Learn how to make better decisions with 3 powerful habits

August 9, 2021 - 17 min read

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Why is it important to make good decisions?

3 habits that will make you a better decision-maker

10 effective decision-making tips

Learn how to make better decisions

You’re faced with new decisions every hour of every day.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as choosing which shoes to wear to work. (Not always so simple with a commute and multiple events in a day.)

But when important moments that require decisive action come around, it can be difficult to make the right decision without a process to do so.

Let’s explore how to make better decisions and how to cultivate the habits that will help simplify the process.

Why is it important to make good decisions?

Individual decisions might not seem to matter that much in the moment.

Usually, it’s the repercussions of those decisions that have an impact on your life. Making better decisions leads to better results (and fewer repercussions). Better decisions might leave you with more options and flexibility. Conversely, a good decision might shut off other options but open up a new opportunity. 

When you make better decisions, it also means you’re learning from your mistakes. And learning from your mistakes is a crucial aspect of personal development.

Making good decisions is also important in your work life, and for your work-life balance. It can help you further your career and create better results from your work. Good decision-making can help you achieve greater job and life satisfaction.

Ultimately, making decisions is what will make you a leader in your place of work.

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You cannot lead without being decisive. And when you’re a leader, your decisions will affect other people, not just you. Because of this, it’s important to consider all the moving pieces and potential consequences of a decision.

Framing the situation and weighing the alternatives are important steps in making decisions like a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

3 habits that will make you a better decision-maker

Are you wondering how to make big decisions effectively?

Here are three habits that will show you how to make better choices in life and work.

1. Leave yourself some space to reflect on your mistakes (and successes)

You won’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t take the time to reflect on them. That’s why you should make it a habit to carve out a regular time in your schedule for reflection. This can also help improve your mental fitness.

This isn't just to dwell on your mistakes or beat yourself up about bad decisions. Use it as a time-boxed period to honestly review your day's decisions and consider why some proved to be better (or worse) than others.

Reflect on what caused you to make mistakes: maybe an assumption was way off or you didn't seek any other input. Maybe you didn't give yourself time to think or you reacted out of fear. Analyze the situation and look at other possible alternatives you may have had. What did you learn? What will you do differently tomorrow as a result? 

You won’t be able to take back your mistakes. But you can make it a habit to learn from those decisions in order to improve your decision-making skills.

2. Analyze your own self-confidence

It’s important to have confidence, especially when you’re showing up for a new role at work.

But overconfidence can negatively impact your decision-making process. In medicine, studies show that overconfidence can lead to diagnostic errors

To keep your overconfidence in check, make it a habit to analyze yourself regularly. Are you 100% confident that you know exactly what you are doing? If you are, you might be suffering from overconfidence.

We can be 100% committed to our decision while still acknowledging how much we don't know or control. Stay humble to the unknown. That will ensure that you still consider other possibilities and seek out other perspectives?

If you notice that you are becoming overconfident, start seeking out other people’s feedback to get a new perspective.

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You won’t be right all the time, even if you believe you can be.

On the other hand, if you notice you are not confident, challenge that self-doubt. Consider finding ways to build more realistic confidence. This is especially important if you experience imposter syndrome.

3. Become aware of your mental heuristics

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that people use to make quick decisions.

Heuristics can be helpful by:

  • Reducing the mental effort you need to make decisions
  • Helping you with problem-solving
  • Simplifying complex questions
  • Helping you arrive at a conclusion faster

However, heuristics can also lead to cognitive biases. One example is the availability heuristic. You’ll be more likely to make a decision based on information that pops into your mind quickly.

So, if you’ve recently read several news articles about toxic managers, you’ll be more likely to find toxic behavior in the leaders around you.

Because of this, it’s important to understand what heuristics you use. Those heuristics could impact your daily decision-making process.

When you know what they are, you can pause and analyze the effect they are having on your decision-making. This takes some effort because our heuristics feel comfortable and natural to us. They feel right.

Take a step back and examine what other possibilities existed that you didn't choose or even consider. How might the outcome have been different? This will help you calibrate whether your heuristics are helping you make better decisions or not when the time comes. 

Make it a habit to recognize when you jump to conclusions and question why you jump to certain conclusions or make certain decisions.

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10 effective decision-making tips

Developing the right habits is important in order to make good calls. But what can you do when you’re finally confronted with a tough decision?

Here are 10 decision-making tips to nudge you in the right direction and help you learn how to make good decisions faster:

1. Imagine yourself one year into the future 

When you’re faced with a decision that you’re unsure about at the moment, try to imagine what the future will look like. Make a plan for one year in the future, and even five years into the future. It’s important not to get caught up only in the immediate results of your decisions.

The immediate results won’t necessarily let you know whether you’ve made a poor decision or not.

Think about one decision and how this will impact your future. Consider all aspects that you can think about. Then, compare with other decisions.

