Think: 3 Steps to Better Decisions (The Case Against Yourself)

Psychologists have noted that each person has a natural ‘fight or flight’ instinct that may occur in particularly stressful or dangerous situations. As someone who has had to deal with this personally, I wish you all never have to experience a true ‘fight or flight’ occurrence. Rather, our daily lives are made up of experiences or situations where we have time to think before acting.

Still some of us make snap decisions or judgments without thinking about all of the information at hand. Our emotions, or intuition, get the better of our minds and cause us to choose the less desirable action (or even worse, inaction). Unless you are a seasoned veteran or expert in a particular area, I implore you to stay away from intuition or snap decisions. Since we have time, even if it is only a few minutes or seconds, we should try to understand the issue, think about the possible outcomes, and then choose what is best for us or those who may be impacted.

1. What’s the Issue at Hand?

Think: What’s the issue at hand? Too often an issue is taken at face value. Try to understand the situation completely. What’s going on? How did we get here? What are the drivers that caused this? Recently, I was doing research on a project reviewing a company’s operations and full-funnel customer service. There were three main drivers that caused costs in the call center to steadily rise over a course of years. What I discovered wasn’t that something had changed in the business, but the industry was undergoing a shift in how customers were communicating. To get to this, I had to take a step back and view the issue as a whole (or in business jargon, ‘take a 30,000 ft. view’).

When I first had my data, it would have been easy to point to those three things and slash and burn, but that would have been repeating the past. Granted, this was a major project with long term effects, but the question can be applied to anything; what is the issue at hand? Now you don’t have to take days or weeks to apply this to your daily life; you only need to take deep breaths, and think.

2. What Are My Options?

Think: What are my options? Now that you know what you are dealing with, you have options. This is the shortest step in the process. More times than not, you have two choices. On that project, the simple choice was to tweak one thing there, another there, slash this, cut that. Another choice was to introduce something new. It would take longer and be more work, but would have long-term benefits. As an economic thinker, it may be helpful to assign values to each, some tangible or intangible.

3. What’s the Best Decision I Can Make?

Think: What’s the best decision I can make? Pause. This is where our irrational nature takes over and snap decisions are made. Unless you are an expert or have borderline Olympic-level skills in that particular field, you need to think. Since you have options, this is hardest step. Do you go down the easy road or the hard road? Are you motivated by the short term or do you have the long game in mind? Take into account the values that you thought and apply them. This will, almost always, show you the best path.

The project I noted above was long and there was plenty of time to go through these steps meticulously, but these simple steps can be applied, and should be, to everything you do. Your friends ask you to go out the night before a presentation at school or work. Someone asks you to stay for one more drink. That third (or fourth) slice of pizza. These are all things you can think through in less time than it takes to inhale and exhale.

P.S. - My friends know me to be a calculating person and the ideal of total rationality is just that, an ideal. Don’t be surprised when something doesn’t turn out how you planned…somewhere along the line, an irrational choice was made, it is in our nature.

David Griffin is a writer and photographer based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains during all seasons. Griffin, a native East Coaster, has taken dozens of cross-country road trips and uses his expertise in his storytelling.
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