Whether at work or in life, decision-making is an important leadership skill one can demonstrate, especially, when tasked with making choices that are actually of consequence. Sometimes, stress, anxiety and overthinking can get in the way of making well-informed decisions.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we are extremely anxious or under a lot of stress. We might act quite impulsively in such situations that lead to many negative consequences. Some impulsive urges such as the ones that keep you out of danger, can even be good, but on the whole, acting before thinking can reduce your chances for achieving your long-term goals in life.
While it’s crucial to decide to deal with certain problem situations quickly and efficiently, it’s also equally important in work or personal life to make well-informed decisions that won’t set you down on a wrong path.
Impulsiveness actions lead to trouble, and trouble could have unpleasant consequences. —Stieg LarsonTweet
Impulsive decisions are made when emotions prevail while good decisions are made with adequate knowledge, intellect or information. As a leader, one is expected to make and execute decisions quickly. But, being too impulsive decreases a person’s ability to trust his or her own instincts. As a result, decision-making skills often get impacted making them risk-averse, pessimistic and less confident.
Being too quick to act can lead to impulsive choices that you may regret later. The goal is not to get the decisions exactly right, because one can’t predict perfect outcomes, but not striving for well-informed decisions can make you regret such decisions later.
Nearly all of us have at times, would have resorted to making impulsive decisions. For instance, acting on some of our ideas that seemed great with very little thought or planning behind them. It could be regarding choosing business or personal relationships, starting new projects or giving into spending or buying impulses. It can be even simple decisions like choosing healthy meal versus junk. At times, we seem to get away with some of them, but often have serious consequences.
One of the marks of good leadership trait is to recognise that just because an idea seems exciting the moment you first conceive it, it is not necessary that you decide to pursue a particular course of action. Even when it comes to proper time-management, sticking to your schedule to reach your goals, needs you not to let your impulses dictate your time.
Why do we resort to impulsiveness in decision-making
As decisions shape who we are and our future, they require a most rational approach, deeper level of thought, time and knowledge rather than jumping to conclusions. But in our everyday life, the decision making if often confused, unsystematic and at time quite irrational. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are based not on reason and analysis, but are less informed and impulsive.
We resort to rather less than rational decisions because of following reasons:
Being complacent at gathering information.
For whatever reason most of us become complacent and engage in an inadequate search of information. When poorly gathered information is further subjected to analysis, because of our biases, we tend to focus on bits and pieces of information we have gathered rather than the full picture.
For instance, when you have to decide on a different career path, not having enough information on what different possible career choices, whole range of opportunities available in your chosen field, in terms of available professions or roles, their feasibility and other available alternatives can lead to less informed decisions.
Having a single or too many sources.
When decisions are based on too much information, they lead to confusion. And basing them on too little, inaccurate or misleading information leads to decisions of limiting nature.
When considering the consequences, relying on a single source of information or not being open to a broad choice of alternatives can be ineffective. Because one source may not be reliable or not completely inline with the goal or the problem you are facing may alter your chances of making good decisions. Similarly, an overload of information can leave you misguided and confused and prevents you from trusting your instincts.
Skipping the analysis and move quickly to choice.
Inspite of identifying the problem and gathering relevant information, the inability to process the information often leads to faulty decision-making. These can include inability to judge the information and alternatives perfectly or ignoring the analysis of options.
They may also include not weighing your options, thinking about risks, costs or challenges, working with or discussing and so on. This leads to not proper understanding of range of choices available to you in terms of Why you need to change?What will you accomplish? What are the consequences of changing? And is it aligned with your values, preferences and is it sustainable?
Not setting a decision criteria or priorities.
This further impairs your ability to come up with possible alternatives. For instance, in the above instance, instead of mulling over which career choice is most desirable and why, basing your decision on something else entirely can make you miss the main objective.
Setting criteria helps you narrow down to which role, profession, pay structure, benefits, compatibility with your skill and so on. Not setting criteria for decisions makes us run into impulsivity, either by giving into assumptions about how things work, or by compromising on our values, and priorities.
Procrastination or time-constraints.
When we procrastinate or have no time or patience, we engage in defensive avoidance. We attempt to rationalise our choices instead of considering all possible choices related to the issue at hand, with the pros and cons of each.
When we fail to check the feasibility, merits and challenges of best possible choices, we panic and seize upon hastily contrived solution that gives us immediate gratification. We get swayed into letting our enthusiasm and emotions govern our choices. Such choices may work in the short-term but have negative long-term consequences.
How to make well-informed decisions
A well-informed decision should be objective, based on facts and logic. It shouldn’t be based on opinions or by raw emotions. The more information you have, the better you are at making them. And decisions so made are often in alignment with your goals or values. And making good decisions is a learned trait and is not something with which we are innately born. One can always improve on their ability to make more smarter and well-informed decisions. Here are some strategies to achieve these qualities in your decisions making.
Take a rational approach.
Identify your goal and the purpose of your decision by asking yourself, what exactly is the problem that needs to be solved? And why does the decision need to be taken in the first place. Gather necessary information that is directly related to the decision you are making or want to make.
Make a list of possible alternatives and consider the consequences like pros and cons of each. What is likely to be the outcome of your decision? How will it affect you now? And your future? This is an important step because you want to feel comfortable with all your options and the possible outcome of whichever one you choose. Now that you have identified your goal, gathered information, weighed the consequences, it’s time to make a choice and execute your final decision.