Where do you want to be in one year? Or in five years? And how do these different decisions impact what you want?

While this one-year jump isn’t the only factor you should consider when making a decision, it’ll help you brainstorm how the current situation can help you get what you want.

For example, let’s say you need to choose between a new job offer and keeping your current job.

Look at where your current job could take you. Compare that to what the new offer could do for you a year for now. Which one is closer to what you want?

2. Write down your goals

The previous one-year exercise can be helpful when making important decisions. But that’s only the case if you know where you want to be one year from now.

If you don’t, how will you know which decision will take you closer to your goals and which is a bad decision?

That’s why you should take some time to sit down and write your goals and create a personal vision statement that aligns with your goals. These goals should be both personal and professional.

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Let’s continue the previous example about a new job offer. If you know that your goal is to become a leader at work, writing it down can help you figure out which path will get you closer to that a year from now.

If the new job offer will give you a better salary but fewer opportunities to improve your leadership skills, then you know that you’re better off staying in your current position.

3. Identify at least four alternatives

Unless you need to choose between two decisions, take some time to identify at least four alternative choices you could make.

Even when you believe there are only two decisions, try to think outside the box and see if other alternatives exist. The more alternative decisions you know about, the more you can make an educated decision.

On the other hand, if you only consider two options, you may miss out on another decision that would have gotten you close to your goal.

Let’s say you’re mediating a dispute between two people at work and need to choose one side of the story to believe. But there are likely other alternative points of view for this story.

You can seek out other people who witnessed the argument before you arrived. As a result, you can establish a story that isn’t based on just one person’s word or the other. You can come to a decision that involves compromise.

4. Figure out what you don’t know

Whenever you make a decision, there will likely be unknown factors to consider. But you don’t know what you don’t know.

That’s why it’s important to take a moment and seek out what those unknown factors are. Once you figure out what you don’t know, you can take the necessary steps to know more.

The more you know, the more you can make a good decision based on all the facts.

Let’s say you’re still considering your two job options from before. You realize that you don’t know what leadership opportunities are available at the new job. Without this information, you won’t know what decision can lead you closer to your goals.

You decide to reach out to a friend who works there to ask them about the leadership opportunities.

5. Step away from the situation

When you’re deep in a situation, it may be difficult to see all the facts clearly.

Step away from the situation you’re trying to make a decision about. Use the distance to do all the steps from before, like coming up with alternative solutions or imagining yourself one year from now.

For instance, let’s say you need to build a team for a difficult project at work. You’re stuck in your office trying to figure out who the best people are for the job.

Simply step away for a moment and change your perspective. A change of scenery can provide you with the clarity you need to make better decisions.

6. Face your mistakes

It’s not easy to face your mistakes. But doing so can inform your future decisions.

When it’s time to make a decision, think back on previous similar situations when you may have made a mistake. Figure out what things you did or didn’t do that contributed to your mistake.

In the previous example, perhaps you assembled a team in the past that didn’t perform well. By facing your mistakes, you realized that you let your friendship with a team member influence your decisions.

Now you’re aware of your biases. You can make new decisions with those biases in mind.

7. Seek out feedback 

Getting someone else’s feedback can expand your perspective. It can reduce your own biases and uncover possibilities you didn’t consider.

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In the team-building example, have someone you trust weigh in on your potential team ideas. Someone else could spot a flaw in the team that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

8. Look at the long-term and short-term consequences

While looking one year into the future is a great exercise, it’s also important to consider the short-term and long-term consequences of a decision. How will this decision impact your life a week from now?

What about a month from now? What about three years, or even 10 years?

For example, if you’re considering moving across the country, you know this will have a long-term impact on your life. It'll also affect your life in the short term.

Write down possible scenarios in the short term and long term for whether you stay or go.

9. Analyze data

Sometimes, only trusting your gut instinct can get you in trouble.

Try to find objective data points to round out your knowledge of the situation. For example, if you’re considering a cross-country move, you can look at data points like employment rates, crime rates, and the cost of living.

These data points can help you paint a clearer picture of what your future will look like if you move.

10. Identify your values and stay true to them

This is critical. Your values are the North Star and guardrails, especially when making decisions in a fast-changing or uncertain world. Some people find a personal vision statement helpful for maintaining alignment between values and action. Goals are important, but personal values and work values matter, too.

People who find value and meaning in their work occupy more senior and skilled positions.

Let’s go back to the decision about choosing between your old job and a new offer. If you value inclusive leadership, but your current workplace doesn’t operate that way, perhaps it’s best to take the new offer in a more inclusive company.

Learn how to make better decisions

In addition to these tips, you can also improve your decision-making skills with the help of coaching.

BetterUp’s expert coaching can help you identify your strengths, achieve your goals, and learn better decision-making so you can reach your full potential. 

Request a demo to get started today.

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Published August 9, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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