You make hundreds of choices in a day. Some are decided on right away. Others are mulled over for a while. In either case, after the choice is executed, you walk away feeling that you made the right call, at the right time. But did you? Perhaps you decided too early, or too late. The decision making style is a key feature of the decision making process that many people fail to consider.
So, how do you know when your decision making style is optimal?
Doing so requires a psychological analysis. You need to identify your behavioral tendencies to first understand whether you have a tendency to make decisions too early, or too late. In this post you will learn how to do this. Then you’ll read a series of tactics on how to avoid the pitfalls of a faulty decision making style.
As always, our team of neuroscience and psychology PhDs have gone through more than fifty academic studies related to decision making, to provide you with this heavy-hitting scientific framework for decision making.
Why is your decision making style so important
We all have our biases in decision making, reflected in our decision making styles. Our brains are wired to push us towards certain predispositions: Some people make rash decisions. Others are indecisive. And these inherent predispositions happen unconsciously, so you don’t realize if and when they are affecting your actions. The key, therefore, is to account for your personal tendencies and to correct for the decision making style so that you make the right choice at the right time. This is the goal of this post. It looks like this:
Step 1. Identify your behavioral patterns in decision making. What is your general tendency when it comes to where you land on your decision point?
Step 2. Address your bias/tendency using a set of simple tactics. What’s important is that you apply the tactics tailored to your own decision making style. One size does not fit all. You should opt for the exercises that are most relevant for your own personal tendencies (given Step 1).
In what follows, we’ll elaborate on these two steps and offer a set of solutions to help you find the decision point that is right for you and your decision making style.
Identifying your behavioral patterns in decision making
The two major decision making styles related to timing are as follows:
- Too soon: The tendency to make fast decisions that are premature and uninformed
- Too late: The tendency to make slow decisions that lead to indecision and confusion
While each decision you make is different, and requires a slightly different decision point, knowing your default will give you a starting point to work off of. The following questions, based in a validated assessment tool, can help you identify what kind of decisions you tend to make. Please take a moment to answer them. Indicate a ‘yes’ if the statement is true for you, and ‘no’ if it does not reflect your usual behaviors.
Yes or no?
- I seldom make quick decisions.
- I avoid making decisions until the pressure is on.
- I rarely make snap decisions.
- I postpone decision making whenever is possible.
- I often procrastinate when it comes to making decisions.
- I seldom make decisions on the spur of the moment.
- I seldom make impulsive decisions.
- I generally make decisions at the last minute.
- I put off making my decisions because thinking about them makes me uneasy.
If you answered ‘yes’ less than 5 times, you have a tendency for spontaneous decisions. Spontaneous decision making style means that your decisions are likely to be quick, rapid, impulsive, and you are prone to make snap judgements.
This is the result of a strong feeling of immediacy and desire to come through the process of decision making as fast as possible. In other words, you want to get the decision over with. While this is good in certain circumstances, making choices too hastily can lead you to potentially miss out on important and relevant information.
If you answered ‘yes’ at least 5 times, you have a tendency to avoid decision making whenever possible. You tend to postpone it until the point when you feel too much pressure. This decision making style is characterized by withdrawing and avoiding the decision point, often because your decisions make you uneasy, or you feel like you constantly need more information to make the call. Moreover, your threshold for information saturation is rather high, which means you need more time before your brain signals that there is enough information to reach the decision point.
While looking for more information can be good in the decision making process, it can also lead to inaction. To combat your indecisiveness, you need to speed up your decision making process and convince the brain/mind that you have sufficient information.
In what follows, we will offer you concrete solutions, tailored to your decision making style. Based on your answers, please go through one of the sections below. The first part is for the fast decision makers, while the second one is for the slow decision makers. Choose either one given your decision biases.
How to avoid hasty decisions
If you are a fast decision maker, this part will guide your through 4 unique tactics that can help you to slow down and optimize your decision making process. Each tactic tackles the problem from a different angle, by:
- shifting your focus to a global perspective
- aligning your choices with overall values and goals
- anchoring your decision in knowledge and information, rather than intuition
- increase the critical evaluation of your choices.
Make your decision part of the bigger picture:
Short decision times can put you at risk of missing the bigger picture. When you base your decisions on short, quick judgements, which are often detached from long-term plans, your decisions become disconnected from your overall vision and plans. To overcome that, you need to shift your focus to be more “global.” This means changing your perspective and looking at your actions as fitting into the bigger picture. Here’s how:
Research has found that perceived physical height affects how you construe things. Construal processing happens in one of two ways: globally (the big picture) or locally (the detailed minutiae). A physically higher position (e.g., sitting on a high chair or being on the top level of the building) prompts a more global (less local) construal of things/people/events. In other words, the higher you are physically, the more likely you are to think in this holistic, “big picture” way. You can apply that in your decision making process, by making sure you occupy a physically higher place in the moment you’re needing to make a choice. For example:
- Sit on a higher chair or adjust the one you are already sitting on.