Consider facts and all potential outcomes.
When we are anxious, we are often on an auto-pilot and are mostly thinking inward. When such situations arise, instead of acting impulsively, pause and ask yourself as to whether the action you are about to take is out of fact or hard data. If you can’t answer this question, it’s time to slow down to consider all the potential outcomes. Take a moment to remind yourself of your end goal, and contemplate all the different potential outcomes that will still get you there.
Making assumptions about what others think or why they take certain actions is extremely detrimental to making well-informed decisions. Instead drop your perceptions by investigating /researching all the facts. When considering the consequences, be open to a broad choice of alternatives in order to find the best solution.
Talk to the people involved to come up with alternatives.
Allow yourself to come up with the conclusions that stress you out, but then spend some time brainstorming other possible conclusions. If you are in a dilemma, talk to the people involved directly rather than relying on second-hand information or jumping to conclusions.
Taking the time to speak with each person who is involved or has expertise will give you time and more balanced information to work with. Try to work on your ability to trust others and actively listen without imposing your beliefs and thoughts. Truly listening to other’s perspective lets you look at a situation through another person’s lens. People’s perspective provides you with an opportunity to understand different sides of a scenario that you may be blind to when you jump to make quick conclusions.
One way to prevent making decisions quickly is to create space between an event and your reaction to it. Putting off your decision even for some time can save you from making an impulsive, irrational decision. But you won’t be able to find the mental space for that short pause if your mind is constantly under pressure.
Turn off your distractions and stop multitasking to give your mind a break. Focusing on single task, and being mindful of what is triggering stress and busyness can help you to be aware of your thoughts, urges, and emotions. Being mindful as a way to learn how to ground yourself in the moment can sometimes offer enough relief for the impulse to pass. Taking a moment to pause along with breathing and other relaxation skills can also help with increased self-control.
Identify your impulsivity pattern.
Take a self-check to identify conditions under which you are most prone to act impulsively like time pressured, fatigued, or when you are with some people. To reduce impulsivity, slow down your reactions to enable yourself to think before you act.
Allow your mind to refocus to look at the entire picture to consider what is real and for evidence to prevent bias. Write out what happened, what challenge, who’s responsible and your desired outcome. Discard that which is not factual. This way, you can look at the situation from a less emotional point of view and can avoid responding based on what you thought. Engaging in curiosity and exploring possibilities can slow you down and aid in making informed decisions.
Avoid decision fatigue.
The busyness of our daily habits can make us act impulsively undermining the consequence. More decisions you need to make, the worse will be your ability to weigh all the options in making a well-informed choice. When decision fatigue sets in, you take shortcuts and tend to favour short-term gains and become inclined to take easier options.
Most often, the decisions that drain us are the ones that we make over and over again. Try paring down your options so you have fewer choices. Stick to the essentials when small and not so important decisions have to be made. Setting daily routines simplifies your choices and frees you from feeling anxious and overwhelmed. You can cut down on decisions you make on a daily basis by deciding on which ones can you automate, regulate, effectuate and debate.
Know the difference between intuition and impulsivity.
Most of our decisions are based on our confidence and intuition. Decisions based on intuition and impulsivity can look similar and if you are someone who leads life intuitively, it is important to learn how to differentiate and then trust your own inner knowing when you make a decision. Intuition is an instinct and feeling. Impulsivity on the other hand is about the behaviour and actions we take.
Instead of relying on your instinctive mind always, it is better to know your own triggers for impulsive behaviour so you know when to rely on your instinct and when not. Also, always going with only intuitive reaction can often land you in difficult situations. It is only wise to rely on intuition when the outcome is not that consequential. For instance, you can go with your instinct on ordering off a menu but not so much when deciding whether or not to change your job.
Evaluate your decision’s true impact.
One of the ways to make well informed decision is to consider its potential long-term impact on your life. Consider the extent to which the decision’s outcome may have on your future life or goals. Beware of your biases. Sometimes you are faced with a choice between something with a known outcome versus something unknown. In such situations, it is important to be aware of cognitive biases that might lead you to the more predictable even when it is not necessarily the better decision. Status quo bias is the preference to do thing you are always doing. You end up regretting a decision that requires you to make a change or take action if you prefer inaction over action. Being aware of your biases let’s you evaluate decision’s true impact in long-term.
Are you someone who constantly jumps to conclusions? Or decide impulsively?
Do you challenge yourself to see the flip side of things when you are faced with a dilemma?
What are the consequences of your impulsivity and how does it affect your decision-making?
Do you remain objective while examining your own decisions?
How often do you regret your decisions and why?
Do you gather enough information while making choices that are of actual consequences?
How self-aware are you of your impulsivity patterns and how can you work towards overcoming them?
Impulsive decision-making can be costly and because decisions can vary so obviously from one situation to the next, the experience gained from making one important decision is often times a little or no use when another decision-making situation arises. The hardest part of learning good decision-making is to stop regretting your decisions or wishing later that you had made a different decision. Taking some of the steps listed above, should offer you some value of making well-informed decisions. You will be well on your way to making good decisions having these simple steps in mind. Reassuring yourself that you did your due diligence before making a decision can save you from getting stuck in ‘should have’ or ‘would haves’.