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The power of a pause with a coffee

The Power of a Pause. Why It Helps to Stop Before Deciding

To make better decisions you need the power of a pause. If you asked me what’s the one piece of wisdom everyone should take from the Resolve Blog, it would be to pause before deciding.

It is as simple as that. No mental models, no insights into cognitive biases – although being aware of them certainly helps, no defined decision-making process either. All you need is the power of the pause to make better decisions.

A pause might have saved the lives of 398 people who died because of trying to cross the road in 2013. The same study revealed the highest causes of death or severe injury were from a failure to look properly, or the pedestrian was careless, reckless or in a hurry. These behaviours all show a lack of a pause before acting.

There are plenty of other examples I could offer, such as eating unhealthy food, losing our tempers and so on. Given the negative impact of making decisions without pausing, it is fair to ask why.


Without a pause, we make fast decisions

When we don’t pause before deciding, we end up making a fast decision. Choices made quickly inevitably stem from our system one way of thinking. For those of you unaware of system 1 and system 2 – allow me to explain.

Daniel Kahneman authored a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow in 2011. The book held a detailed explanation – supported by experiments – of how we think and decide on what to do.

System one

System one is the part of our brain where we make decisions quickly. We often decide without even being aware of it – we are barely conscious of our choices. Best explained it means we:

  • Decide quickly
  • Allow emotions to influence our choices
  • Use previously learned responses to automate our behaviour

Without out a pause, our brain looks to act quickly. If the situation is different, and most of them are, the brain looks for a similar learned response and uses that experience to dictate how we decide what to do.

System two

Whatever system two is, system one isn’t. It means with system two we are slow, more rational, and highly aware of our thinking. In summary, it means we:

  • Think logically
  • Take our time
  • Consider the pro’s and con’s

Our brains, like us, don’t like to do hard things. Thinking the way system two does is hard. Hence, why system one will always try and take control. It’s easier for the brain – and it likes doing easy things.


The power of a pause is hard

Making big or important choices means you should be pulling on the strength and character of system two. But we are lazy, we don’t like thinking. We like to daydream and procrastinate our way through life, our minds a fog of spiralling thoughts.

So, every given time we’re faced with a choice – we will opt to take the simple path. The system 1 path of thinking, because it’s easy.

In a life where we make thousands of choices every day, system one is a godsend. You can’t begin to imagine how hard life would be without system one. We would have to think slowly and rationally about the most mundane tasks. A conversation with a friend is a good example, as you exchange greetings and discuss the weather, you both can intuitively know what each of you is saying and talking about. System two would have you analysing the mannerism’s used, the tone – let alone considering the meaning of each word used.

A simple conversation using system two would last a lifetime.

System one has become our default method of thinking, which makes taking a pause so hard. But, as I’ve explained, there are many times in our lives when we need the power of a pause.


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The power of a pause – a pathway to system two thinking

When you stop and take a pause, you stop your mind engaging system one and reacting without conscious thought.

Of the 398 who died, how many of them could have received help from system two. Instead, their system one takes control. They used earlier learned behaviours to judge the speed of the oncoming car, of the road conditions, and their footwear. Speed is a variable, and just because a pedestrian crossed the road in front of an oncoming car okay before, doesn’t mean they can again.

The pause, the power of stopping forces a rational reassessment of speed, conditions, and ability. All are logical traits of system two thinking.

By taking a pause, we open our minds to a unique way of thinking – a lifesaving way of thinking.


Concluding thoughts

I, like most of you, could do with the power of a pause when deciding what to do. It is a skill, but one which will improve our ability to make better decisions. As I mentioned at the start, if I could offer one thing as a ‘take this and nothing else’ lesson, it would be the power of a pause.

Understanding how system one and system two work is the first step to making better decisions. System one isn’t bad, and equally, you shouldn’t want to use system two to decide what to do all the time.

As I said, that would be bad – and terribly slow.

The better way is to always be pausing. Let yourself question where you are and what you’re about to do. Have you experienced this before? If the answer is yes, then get on with it.

If not, then it is time to use the power of the pause and think more deeply about the options in front of you.

It is the power of a pause.

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A man contemplating problem solving and decision making as looks forward.

Problem Solving and Decision Making – Two Essential Skills of a Good Leader

Problem solving and decision making are two fascinating skillsets. We call them out as two separate skills – and they are – but they also make use of the same core attributes.

They feed on a need to communicate well, both through questioning and listening, and be patient and not rushing both processes through. Thus, the greatest challenge any leader faces when it comes to solving problems and decision making is when the pressure of time comes into play. But as Robert Schuller highlights in his quote, allowing problem-solving to become the decision means you’ll never break free from the problem.

“Never bring the problem-solving stage into the decision-making stage. Otherwise, you surrender yourself to the problem rather than the solution.”

Robert H. Schuller

So how does a leader avoid this trap? How do they ensure the problem solving doesn’t become the be-all and end-all?


The 7 steps of Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making

A vital hurdle every leader must overcome is to avoid the impulsive urge to make quick decisions. Often when confronted with a problem, leaders or managers fall back in past behaviours. Urgency creates pressure to act quickly as a result, the problem still exists, just side-lined until it rears its ugly head again.

Good problem solving opens opportunity. A notable example of this is the first principles thinking executed by the likes of Elon Musk and others. Understanding the fundamentals blocks of a process and the problem it’s creating can lead to not just the problem but accelerate beyond it.

So, to avoid the trap, and use problem solving and decision making effectively, you should embody yourself with the following seven steps.

