If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.- Unknown author
Decisions are nothing more than mental processes that help 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.
A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.– Ghandi
Common stages of decision making process
- 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.
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
- group think or other form of peer pressure to confirm opinions held by a group often family or close 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.
Choices are the hinges of destiny – Pythagoras
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 consciously and begins to pay attention and notice these effects so that they can correct 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 reframing 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 client’s life often.
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 etc. 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. – Paulo Coelho
As I work on my next book, I am reading many fascinating papers in psychology and neuroscience about how we make decisions and I look forward to sharing what I learn with you via my reflections and insights combining evidence based studies with my experience of coaching practice.