As human beings, our choices determine the life we live, how and on what we spend our time, our work efficiency, and ultimately what we go on to achieve. While the right ones lead us down the right path, the wrong ones can negatively impact our work, career, relationships, health and other important areas of our life. Even though most of us would like to think that we can rationally process information to make good decisions, fact is that we all do make poor choices in certain situations. Learning to be aware of what contributes to a bad decision, you can successfully avoid making bad decisions.
“You never make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it is no longer a mistake, it is a choice.” – Lauren ConradTweet
Many of us tend to dismiss our wrong decisions by reclassifying them as mistakes, but they are not the same. A mistake is doing something without intention. A wrong decision is when you decide to do something intentionally and often without regard for the consequence. Also, considering it as a mistake removes your responsibility, making it no longer your fault where you are more likely to blame external factors. This results in making the same wrong decisions again again. living with the outcome of a wrong decision doesn’t necessarily mean that one is not going to repeating it.
Similarly, a bad decision isn’t the same as a bad outcome because often outcomes are independent of our choices. It is not like we consciously decide to act irrational, as certain choices seem quite reasonable at the time of making a decision, but later we realise how flawed some of them are. We tend to make bad decisions when the line between the choice and the outcome becomes blurred in our minds. Even with the knowledge of a perfectly good decision, one can incline towards making bad decisions in certain contexts.
So, why do we make bad decisions
A number of factors influence us into making bad decisions. If you have a consistent pattern of making bad choices, learning to be aware of what influences your bad decisions can help you avoid making decisions you end up regretting later. Most common reasons are:
- Procrastination. Excuses totally take you away from what you need to consider in the moment in order to make better decision. They keep you from being accountable for your own actions and the consequences that follow. Procrastination, constant distractions, multi-tasking, or busyness are some of the reasons where we resort to making poor choices.
- Instant gratification. We tend to optimise for what looks best in the moment without considering future implications. When you focus on small gains in the moment without evaluating the costs you need to incur in the future or not thinking of long-term benefits result in making wrong choices.
- Cognitive rigidity. Our experiences and beliefs limit our ability to go beyond certain options in a decision-making scenario. When thinking in fixed mindset, one tends to frame decisions as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ instead of generating alternatives. Being constrained by your assumptions as to what works and what doesn’t leads to good decisions.
- Seeking external validation. If your mindset is that you have to always please everyone and get everyone’s approval, then you will end up making poor decisions. You might choose what’s easy over what’s right in certain social contexts. Letting others define your problems or accepting other’s opinions over facts or making certain choices to please others, all of these result in bad decisions.
- Misplaced priorities. When you are not clear of your priority goals or objectives, you tend to stay away from making decisions that you should have made. Making decisions based on perceived reward vs punishment or outcomes instead of priorities, you often stray away from making the right one.
- Decision fatigue. Our ability to make efficient decisions wears off when we are tired, busy, distracted or emotional. Our minds are at their weakest when they are trying to manage some deficiencies. We become impulsive and don’t consider all the information that we are required to. Emotion-driven beliefs and intuition often result in less-than optimal decisions.
- Overthinking and overanalysing. While some people do not consider the consequences of their actions, there are others who worry too much about what could happen that leads them into making – choices. Overthinking situations or problems gets you stuck in analysis loop. This often happens when there is lot of data, information, many variables at play or when some problems involving important outcomes.
- Confirmation bias. Relying on confirming pieces of evidence or believing in certain line of thinking or filtering out information that does not confirm to your original point of view leads to making flawed decisions based on biases or past experiences. Interpreting information in a way that only supports your existing beliefs, you often miss out on important information that would otherwise influence your decision.
How to avoid making bad decisions
We can’t make wise and well-informed decisions in life with a know-it-all approach or without assessing information logically, considering other options, and without checking whether our biases are leading us astray. Good decision making involves understanding the nuances of process that’s behind some of your decisions and asking the right questions—especially, when making important ones. Here’s how.
- Consider the implications of your options. Every choice often has a consequence either good or bad and can help you improve your decision-making by anticipating which those might be. To do this, you must be open to different alternative perspectives or view points. Consider yourself at the receiving end of your decision to consider how one feels in response to each option. If you think you made a wrong decision, reanalyse as to which implication you failed to think through and why. Doing this, you can avoid such bad decisions in the future. Second guessing your most obvious choices and asking difficult questions to think beyond what you know is important to overcome confirmation bias if any.
- Avoid ‘I know it all’ approach. Decision-making scenarios provide opportunities for considering multiple courses of action, but at the same time, they also increase your risk of making short-term emotion-based decisions. Although narrow thinking can plague us at anytime, we are especially prone to it when faced with one off decisions. So, broadening your perspectives in terms of your objectives and options is important to make better decisions. It is good to anticipate possible risks, worst-case scenarios and key objectives to generate viable options. Consider your intuitive reasoning, ask for disconfirmation opinions and evidence to enable you to see all sides and not only that which appeals to you.
- Avoid people pleasing. Our decision-making is often influenced by different factors like social, economic states, knowledge, age and personal or professional goals. Some of us who don’t give into social context are the ones who don’t need approval from others. But those of us who give into peer pressure, group think or people pleasing are reluctant to stand out. Placing more emphasis on being ‘right’ than ‘liked’ makes you more concerned in making faulty decisions to please others. Placing yourself away from the social scenarios and then evaluating how you will make this decision if you were to make independently saves you from overwhelm of making a decision.
- Do a honest self assessment. Our most natural response to decisions that haven’t gone as we hoped is to defend, self-justify prior beliefs or to validate our decisions. Also, assessing your past decisions with the kind of outcomes you have got makes you susceptible to various cognitive distortions like for instance, undermines your skill and overemphasises factors outside of your control. It is important to remind yourself that goad decisions are not ones with great outcomes, but good decisions are result of following the right process. Be patient take time to reflect on your past choices to give yourself an honest assessment.
- Don’t base your decisions on emotions. Most of the bad decisions are made out of fear, or when they are made impulsively, or when you don’t have time to think them through. Avoid making decisions when you are emotional, tired or distracted. Don’t accept opinions over facts. Understanding the problem you face helps you find right options to solve it. Asking yourself, what do I know to be true helps you check assumptions you might have previously made. Embrace uncertainty and evaluate your options based on probability that a specific outcome will occur instead of waiting for to be cent percent sure.
- Acknowledge your bad decisions. Your effectiveness in making good decisions depends as much on undoing bad decisions as they are on making good one. Whenever you make a bad decision, your natural inclination is to stick with it as we dedicate resources, time, and energy to it because of which keeps you from taking a corrective action. Own up your bad decisions and acknowledge what lead to making them. Step up and figure out what your priority values are, what is important to you if you think fear is driving your decisions. This helps you to course correct and to learn from them.
Space for self-reflection
Are you impulsive in your decision-making or you take time to rethink your choices?
Do you believe in the decisions you make or wait to seek other’s approval?
What is your priority choice in making certain important decisions, is it short-term gains or long-term benefit?
How often do you check for biases, assumptions or opinions that get in your way ?
Do you solely rely on information that confirms your beliefs or do you look for other perspectives?
Why do you think some of your decisions are bad – based on outcomes, expectations or experiences?
Do you take time to reflect on what lead to some of your bad decisions?
Our life is a sum total of decisions we make, from health to relationships to professional and personal improvement, they form an integral part of our overall well-being. We all make bad decisions sometimes and give into our impulses and biases. No one can always make perfect decisions that lead them to success. But one can always become aware of things that lead them to making bad decisions in order to make good ones in the future. Using the above ways, you can avoid making bad decisions and improve your opportunities to make better ones.