Life is about choices.
Some we regret, some we’re proud of
Some will haunt us forever.
The message: We are what we choose to be.
– Graham Brown
Research estimates that an average adult makes around 35.000 remotely conscious decisions in a day. That is close to a decision per second. From simple decisions such as what to eat for breakfast or what to wear to work to immensely weighted decisions about our jobs and personal lives, a person cannot escape the choice to decide. Just the other day it took me a full 45 minutes to decide what to watch on Netflix even when I knew I was eventually going to revert to a good ol’ romcom.
If we want to look at it technically, decision-making could be defined as the mental activities that take place in choosing among alternatives (Galotti, 2008). Decisions typically contain some amount of uncertainty and we do not always know whether the decision we have taken would be relevant or useful. But hey, we gotta do what we gotta do.
There are generally 5 phases to making a decision.
- Setting Goals
- Gathering Information
- Structuring the decision
- Making a final choice
These phases occur even for the most minute decision and do not particularly affect the result of the decision. Everyone differs in their abilities to make decisions. While some end up making successful decisions, a lot of people do not have the ability to make competent decisions. There are 3 major styles of decision making – spontaneous, dependent and avoidant. A research paper by Juanchich et al (2013) studied the relationship between different styles of decision making and personality and came to the conclusion that personality and not cognitive styles had an impact on decision making. This means that our personality does end up playing a role in the kind of decisions we make and the ramifications we end up bearing. This doesn’t mean we cannot do something to help us make better decisions.
From a practical point of view, small daily decisions take up a lot of our time and energy, leaving us with decision making fatigue. We experience a kind of choice paralysis wherein making everyday decisions can impact our ability to make the more important ones. A study at UCL by Dr Bastien Blain and Joseph Marks, came up with some rules of thumb to help us make decisions.
- Avoid making big decisions when you’re tired, or ‘pause’ for thought
- Know your own body clock – Are you a morning or a night person, make decisions accordingly.
- Learn to ‘satisfice’ (accept the first satisfactory decision)or ask for help
- Know that it will get easier
Decision Making brings up a lot of anxiety in a lot of people. It is not the easiest thing to do, especially when the stakes are high. But it might help to know that we can’t make progress without making decisions.