From the routes we take to work and our next meals, to changing jobs or buying a home, human existence is a collection of decisions, and even though minor decisions feel like second nature, the bigger and more consequential choices require a lot more from us. They need more strategic thought and application. Human beings are, in many ways, governed by emotions and often those emotions can steer us in a different direction from what rationality dictates. Bringing as much logic into a decision is how people can be clearer headed and think more about consequences and effects of every action. What are some of the psychological aspects that govern how people make decisions, and how do you make it easier to make the right choice?
Understanding the Full Weight of the Decisions
The most emotional and irrational way to make a decision is to just go with what feels and sounds right in the moment. The only problem is that decisions aren’t just for that moment, they have downstream effects that could affect you and anyone else involved. So before making a decision, it’s important to explore all the long-term effects (both benefits and downsides) so that your choice is more informed. For example, if someone had to choose between two job opportunities, they would have to know the upside and downside of each of them. If they wanted to spend a considerable amount of money on an impulse buy, they’d have to know the opportunity cost of that purchase, and if someone wants to borrow money from their home equity, they would need to know about the pros and cons.
According to reverse.mortage website, “If you don’t know the full weight of a decision in borrowing against your home equity, you might end up in a situation where the downstream effects will come as a nasty surprise you weren’t initially aware of”.
Consider your Alternatives
Always try to spend time on this step. You need to consider all the alternatives and then choose the right one. But do not let the alternatives drive you into overthinking or over-analysis. Remember to do enough research to have a few alternatives and then think over them. Consider the pros and cons of them and then move forward. You need to weigh the list of criteria that you have created for the decision and rate each alternative. Now compute the result and see which makes the most sense. There may not be an absolute right decision, so weigh your options according to the criteria and then consider what’s best for you.
The Latin root of part of the word “decide” actually translates to “cut off”, and it perfectly encapsulates making choices. Making big decisions is psychologically scary because choosing one option means cutting yourself from the other. This can put a lot of pressure and weight on the option we do choose, and so you can consider framing a decision around minimizing your regret. For example, when someone is trying to eat healthy and exercise, and the inevitable temptation to eat a sugary snack or skip a workout arises, they have to make a choice. In the moment, that slice of cake or time on the couch is tempting, but what if the person framed the decision on what they would regret more – the snack or eating a healthy meal? In most cases, they’ll regret not following through with their health plan and that will help them make a decision. Ultimately it’s about choosing between the pain of doing something hard and the pain of not doing it.
The Paradox of Choice
In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz points that one of the biggest barriers to making smart decisions is having too many options. When we’re choosing between two paths, it’s as simple as eliminating one in favor of the other. But what happens when the choices are multiplied? Confusion, overwhelm and indecision. In the book, Schwartz uses the example of buying a pair of jeans. If you have 5 options it’s harder to pick the right thing, but if there’s 2, all you really need to worry about. By narrowing the items we pick one option from, we’re more likely to align with what’s truly right.
Choosing Your Problems
There’s no such thing as a decision without a downside, the only difference is the degree of the downside and what we’re willing to live with. When you make a decision, you’re not just choosing the benefits, you’re choosing the side effects too. Another approach to decision making that we can take is to “choose the kinds of problems we want to have.” Instead of seeing a decision as an escape from one bad outcome, consider that each option isn’t 100% perfect and then choose which set of problems you’ll be happy to have in the long run. They don’t have to be huge problems but seeing a decision in this way allows you to evaluate the right path more clearly and more logically.
From the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep, we are making decisions. Some of them are automatic, but the truly pivotal and life changing decisions can’t be made impulsively. It’s important to consider each path and each option with mental clarity and less irrationality. Our decisions drive every part of our lives, and one choice can change our entire lives. Using strategies to make these decisions will allow us to be happy with what we’ll end up with.
Remember, there is no right answer to every question you have. Even smart people make dumb choices and it is okay. The majority of what we learn is through trial and error. Hence, even if you make a bad decision, it will be good in the long run, as long as you take the time to learn and reflect. Be kind to yourself and talk to yourself like a friend. This will help choose the path that is best for you in the long run.