How to Make Smarter Decisions When it Counts

Have you wondered why some of your relationship, career and life decisions did not turn out as well as expected? Did you know your physical, mental and emotional state combine forces with how your brain is wired to affect the outcomes and quality of your decisions?

We make thousands of “mini-decisions” continuously during our waking hours. Most of them are unconscious and automatic, like dressing, eating, driving, communicating and performing work activities. Our daily “auto-pilot” decisions come from trial-and-error life experiences that form our memory and behavior programs. We usually don’t think about these seemingly small decisions as long as they provide reasonably good outcomes.

Decisions involving career planning, long-term relationships, investments, children and parents, business strategies, buying a home and solving major life challenges, however, require a diligent and thoughtful approach. These areas have long-term impact on your life and the lives of other people. Three levels of decision-making are shown to explain the reasoning behind the popular warning not to “make long-term decisions based on short-term criteria.”

Do you recognize your decision-making style in the three levels shown below?

Level I: Letting others make your decisions for you

This is the least reliable method, unless you are physically or mentally unable to make your own decisions. Letting other people make your decisions robs you of freedom-of-choice, dignity, self-esteem, and growth potential. If you are cognitively fit, you can make your own good decisions with input from advisors you trust.

Level II: Making decisions based on your emotional state

This is a dangerous approach to decision-making. Yet, many people make important decisions based on their emotional state during the decision making process. An example of making a potentially bad decision is meeting someone you are attracted to and taking the first flight to Las Vegas to get married before getting to know one another. Another example is walking away from an attractive and lucrative business opportunity because you are in an upset or anxious state. The bottom-line is to avoid making decisions when in an emotional state because charged emotions short-circuit your more reliable and dependable cognitive thinking abilities.

Level III: Using cognitive strengths

The highest level of making decisions is using cognitive strengths. These include yours and those of your trusted advisors. Following these steps will help you make smarter long-term decisions.

Step 1: Collect current information

You may not have sufficient knowledge to make a good decision on an important matter. This is the time to gather current information from reliable sources and seek advice from your knowledgeable, trusted   advisors.

Step 2: Define the desired outcomes

It’s important to know what outcomes you want from the decision. Be as specific as possible including things you can measure and experience. As an example, home purchase outcomes may include $25,000 down payment, $1,500.00 monthly mortgage payment, $200/month average utility bills, 20 minute commute to work, top-ranked school district, low maintenance, safe and secure neighborhood and a home where you can experience fun and peace-of-mind.

Step 3: Cognitively process information and desired outcomes

You are ready to process your knowledge including current research on the topic, advice from trusted advisors and your desired outcomes from the decision. Merely look at the decision options and ask yourself:

  • What looks best?
  • What sounds best?
  • What feels best?
  • What seems to be the most logical, practical and realistic?
  • What has the most potential, options and possibilities? 

The five questions naturally engage your brain to evaluate what you know about the situation and the outcomes you want to experience. Being able to answer all five questions, strongly and affirmatively, increases the probability of a reliable and dependable “whole-brained decision.” Consider asking your trusted advisors for their feedback to the five questions. This will strengthen your knowledge and confidence before moving forward with important life decisions.

In conclusion, making good decisions is easier using your trusted advisors’ knowledge and brain strengths. The biggest obstacle to making great decisions is to trust your emotions because they short-circuit your cognitive abilities. Neuroscience decision-making works equally well in your personal life and in corporate environments.

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