- Go to the higher floor level of the building you’re already in.
- Focus your attention on things that are below your line of sight.
- Choose to do your work at a standing desk.
- When in transit, opt for standing instead of sitting.
- Go to a park or area in the city that’s elevated (a look-out scene is best here).
By doing so, you actively affect your cognitive construal to situate the information in your decision making within the broader context.
Make your decision intentional and aligned with your values:
Fast decisions are often detached from your overall goals and values, which means that they can be unintentional and occur by happenstance. To make an effective decision, you need to make it intentional, by considering the long-term vision, and how your choices fit in with your goals and values. Here’s how:
- When you have a decision to make, refer to your company’s mission and values. First, choose the ones that are most relevant to that decision. For example, the values focused on the internal relationships between employees might not be relevant to the decision related to the new products and user experience. Make sure there’s a match.
- Take extra time to consider how each option you have fits in with those values. Create a matrix, with your options listed on the right, and values written on the top. For each option and each value, rate whether they are coherent: from 1 (no alignment between the option and overall values), to 10 (the option is perfectly aligned with the values). See the example in the table below.
- Discard the options that may seem good, but they do not serve the overall vision of your company and they are not coherent with your values. These will be the options with low scores, for example option 3 in the table below. By doing so, you ensure that every decision you make is carefully thought out.
Be more critical about your choice:
Making a fast decision occurs when your affective-motivational state is overly positive. Such a state lacks in the process of inhibition (i.e., you don’t wait things out). In other words, you feel positive about your decision, which leads to a lack of critical evaluation. To overcome this, you need a healthy dose of motivational negativity. This will initiate the inhibitory process. As a result, your brain will force you to take a moment to pause and consider whether there is any important information missing from what you already know. This is how you can do it:
1. If you’ve already made up your mind and have chosen the most fitting option, take extra time to consider the potential consequences of your decision. Ask yourself, what would have to happen to make the consequences of your decision disastrous? In other words, what is the worst possible scenario? And if it were to happen:
- What would you lose?
- Would anyone else lose out?
- Could you recover easily?
- Are there plans in place to mitigate the losses?
- Would it have a cascading effect and negatively impact other aspects of the business?
2. Once you know the potential risks, take a moment to consider whether your choice is still the best one. Are you prepared to deal with the potential negative consequences? Do you have time and resources to do so? While risky decisions are often the ones that bring you the biggest benefits, considering the negative scenario means that you take more time to evaluate your options in order to settle on a more appropriate decision point.
Transform your intuition-based decision to a knowledge-based one:
Fast decisions are often linked with inaccurate belief assessment and overconfidence – you incorrectly assume you know enough to make a decision. Belief assessment means judging the probability of certain events occurring as a result of your decision. If you are overconfident, you’ll be more likely to assume that your decision results in a good outcome, which in turn, leads to fast, intuitive errors in judgement. Although quick heuristics are sometimes good, you need to find a good balance between information-gathering and intuition. One way to do this is to challenge yourself to transform your intuition-based reasoning to a knowledge-based one. Here’s how:
- When you make a decision, you tend to form quick judgements about your options. Look at your top choices, whether it’s one or two options that you consider as the best, and write down why you think they are the most optimal ones.
- Once you have a list, evaluate each point to see whether it is based on your knowledge or intuition. The knowledge-based reasons will be the ones linked with hard facts and information you can easily verify. The ones based on intuition will be related to your assumptions, beliefs and feelings.
- For the reasons based on intuition, consider whether you can turn them into a knowledge-based one. If you can do some research and get extra information – you should do so. That way, you can challenge your beliefs related to your decision, and ensure that you have enough knowledge to make an informed choice. You can gather extra information by asking people around you about your choice-in-question:
- ask a number of people in different positions and who have different experiences than you.
- ask for their opinion about your potential choice, as well as their confidence rating (e.g., how certain are they of X?).
If the answers you get are similar to your “opinion”, the choice is likely based on knowledge and information, rather than on intuition and experience. It’s an obvious cue that you need to deliberate longer before acting.
How to stop being indecisive
If you tend to be indecisive, this part of the post will teach you how to tackle that, by guiding you through 3 unique tactics, including:
- pre-commiting to a self-imposed deadline to evoke sense of urgency
- reducing your decision fatigue to make more efficient and faster decisions
- rewiring your thinking by switching on your need for closure.
