9 Keys to Better Decision Making

1. Decide quickly. The philosopher William James is credited with having said that once a decision is made, you ought to stop worrying and start working. General George S. Patton once said that a good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan next week. Now, I’m not suggesting that you be hasty or thoughtless in how you decide, but rather that you focus on what needs to be decided, shut all else out, and then calmly, rationally make your call.

2. Take a break. One thing I’ve found as a writer and artist is that even when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, sometimes you need a break. Communicating one’s vision, whether in art or business, involves making many decisions, ad sometimes we can get too bogged down in the details and overthink what we’re doing. A study done at Carnegie Mellon University found that a two-minute break led to better decisions. When subjects were sidetracked by a brief number-sequene memorization exercise, they made better decisions, because while the conscious mind focuses on the ‘distracton,’ the unconscious mind still weighs options.

3. Drink a lot of water, and hold it in for 45 minutes. This is a somewhat uncomfortable strategy, but if you’re really stuck, this could be your ticket. Mirjan Tuk, an assistant professor at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, came up with a clever idea for a study when she had an urgent need to visit the ladies’ room in the middle of a long lecture. So she became curious as to what happens to people’s decision-making ability when they have to exercise a high level of bladder control. Her study found that people made better choices when their bladders were full, but extreme urgency was not necessary. Apparently the need to exercise impulse control in one area influences our impulse control in other, unrelated areas, so while I don’t use this particular strategy often myself, it’s not bad to have it as an option if you’re quite stuck.

4. Narrow your options. Sometimes we have what I like to refer to as “choice overload.” Having perhaps too many options to consider will often weaken your information-gathering skills by diluting your focus. Most people can only really handle about even items in their working memory at a time. If that’s not reason enough, consider that you really should only be trying to choose among the best options. Remember, you’re trying to take your vision to the million dollar level and beyond. What options are worthy of the very best of that vision? The greatest business leaders of our time probably don’t spend much time considering option number 346, and neither should you.

5. Go outside. A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives fond that volunteers in a role-playing exercise made worse decisions when CO2 levels were higher, such as in a crowded or stuffy room. Conversely, people in the study made better decisions when they had ‘breathing room.’ I frequently take breaks when writing, working on an action plan for a coaching client, or preparing for a masterminiding session with my clients, and for most of these breaks, I step outside, get some fresh air, and even exercise a bit. Some of the best passages of my novels are ‘written’ in my mind while walking through the woods near where I live, and some of the most successful ideas I’ve come up with for my clients happened while just fooling around in my studio. Sometimes the ‘outside’ you need is something that’s just outside of what you’re doing. When I was writing the second chapter of this book, a friend and mastermind group member had asked for advice on what to do in an upcoming meeting with a big prospect. I watched some some very silly and completely unrelated videos on YouTube, and the idea hit me: he would pitch the client the idea of a YouTube campaign featuring ‘nightmare’ blind dates that would make viewers laugh, followed by the branding of the dating site, and the words ‘We won’t let this happen to you.’ The client loved the idea.
Stuck on a decision? Go outside.

6. Get opinions from competent people. The Book of Proverbs says that “Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” If you think this isn’t true, consider how many advisors and consultants world leaders and CEOs often have. You may not have the resources right now to assemble a team of people you can pool opinions from, I get that. However, there are ways to assemble groups of competent people to assist in your vision. One way is to start or join a masterminding group. I started one with a few other entrepreneurs some time ago for my own business ventures, and run several mastermind groups for clients. In all of these, I get to help others solve their business problems, and in turn I get to leverage the knowledge and expertise of others to help solve my own when I’m stuck.

7. Consider all your options at once, not sequentially. Sequentially selected choices have a tendency to make us hope that the next possible choice is better, and for most of us, this will prejudice our decision-making process. Sheena Inyegar, in The Art of Choosing, found that people who saw all their options at once were more satisfied with their choice. Give this a try in your next decision.

8. Fast forward your projected outcomes. There’s really no such thing as action without consequences. Over the years, my best decisions have come when I’ve considered the possible outcomes and pictured for myself where those outcomes would take me down the road. Suzy Welch, author of 10-10-10: A Life Transformation Idea Book, advocates an approach to decision making in which you ask yourself where a decision will take you in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. By looking at your decisions in terms of their consequences and results, you can position yourself to make decisions which will be more conducive to the life you aspire to.

9. Count the cost of inaction. Conventional thinking tells us to count the cost of what we intend to do, but many of us often fail to do the same when it comes to the cost of not taking action. How many potential clients or opportunities will pass you by for every day, week, or month that you don’t take action? Now, multiply that number by the ballpark profit you’d make from each one, and there’s a fairly good thumbnail sketch of what it’s going to cost you to sit on your duff hemming and hawing about what to do instead of doing it. Try this exercise right now, and see what kind of numbers come up.

Now, I’d be remiss in my intention to inspire you in the pursuit of your vision if I didn’t offer a practical exercise to help you use these strategies. Here’s what I’d like you to do.

Take a sheet of paper, and across the top, on the very first line, write down an intention. Keep it simple.

Next, ask yourself five questions about that intention. Write down the questions, and whatever answers you come up with. Now, based on those answers, ask yourself what decisions are most likely to manifest that intention.

Once you’ve done that, use one or more of the decision-making strategies we discussed to decide what to do about that intention, and some take immediate action each day to support that decision. Record your results, and compare this process to your previous process.

While some people might encourage you to test this exercise out with ‘unimportant’ decisions, I’d feel like I was insulting you if I did so. Rather, I’d like to tell you to use it on an important decision right away. When the stakes are low, we often tend to put less than our best foot forward, so if you’re going to make the effort to do this exercise, it may as well be done in the interest of a real decision that’s going to move you toward the greatness you dream of.

Once you’ve done this exercise a few times, you’ll find that even the decisions you make without writing anything down will start to improve as you learn to form productive intentions intuitively, and your decision-making process becomes more focused.

This blog post was written by Sam Medina. Catch Sam at MoMondays on 02/24/2014! Get your advance tickets here: Buy Tickets

Sam Medina Sam Medina is an award-winning artist, best-selling author, and speaker who serves as a consultant to prominent business leaders and organizations. His adventures in business began when he earned over $4.3M in his first year as a stockbroker, and he’s since gone on to be the CEO of one the first WISPs, and is the creator of the popular webcomic ‘Jake the Evil Hare,’ with over 60,000 followers as @Samuel_A_Medina on Twitter. For more about Sam, visit http://www.sam-medina.com.

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