explanations.
- Premature decisions – accepting the first thought that comes to mind.
- Cognitive “stuckness” – conscious unwillingness to change one’s mind even in the face of contradictory facts.
- Wishful thinking – a tendency to see the good in things and ignoring the facts.
- Memory distortions – subtle and overt changes in how events are recounted that begin to support the decision.
- Temporal bias towards more recent events that discount past history and the complete picture.
- Groupthink or other forms of peer pressure to conform to opinions held by a group. This can often be their family or close colleagues and friends.
- Illusion of control or need for control where the client makes decisions as a way to build confidence or assert control over an uncertain situation that makes them uncomfortable and highlights areas for development.
- Thinking without/with too much emotion whereby people try to reason their way into a story neglecting how they really feel about it and what is their truth or re-acting to an emotional trigger.
- Practical over spiritual choices that may satisfy the immediate surface need but are counter to the spirit/essence of the person, their core identity or desire for meaning.
Coaching to improve decision making
Choices are the hinges of destinyPythagoras
Each of these biases can result in poor decision making, regret, further erosion of confidence and further unhelpful pattern repetition unless the client becomes aware of how they make decisions. Paying more attention to the forces behind your decision making and some of the above tendencies and biases will go a long way towards correcting for them. A coach can do a great deal to assist a client in doing just that!
This can be achieved through:
- Reflecting what the client is doing and how.
- Challenging the client’s thinking or re-framing what is presented to correct for these biases.
- Asking questions that help explore these biases to provide a more balanced thinking landscape.
- Spotting and working with behavioural patterns and biases that crop up into the client’s life often.
Engaging the heart and mind
The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.Buddha
As life is a result of many choices that can seem minor and inconsequential at the time and yet add up to years of poor decision making, awareness about how one make choices, what guides decision making process, what is the process one fallows are good questions to explore in coaching.
The mind has created many shortcuts to save us time from making what appear to be simple decisions such as what to eat for breakfast. And yet, in the race or laziness to not think about some things more rationally or even consider the underlying reasons for some of the decisions we make each day, the mind can cheat us out of good things in life and cause unnecessary suffering.
Whenever regret shows up in decision making it’s a sure sign that decision bias was at play causing faulty thinking.
Why do we have to listen to our hearts? Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.Sun Tzu
As I work on my next book, I am reading many fascinating papers in psychology and neuroscience about how we make decisions as well as observing this process in my coaching practice, and my own life too. I look forward to sharing what I learn with you via my reflections and insights combining evidence-based studies with my experience.