You will make hundreds of thousands of decisions throughout your life.
We all will.
From the mundane: I’ll wear red socks today. To the profane: I won’t believe in your God. The variety of decisions you will have to make may never cease to amaze you. It’s not just the variety of decisions either, there is an equally amazing variety of ways to make – and fail to make – a decision.
Rather than comparing all these amazing varieties, I’ll share with you some things I’ve found it useful to be aware of when making a decision:
1. Don’t make decisions on an empty stomach, when you’re tired, or when you need the toilet. Those kinds of pressures will affect your mental or physical state and can seriously hamper your ability to think straight. You won’t always be able to avoid making decisions without being under those pressures but try to avoid it whenever you can.
2. The quality and quantity of the information available to you directly affects the quality of your decision. This isn’t to imply that having more information is better than having less, or vice versa. What you need is accurate and up-to-date information, from a reliable source, at the right time, and in a format you can digest quickly.
3. You’ll never really know how much information is enough. There is no rule. What you have to decide is how much information you need to enable you to answer the most important parts of the question. Some parts of a question may not be answerable period, or if they are, they may not be answerable in the time you have available.
4. Focus is critical. Invest most of your time capturing and analysing the information you don’t yet know, but can know and absolutely need to know. And if you find yourself struggling to concentrate because you’re constantly on social media, give yourself a break. It’s not entirely your fault.
5. Look out for “yes men”. You should not surround yourself with people who are too eager to agree with what you are thinking. It’s comforting to hear your own opinions reflected but group think can poison the quality of your thinking and final decision. You don’t have to invite argument or disagreement, but seeking out those who might have a different perspective can bring you insight and solutions that you might not have considered, or realised were open to you.
6. The cost of gathering more information must be weighed against the cost of not making a decision now. The more time you spend gathering information, the less time you might have to gain an advantage.
7. Many of your decisions won’t be final. You will sometimes be able to change them, or pause them, and cancel them. Remembering that can ease your deliberations and reduce or remove the sense of finality from your decision; if you think “there is no way back” then this might cause you to fear the consequences and lead to a poorer decision.
8. On the other hand… burning your boats can be helpful. If you accept there will be no opportunity to revoke or revise your decision, it can sharpen your senses and help you focus on making a good decision. It can also add extra incentive to making sure you follow through on your decision.
“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War