5 Key Steps That Will Improve Your Decision Making


July 16, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Have you ever made a stupid decision? Of course you have – we all have!

There is no shame in making the occasional stupid decision; that’s part of being human. But if you want to save money, increase your productivity, or simply stay sane, you would do well to reduce the number and frequency of those stupid decisions.

Put another way, you would do well to make smarter decisions. You don’t need to be smarter to make smarter decisions (in fact, a lot of smart people make make a lot of stupid decisions), but by simply remembering the following five techniques, you can make smarter decisions starting right now.

  1. Question Everything
    Blindly following advice without understanding it is the heart of folly. Many people never questioned the advice of, “owning a home is better than renting.” When the real estate market collapsed, so too did their financial lives. I’m not saying that bit of advice is wrong, but if you don’t question it and understand why it’s true, you may end up making a very bad decision for yourself.

This doesn’t mean you need to be annoying and argue over every little point. But even if you only do it in your own head, ask some basic questions about a) the things others tell you and b) the things you tell yourself. Just because someone you know and respect tells you something doesn’t make it true. Just because you have been telling yourself something for years doesn’t make it true either.

If you’re making decisions based on faulty assumptions, your decisions will be faulty too. Question those assumptions, and your decisions will automatically get better.

  • Do Some Research
    In the day and age of Google, there are only two reasons to not do a little research: 1) you’re stupid 2) you’re lazy. Feel free to make whatever life choices you want, but to me those sound like pretty bad reasons. 

It is so easy to research anything on the internet: companies you are thinking about working for, neighborhoods you want to move to, products you want to buy, services you want to use, restaurants you want to go to…the list goes on and on. Heck, these days with sites like Facebook companies can even research the personal lives of their prospective employees’ personal lives!

Granted, you can’t take everything you read on the internet as the absolute truth. But find some trusted sites, do some research, and realize you have very little excuse to ever say, “but I didn’t know!”

  • Consider the Other Side of the Argument
    If you want to be smarter and make better decisions, then you would do well to realize that there are two sides to every argument. If you feel strongly about something, you should spend at least some time trying to understand the other side.

This is not intuitive or easy to do. Usually when you have an opinion your instinct is to run out and find as much supporting evidence for that opinion. The problem is that this approach doesn’t make you smarter, it just makes you more opinionated.

By truly considering the other side of a debate you gain three benefits:

  • You learn where the other side is coming from so you can communicate (not “argue”) with them better.
  • You can learn some new things to make you further believe in your own point.
  • You may find yourself being swayed to some or all of the “other side”

Of course this third reason is why people are so reluctant to consider the other side – we don’t want to take the chance that we’ll have our minds changed. There’s a term for people who don’t expose themselves to ideas because they are afraid of them: “closed-minded.” I think another term for it is, “stupid.”

Knowledge in and of itself is not harmful. Lack of knowledge, on the other hand, can be deadly. If your ideas are so fragile that learning about the opposition can tear them apart, then why the heck are you holding on to them anyway?

  • Realize Other People’s Bias
    Seeking advice from others is a good thing, but never forget that you are talking to a human, not a computer. Everyone has their own experiences, opinions, and prejudices. This, of course, leads to personal bias. 

For example, I have been in a few conversations about online dating over the years. I have a friend who met a woman on eHarmony, they started dating, and eventually got married. He wrote an article about making the most of online dating, and he gives eHarmony his highest recommendation (no surprise). I later sat with two woman at a brunch who were talking about online dating, and one had tried it and the other had not but was considering it. The woman who had done it said, “don’t do eHarmony; I’ve had nothing but bad experiences on there.” The other woman nodded her head and seemingly bought into it.

Who was right? Who was wrong? Neither. Both were speaking with a huge personal bias.

This will be the case 99% of the time you seek advice from others. This is why you should take the advice of one person with a grain of salt. Solicit more opinions, compile them, and then consider how much personal bias may be involved. If one person tells you a restaurant stinks, they may have had a unique experience or simply have different tastes than you. But if 100 people tell you it stinks, it probably stinks.

  • Think Fast, But Pause Before Acting
    My background is in improv comedy and I often speak on the idea of thinking quickly, so I’m a big fan of quick thinking. However, there is a difference between “thinking fast,” and “acting fast.” 

Thinking fast means that when things happen, you can immediately generate a large list of ideas, solutions, and responses. Acting fast means jumping into something without thinking it through. These are two veeeeery different things.

Your ability to think quickly and creatively will help you immensely with making smarter decisions; the more options you have, the more likely you are to come up with a good one. However, along the way to coming up with a good idea you will come up with quite few bad ones. If you take action on every idea that seems good in the moment, you will very likely just dig yourself into a deeper hole.

Once you have come up with a great idea, take a little time to think it through. Many times we get so excited about our brilliant “Eureka!” ideas that we miss the fact that the idea has a huge flaw. Don’t get so caught up in your passion that you jump in and take action on a fatally flawed idea. You don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about it, but definitely think it through.

The next time you have a decision to make, try applying a few (or all) of these techniques – you’ll be happy that you did!

Written on 7/16/2010 by Avish Parashar. Avish is the Motivational Smart Ass. As a speaker and on his blog, Avish makes people laugh while sharing with them simple ideas to make their lives easier and more successful. To read more of his ridiculous rantings on self improvement, watch videos of him in action, and download the free “How to Think Quick” MP3, visit http://www.MotivationalSmartAss.com Photo Credit: Latente!

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