Reflective Decision-Making: Thinking Your Way to a Better Decision

Read time —
8 Minutes
Last updated
April 15, 2024

In this article, I'm going to show you how reflective decision-making can help you make better decisions.

You'll come to understand the flow of a decision and see how easily decisions change. Reflection will give you the awareness to see this and much more. It will mean stepping outside of your decision and analysing why you made the choice you made, and that's good.

We succumb to the reward of the outcome and in doing so we tend to ignore all the important parts of a decision.

For example, do you stop and consider the following?

  • The facts
  • The situation
  • Which information is incomplete?
  • Your biases
  • The outcome

Each of these impacts every decision we ever make. But how often do we stop to consider them before we decide what to do?  I'll let you ponder the answer to that one.

This article covers:

How Decision's Flow

Decisions come at us thick and fast throughout the day. Most of them we make without a second thought. As Daniel Kahneman noted, in our system one, our intuition just takes over and we make decisions seamlessly. Well, that's how it feels.

 What most of us don't realise is that system one has a presence to think it can decide everything for us. Thus, we find ourselves eating unhealthy food over healthy food, or opting to stay in bed rather than going for a morning run.

System one see's these decisions and takes the easy path. Food is food - and you are hungry - so eat it. It is an intuitive response.

When it comes to more significant choices, system one is scanning our historical decisions to see if it can replicate the choice again. If there is an earlier decision that looks anywhere near similar, then your system one will seize control.

It is a decision flow that happens all the time - and I mean all the time.

Big Decisions

Big decisions - the life-changing decisions are the ones we want to deliberate on. System two as it is known, steps in as we pause, stop, and think through the choices ahead of us.

Even then, the decision is far from simple. Framing, biases, emotion, temporary feelings, and the influence of the situation all impact what we might decide to do. And that's before the appearance of lady luck, the mysteries of what others will do and chance.

Decision-making is tough.

And yet, we live or die on the outcome. We become wealthy or we become poor, we get married or we stay single, we buy or a house or we rent, we live to a set of values or we become consigned to mediocrity. Sometimes, a heap of stuff you can't control happens and you're left in the position you're in.

Shit happens.

Despite the stuff you can't control, there is a ton of stuff you can control. Whether you decide to do something by using your intuition or using deliberation, you have the chance to reflect and learn.

What is Reflective Decision-Making?

We all spend time thinking about decisions. We become consumed by the outcome; if it was a good outcome, we're happy, if not, we're sad.

Thinking about decisions in this way is terrible.

Reflective decision-making is a process of structured thinking to help you analyse your decision. It means being open-minded, honest, and using self-awareness to reflect on process, not the decision itself.

As I said, we become occupied with the outcome. We mistake this as a guide in assessing the choice we're about to make. The harsh reality is that we take the credit for a decision with a positive outcome when chance or luck plays a part. This is a false narrative of which we are the greatest authors.

The process of reflection means we need to ask ourselves some tough questions. These questions evolve from the following decision fundamentals.

  • The facts
  • Situational awareness
  • Incomplete information

The outcome is irrelevant in the reflection process. What matters is what you knew - and didn't know before you decided on your course of action.

The Facts

What were the facts before you took your decision? Ask yourself what you knew to be true. Don't sugar-coat it, tell it as it was. What were the facts? Did you, as often happens, assume information as facts when they weren't.

What filters could apply to prove the facts for next time?

Situational Awareness

What were the circumstances for the decision? Who, if anyone was influencing you? How did you feel about the situation?

Reflecting on situational awareness means taking looking at the situation from above. Think of yourself as a helicopter pilot, looking at the ground before you. Taking the stance gives a perspective devoid of emotion, it opens you up to your blind spots. The parts of the situation you can't see when you're in the thick of it.

Incomplete Information

We receive incomplete information all the time. There is a lot that happens that we don't know or can't see. Others might be playing a part in your decision, but you can't know what they will do and when they might do it.

Reflecting, you should be looking to find this incomplete information. Label it for what it is and learn to use it correctly when deciding what to do.

Learning from Reflective decision-making

The process of reflection gives you a unique opportunity. To learn, to improve and to adapt your approach to decision-making. By adopting this approach, you are starting to think about how you make decisions.

Without realising it, you've put in place an iterative behaviour.

It's iteration because as this habit becomes more stable, so you're assessing the decision, not the outcome. Each time, assessing through reflection the steps you took as you made your choice.

This is a logical sequence. It's also a self-improving sequence that can give you the ability to upgrade your decisions. Of course, life isn't quite that simple. The myriad of facts, circumstances and incomplete information makes every decision unique. 

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