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5 Life Rules to Help You Avoid Making Bad Decisions

We are all prone to making bad decisions.

But it’s important to know you don’t have to live in fear of those choices.

What you need to do is to apply some constraints.

Life rules can reduce your exposure to the conditions which often accompany such bad choices.

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What are Life Rules?

Life rules are constraints we can apply to help us live an easier and more successful life.

In a complex world, with entropy increasing all around us, it is important we create some frameworks to limit our need to think through important decisions.

In fact, taking steps to reduce the decisions we have to make is also likely to reduce those painful moments of indecision you experience too.

You can avoid making poor decisions by keeping your life rules.

With that, here are 5 life rules to help you avoid making bad decisions.

1. Accept a Decision isn’t the Outcome

We are prone to confusing decisions with outcomes.

We do this with both good decisions and bad decisions.

A wrong decision isn’t the same thing as a bad outcome. Equally, a good result doesn’t mean you made the right decision.

We are being blinded by outcome bias.

Ask yourself the last time you didn’t get what you wanted and what you’ll likely find is a decision you call bad. Was your choice bad, or is it more likely that the outcome has biased your opinion?

When we call a bad outcome a bad decision we are ignoring what we don't control.

Outcomes are prone to entropy. It is nature's expression of luck, uncertainty and randomness.

Entropy disrupts the most carefully planned outcomes.

Additionally, this known law of thermodynamics reaches beyond the outcomes we experience.

Our experiences guide our future choices. Becoming a better decision-maker means learning from experience.

Without the separation of choice and outcome, our experiences become poor teachers.

For instance, we begin to doubt the control we do have. The control to decide.

We let indecision reign. The cognitive bias in our brains pushes our intuition to act. Our powers to assess and judge information weaken with the blur of choice and result.

When we see the decision as our only input, the quality of our decisions improves.

2. Always Sleep on An Important Decision

There are few things that disrupt your ability to concentrate more than a lack of sleep.

It stands to reason tiredness is a driver of bad choices. A famous study found prisoners received more favourable treatment from judges in the morning than in the afternoon.

Tiredness changes the way we make decisions.

The more tired we become, the more our emotion affects our judgement. The more likely we are to make irrational choices.

Of course, it makes sense to sleep before making a big decision.

But there are other benefits to sleeping before making an important choice.

In the heat of the moment, tunnel vision adds to the likelihood of a bad decision.

Sleep changes our place in time. With it, new perspectives arise which give us the opportunity to see our decisions differently.

Changing perspectives is a powerful way to prevent bad decisions.

There is a lot to gain from sleeping on a big decision. It is a simple life rule, bringing with it the benefits of emotional control and new perspectives.

3. Never Decide When You’re Unwell, Hungry, or in a Rush

Tiredness isn’t the only physical condition where a poor choice is more likely. Illness, hunger and being in a hurry will all cause the same problem.

Important decisions demand clarity of thought.

When you’re ill, your judgement is impaired. Your mind has other battles to fight and can’t devote the attention a decision needs.

The same issue arises with hunger.

When the body issues hunger pains, it is a warning we are about to start operating in a sub-optimal way. Our minds will focus more on resolving this problem than any other decision.

Only fight, flight or freeze decisions will matter more.

Likewise, when we are late and rushing our attention becomes fragmented. We can’t concentrate on the important decision.

With our attention split, we tend to freeze. Our minds are switching between choices of urgency and importance and it stirs our emotions.

Good things rarely happen as a result.

3. Don’t Let Anyone Define The Problem For You

We solve problems by making decisions. Accordingly, the way we go about solving problems matters more than solving the problem.

The first challenge of problem-solving is to know what the problem is.

Everyone wants to help. Managers, colleagues, and others will give you their views of what the problem is.

This creates more issues than you would think it should.

For example, your manager only sees the effect of the problem. Unhappy customers create more calls for the call centre and longer answering times.

In explaining the problem, the boss doesn’t talk about what’s driving the increase in unhappy customers. The only concern is answering the calls quickly.

What often happens is known as firefighting.

More staff are recruited to answer the phones more quickly. Call volumes remain high, but the calls are being answered in a shorter time, so the boss is happy.

That is until he sees his payroll costs increasing!

When you’re tasked with solving a problem, take steps to understand what the problem is.

Identify: Work backwards from the effect to find the cause. Where do things start to go wrong?

Base principles: Understand the fundamental basic elements that form the process at work by asking questions like a child. What are the undeniable facts?

Fix the problem: With the identity of the problem known along with fundamentals, a fix can be produced. Does it need fire-fight support in the short term, or can a permanent fix be applied quickly?

The golden rule of problem-solving is to define the problem for yourself. Chinese whispers only create a false picture.

4. Filter out Incomplete Information

The available information our brains have is what drives our decisions.

Our acceptance of incomplete information as complete is how many poor decisions evolve. We treat half-truths and theories as facts.

Assumptions come from our experiences of previous events. We confuse experiences with base rates and believe them without checking.

Opinions are the assumptions of others. It is their experiences, combined with incentives which twist the information they share.

Simply, we have to be high alert for the creep of incomplete information.

As Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Incomplete information, when accepted gives us confidence when in truth, it should be caution.

The path to not fooling yourself begins with critical thinking.

Critical thinking is the process of questioning information before you act on it. It enables you to separate fact from fiction.

It highlights the best information to help us consider our options.

Outcomes will be changed by uncertainty. When uncertainty appears in the form of incomplete information as well, the variance of the likely outcome will only increase.

It is why decisions should be built on the foundations of facts.

To begin the process of filtering incomplete information, start with one question. What do I know to be true?

5. Learn Through Reflection

Reflection is the most powerful component there is to help us learn.

Every decision-maker wants to improve their decision-making. Becoming a better decision-maker means learning from experience.

When you take time to review your previous judgements, you open the door to your past—and your future.

History explains our past and shapes our future. Our challenge is not to let the biases of outcome or hindsight teach us myth’s about what we decided to do or not do.

A decision journal can help you overcome this problem.

Until we begin recording our decisions, none of us knows whether we are good at making decisions or not. Only a written record can prevent facts from changing into dreams.

When you reflect on facts, you can ask yourself three questions:

  1. What worked?
  2. What could I have done better?
  3. What would have helped?

These questions focus on you. They don’t expose luck, or randomness, or the uncertainty of life we find in outcomes.

Each question takes you to reflect on each aspect of what you did when you made your decision. Armed with the history a journal offers enables you to build on facts.

It is here the true path to decision-making improvement can be found.

Keep Deciding

Now that you know some life rules to help you avoid poor choices, you can dive into different ways of thinking and making decisions.

Take a look at these guides to continue learning:

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