Stop Making Bad Decisions

2 strategies to learn how to make better decisions.

We all make bad decisions. Some of us more than others.  Being the uber rational person I am (stop sniggering), have rationalized WHY it’s worth the effort to learn how to make better decisions.  Here it goes.  We all make a ton of decisions every day. These decisions add up.  It’s a numbers game really.  If we can make a slight improvement in our decision making process, the impact of that improvement, over the course of our life time will have a exponential effect on the quality of our lives.

Sure, any given decision might not have a huge impact on our lives, but the cumulative effect of all our decisions will.  Which is why it’s worth learning how to think better and make better decisions.

Which is why I loved this article by FastCompany – on 7 ways to make better decisions: There 7 tips are:
1) Get better information (obvious good idea)
2) Avoid pitfalls (learn the logical fallacies and try to avoid them in your thinking – again – good advice)
3) Look at your history – don’t repeat mistakes
4) Check in with yourself (ie: don’t make decisions when  hungry)
5) Take care of yourself (don’t make decisions when tired)
6) Make time to think. (you have to practice thinking to think well)
7) Analyze well (ie: learn from your mistakes)

This is a great list – and it’s a long winded way of saying – learn how to think critically.

Here is my way to make better decisions.  I’m not saying don’t do the FastCompany way.  I’m just saying, my way will complement their way and you will have more fun at the same time.

Think of Three.

The biggest fallacy we fall prey to is the false dichotomy. We limit our decision making to either or scenarios.  Either we are awake or we are asleep. Either we eat in or we take out.  Either I date this person or that person.  Our natural tendency to think in duality hinders our decision making.

So the next time you find yourself thinking either or. Think of three.  What are you going to do for dinner, eat in, take out, or .. go out to dinner.  Maybe you can skip dinner and just have dessert!

The point of this is to expand your options so that you don’t limit your solutions to the most obvious choices. Once you open yourself up to the other possible solutions to your problem, you will often find that one of those other options is actually a really good choice and will give you the best chance of success.

The world is not black and white and you should not limit your decision making to only the black and white options.  Think of three and then maybe four or five and then choose the option you think is best given – what’s real, what’s moral and what’s likely to work.

This little trick is easy, it’s fun and it will definitely improve your decision making.

So, which decision making framework do you prefer?  Mine or FastCompany?  Or both – ok there is three again.

Applied Humanism

After you decide what you believe about life the universe and everything, you now have to figure out how best to live your life given what you believe. That’s where Humanism comes in.

It turns out that deciding whether you believe in a god, gods or no gods or some amorphous deity or, that you just refuse to even think about it and make a decision on what you think (the apathetic agnostic option), is the easy part.

Once you know what you believe, you now have to get on with the business of living life, hopefully, in accordance with your beliefs, or in my case, lack of belief.  How do we make decisions?  How do we live life fully? Heck, what do we mean by living life fully?

These are the hard existential questions that aren’t actually answered when you decide how you feel about the god/not god question. Which is why Humanism is so important. Because Humanism helps us to not only find answers to these questions, but the answers are REALLY satisfying and very practical on a day to day basis.

Yeah – it’s not as sexy as a good old god off – but that’s ok.  Because learning how to life your life in a way you can feel good about and that can do good for others, is a lifelong task.  We never stop learning.

So, how can Humanism help you?  Well, you can decide to be a good person. Just because.  You can decide to try and make your impact on others as positive as possible. Again, just because.  To have a positive impact requires you to make good decisions and that requires you to learn how to think well so that you can make good decisions.

Having trouble with interpersonal issues, Humanism can help you there too.  The other person is human, just like you are and they can’t read minds.  This means, you should be compassionate with them and stop assuming that just because they weren’t acting in a way you think is perfect doesn’t mean that they are a horrible person incapable of compassion.

Struggling with fears of death?  Yup, Humanism can help with that too.  You are going to die. Stop wasting what little time you have alive worrying about the inevitable and get on with living life to the fullest while you still can. And if you still can’t stop worrying, go seek professional help!  There is a reason why early Humanists were active in psychology.  We realize that living isn’t easy and almost everyone needs help to maximize their potential and to be reasonably happy and satisfied in life. So don’t be afraid to seek out help when you need it. It’s the Humanist way.

Optimism Grounded in Reality

Why positive thinking isn’t actually very good for you.

It turns out, that positive thinking isn’t all that positive.  People who practice positive thinking are less likely to succeed and more likely to experience emotional shock and depression when their positive thoughts don’t create positive change.  The reason for this is that it turns out, thinking positive thoughts, makes you work less hard – and that translates into fewer opportunities to succeed.  See: for a round up on some of the research.

So what’s an optimistic Humanist to do?  Give up their optimism?  No.  You will notice that I am using the term optimism to describe the Humanist approach, and not “positive thinking.”  Being optimistic is different from thinking positive thoughts.  Why? Because optimism is grounded in reality.

Positive thinking requires thought policing. And that’s incredibly hard to do.  It prevents people from experience the real emotions of stress and nervousness that often give us the nervous energy to try and change things, which leads to change – which is what most of us are looking for.  So why would we deprive ourselves intentionally of worry?

Optimism, unlike positive thinking, doesn’t eliminate the worry. Optimism is grounded in reality.  We may not succeed despite our best efforts.  But if you are optimistic, you harbor the thought that, if you try, you may actually succeed. No guarantees, but still, optimism helps us make the effort anyway.

And this to me is the real “secret.”  It you want to be successful in life, ditch the magical thinking.  Work hard and take responsibility to get things done.

Values as a Valid Management Technique

Why appealing to our higher selves is so appealing.

The NY Times had a great article about how to raise a moral child. See: 

In a nutshell, the research shows that when you ask a kid to help, they mostly will. But, they will be more excited about helping and do a better job, when you encourage them to be a helper.   And, you can apparently cut cheating in half if you say, “don’t be a cheater” instead of “don’t cheat.”

What’s the difference?  Well, in the first case, you are giving a direction for a specific action at a specific time. In the 2nd, you are encouraging moral behavior for the sake of moral behavior.

Don’t be a cheater is a reflection on someone’s character. Don’t cheat is direction that only applies to this specific instance. If you want to raise a moral child, you have to praise and value moral character, not moral behavior.  Seems counter intuitive, but there you go.

The converse is true of getting rid of bad behavior. You want to encourage guilt about the specific situation, but encourage doing better in the future - via praise of good character.   It’s the difference between guilt and shame.

The question is - DO these tactics work with adults?  And can they translate into management techniques?  And the answer is yes.

You can’t just focus on good behavior – you have to instill a sense of character excellence in your employees, not just by word, by through action.  The places that are judged the best places to work are routinely those where the employee feels respected and valued.  How does a company manifest that – by actually respecting the autonomy of the worker!

They focus on ideals of excellence and they don’t worry too much about how something gets done. They trust their employees to get their work done without having a task master at a drum telling them when and how to row that boat.  I’m talking to you Amazon and your incessant data tracking so that your employees don’t steal minutes from you while they take a bathroom break!

Anyway – Focusing on the values and ideals you want your employees to manifest as opposed to specific behaviors and you should end up with really wonderful employees for the most part.

What are your thoughts?  Are values a valid management technique?

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