How to Overcome Four Challenges of Decision Making

Choosing between two good options is tough. Chip and Dan Health Teach us how to make smart decisions in life and work in their book Decisive.

When I ordered Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work I knew I was in for a treat.

The sum of the decisions we make in life ultimately determine where we end up. The goal of Decisive is to help us make better choices with decisions that take more than 5 minutes.

Things that take more than five minutes include:

  • Picking between two compelling job offers
  • Wondering whether or not you should stay in a relationship
  • Deciding between moving to a new city or staying
  • Deciding your next fitness goal might be a tough choice. Should you focus on losing weight or gaining muscle first? Likely gaining.

Decisive helps give us clues to look for when you don't know where to start. You aren't the first person to encounter your problems.

Here are four challenges of decision making I learned to overcome by reading Decisive:

Challenge #1 Narrow Framing Prevents You From Seeing Your Options

When making a choice, we often decide if we're going to do something or not. Decisive reminds us to Widen our options.

For example, changing the way your body looks is about diet and exercise. The first place that many people look is weight loss.

There’s more than one way to lose weight.

The first is the common reflex, diet, cut calories.

The second I’m more of a fan of, keep your calories the same (within reason) and add activity.

If you follow me on social, you’ve noticed I’ve been taking a lot of bike rides. I’m actually in the process of losing weight with a side benefit of not starving myself and enjoying a nice sunset. Doesn’t that sound more fun?

Sometimes you need to think more broadly, the Heath Brothers advise us to do this by:

  • Imagining the two options you're considering vanished, what else could you do?
  • Consider the opportunity costs, could you do option a AND option b?
  • Multitrack and look at how two or three decisions might play out
  • Find someone else who has solved your problem, what can you learn from Instagram?

These tools help us gain new insight.

Challenge #2 Confirmation Bias Leads You to Gather One-Sided Information

You may very well avoid narrow framing and still fall victim to challenge #2.

When assuming, you only look for evidence that backs up your current stance. This becomes an issue when your good intentions were to do research.

You might slip up on your diet one day and feel like you gained all your weight back.

That might lead you down a path looking for things that confirm it's all over:

  • Jeans fit snug today
  • You feel sluggish
  • Your reflection in the mirror isn't inspiring any confidence

That's only one set of information! You may be heavier because of salt, water or glycogen (carbohydrates). Your weight naturally fluctures, it could be that time of the month.

Chip and Dan remind us to Reality test your assumptions:

  • Fight the confirmation bias by looking for reasons that you're wrong
  • Zoom out and look at the big picture
  • Spark constructive disagreement by finding someone to play devils advocate

Other approaches found in the book can help us get better feedback.

Challenge #3 Short-term Emotion Tempts You to Make the Wrong Choice

For me, this most commonly occurs in two places. Since I’m young and single the first is in my dating life. I go back and forth wondering if I’m saying the right thing in a text. The second is something you can likely relate to, it’s with food.

Often it feels good to eat a treat. Within the context of a healthy diet, there’s no reason why you can’t. The problem is when sometimes foods become all the time.

The 10/10/10 test comes to the rescue in this case.

10/10/10 asks you to consider how you will feel about your choice:

  • 10 minutes from now
  • 10 months from now
  • 10 years from now

Losing weight is a slippery slope and the problem stems from an issue with delayed feedback. What you’re eating may taste good now but, in 10 minutes you may notice your stomach hurts.

In 10 months, you may find that some of your favorite clothes just don’t quite fit the same.

In 10 years, you’ll be wondering what happened to your metabolism. It’s the slow changes that sneak up on you.

Chip and Dan remind us other ways to Attain some distance before deciding:

  • Identify and enshrine your core priorities, do you have a goal right now?
  • Shift perspectives, what would you tell a friend?
  • Fight the status quo. Cake isn't your only option, can you have some ice cream and something else for those calories?

It's easy to succumb to treats when you're starving. You might also be doing well and choose to indulge.

Take a second to see if your choice aligns with your current goals.

Challenge #4 You’re Overconfident About the Future

The classic example is marriage. I optimistically want to be in one happy marriage for the rest of my life. Statistics tell us that almost half the time, that just doesn’t happen.

Chip and Dan note that this is almost an exercise in humility. By assuming that you can beat the statistic, it’s almost like you’re assuming that you’re better than everyone else.

That took me back for a second because, I realize it’s true.

Chip and Dan remind us to Prepare to be wrong:

  • Run a premortem. Imagine it's a year from now and it hasn't worked out, what went wrong?
  • Set a tripwire or time to remind yourself when you should reevaluate a choice
  • Create a realistic preview, ask someone who's made your choice about potential mistakes

The unremarkable takeaway I got from Decisive is that no one really knows which way to decide. Things ultimately rely on a lot of context and core principles.

Your choices will be right or wrong for you based on what you believe.

The reassuring part was that even if I make the wrong choice, the way I get to the choice is what's most important.

When you start looking at how you make decisions, I have no doubt that your outcomes will improve.

Snag a copy of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

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Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.