Create a sense of urgency:
Feeling indecisive is often linked with a perceived lack of urgency. You postpone the decision because you know you can. There are no deadlines, there is no pressure to make the decision as soon as possible. The problem is that you feel there are no consequences for taking extra time. But in reality, delaying can be bad for you both in the short- and long-term. Prolonging the decision leads to information and cognitive overload.
You can do so by creating a sense of urgency. To speed up the process, you can positively trick yourself into thinking that the decision is urgent. The simplest way to do so is to set up a specific deadline.
- Ask yourself, when is the latest you need to make the decision? How much time do you have? How much time does it usually take you to make such a decision? Then, cut off somewhere between 25-50% of that decision time. If, for example, you think it will take around 4 weeks, aim for 2-3 weeks instead.
Once you choose the deadline, communicate it to people involved in or affected by that particular decision. Make your deadline official. Also, plan the activities that would normally follow up your decision straight after your deadline. Having such pre-commitments stops you from reversing your choices over time. For example, you can set up a meeting with your colleagues to discuss your decision a day after your deadline. By doing so, you will now have to make the decision earlier than you would normally. Communicating it to others holds you socially accountable. When it comes to following through on something, there’s no stronger pressure than a social one.
Avoid decision fatigue:
Research shows, the quality of your decision making goes down over time. The more decisions you make, the more difficult they become. Thus, postponing your decision may have a negative impact on you, as more choices and options get loaded onto your psychological plate. You begin to suffer from decision fatigue. You can overcome it by planning ahead when certain decisions will be made. That way, you can limit the negative impact of decision fatigue and improve your efficiency in the process. You can do that using the following steps:
- Schedule in time the day before to make the decision. First, ask yourself, how important is the decision you need to make? By rule of thumb, the most important decisions should be made in the morning, before the fatigue kicks in. If the decision is important, schedule some time in the morning to make the final call. If the decision is less important, you can schedule some time later on that day.
Narrow down your options. When you schedule your time for decision making, try to narrow down the options you will consider. Be clear and specific: don’t say general statements like ‘develop new product ideation’, but instead, name your specific options ‘decide whether product A, B or C is the best option with Team X’. That way, you make the actual decision faster and easier. You will also avoid being distracted by new options popping up last minute. Altogether, it will shorten your decision time and help you avoid the cognitive fatigue associated with indecision.
Pro tip 1: You can offload decisions to habit formation systems so they are more automated, instead of including them in the conscious decision repertoire of the day. Ask yourself what can be automated and have those “choices” made already. For example, what to eat, what to wear, how to get to the office, what to read in the morning, what workout routine to engage in, etc. Once you work those details into your daily routine, you can reduce your overall decision fatigue that accumulates through your day.
Pro tip 2: You can prime yourself in a simple way to speed up the process. Picture yourself as a 7-year-old child and imagine what would you do tomorrow. This can help you initiate spontaneity in decision-making and avoid fatigue.
Turn on your need for closure:
Taking extra time during decision making often results from the low need for closure. This is the inclination to want clear and unambiguous judgements. If your need for closure is low, you are less motivated to form clear-cut judgements and you tend to look for as much information as possible before you decide. In other words, you don’t act until you know everything. The problem is you can never know everything. This forces you into an endless loop of pointless information-seeking. To address this, you can rewire your thinking and focus on making clear-cut judgements relevant to your decision:
- Write down on a piece of paper your options related to that particular decision. For each option, mark on a scale from 1 to 100 the clarity of each option (from 1: not clear at all / there’s not enough information to 100: a very clear opinion / I have all the necessary information. Then, calculate the average for all options.
- Set up a cut-off point for your decision making – a specific number that will represent enough information and clarity needed to make the final judgement. Do not go more than 25% above your initial score: if your original score is 60, the maximum cut-off point 75. Going more than 25% above your initial level may lead to information overload and impede your decision making process.
- Reevaluate your scores after some time. Once your average reaches the cut-off point, make the decision. You have enough information to make an informed choice despite what your default brain might say.
Recap for optimizing your decision making style
Altogether, identifying your behavioral tendencies in decision making can help you time your decision well. Once you know your decision making style, you can work to reverse your biases:
If your tendency is to decide too fast, you can:
- Transform your intuition-based decision to a knowledge-based one.
- Be more critical about your choice by priming negative emotion.
- Make your decision intentional and aligned with your values.
- Make your decision part of the bigger picture through changes in perceived height.
If your tendency is to decide too slow, you can:
- Create a sense of urgency by setting deadlines and hard-stops.
- Avoid decision fatigue by prioritizing choices and habituating behaviors.
Remember, the timing of your decision point is integral to making good choices. Understanding your predispositions to timing is how you become an expert decision maker.