1.      What is the problem?

Often, especially in time-critical situations, people don’t define the problem. Some label themselves as fire-fighters, just content with dowsing out the flames. It is a reactionary behaviour and one commonplace with under-trained leaders. As great as some fire-fighters are, they can only put out so many fires at one time, often becoming a little industry.

The better approach is to define the problem, and this means asking the following questions:

  1. What is happening? (What makes you think there is a problem?)
  2. Where is it taking place?
  3. How is it happening?
  4. When is it happening?
  5. Why is it happening?
  6. With whom is it happening? (This isn’t a blame game…all you want to do is isolate the problem to a granular level.)
  7. Define what you understand to be the problem in writing by using as few sentences as possible. (Look at the answers to your what, where, why, when, and how questions.)

2.      What are the potential causes?

Having defined the problem it is now time to find out what might be causing the problem. Your leadership skills: your communication skills need to be strong, as you look to gather input from your team and those involved in the problem.

Key points:

  • Talk to those involved individually. Groupthink is a common cause of blindness to the problem, especially if there is blame culture within the business.
  • Document what you’ve heard and what you think is the root cause is.
  • Be inquisitive. You don’t know what you don’t know, so get the input of others and open yourself up to the feedback you’ll need to solve this problem.

3.      What other ways can you overcome the problem?

 Sometimes, getting to the root cause can take time. Of course, you can’t ignore it, but it is important to produce a plan to temporarily fix the problem. In business, a problem will be costing the business money, whether it be sales or profit. So, a temporary fix allows the business to move forward, providing it neutralises the downside of the original problem.

4.      How will you resolve the problem?

At this stage, you still don’t know what the actual problem is. All you have is a definition of the problem which is a diagnosis of the issue. You will have the team’s input, as well as your opinions as to what the next steps should be.

If you don’t, then at this stage you should think about reassessing the problem. One way forward could be to become more granular and adopt a first-principles approach.

  1. Break the problem down into its core parts
    • What forms the foundational blocks of the system in operation?
  2. Ask powerful questions to get to the truth of the problem
    • How do the parts fit together?
    • What was the original purpose of the system working in this way?
    • Name and separate your assumptions from the facts
  3. Remind yourself of the goal and create a new solution

Solve hard problems with inversion

Another way is to invert the problem using the following technique:

1. Understand the problem

Every solution starts with developing a clear understanding of what the problem is. In this instance, some clarity of the issue is vital.

2. Ask the opposite question

Convention wisdom means we see the world logically. But what if you turned the logical outcome on its head. Asking the opposite questions brings an unfamiliar perspective.

3. Answer the opposite question

It seems a simple logic, but you can’t just ask the opposite question and not answer it. You must think through the dynamics that come from asking the question. You’re looking for alternative viewpoints and thoughts you’ve not had before.

4. Join your answers up with your original problem

This is where solutions are born. You’re taking your conventional wisdom and aligning it with the opposite perspective. So often the blockers seen in the original problem become part of the solution.

5.      Define a plan to either fix the problem permanently or temporarily

You now know the problem. You understand the fix, and you are a position to assess the risks involved.

Assessing the risks means considering the worst-case scenarios and ensuring you avoid them. Your plan should take into the following points:

  • Is there any downtime to implementing the solution? If so, how long, and how much will it cost? Do you have backup systems in place to minimise the impact?
  • If the risk is too great, consider a temporary fix which keeps current operations in place and gives you time to further prepare for a permanent fix.
  • Document the plan and share it with all the relevant stakeholders. Communication is key.

Here we see the two skills of problem solving and decision making coming together. The two skills are vital to managing business risks as well as solving the problem.

6.      Monitor and measure the plan

Having evolved through the five steps to this stage, you mustn’t take your eye off the ball as it were.

  • Define timelines and assess progress
  • Report to the stakeholders, ensuring everyone is aware of progress or any delays.
  • If the plan doesn’t deliver, ask why? Learn from failure.

7.      Have you fixed the problem?

Don’t forget the problem you started with. Have you fixed it? You might find it wasn’t a problem at all. You will have learnt a lot about the part of the business where the problem occurred, and improvements will have taken place.

Use the opportunity to assess what worked, what didn’t, and what would have helped. These are three good questions to give you some perspective on the process you’ve undertaken.



Problem solving and decision making in unison

Throughout the process of problem solving, you’re making decisions. Right from the beginning when the problem first becomes clear, you have a choice to either react – firefight or to investigate. This progresses as move onto risk assessing the problem and then defining the solutions to overcome the issue.

Throughout the process, the critical element is to make decisions with the correct information to hand. Finding out the facts, as well as defeating your assumptions are all part of the process of making the right decision.


Problem solving and decision making – a process 

Problem solving isn’t easy. It becomes even more challenging when you have decisions to make. The seven steps I’ve outlined will give you the ability to investigate and diagnose the problem correctly.

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What are the potential causes?
  3. What other ways can you overcome the problem?
  4. How will you resolve the problem?
  5. Define a plan to either fix the problem permanently or temporarily.
  6. Monitor and measure the plan.
  7. Have you fixed the problem?

Of course, this logical step by step process might not enable you to diagnose the issue at hand. Some problems can be extremely hard, and an alternative approach might help. In this instance, first principles thinking or using the power of inversion are excellent ways to dig into hard problems. Problem solving and decision making are two skills every good leader needs. Using them together is an effective way to work.


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First Principles thinking through the eyes of a child

First Principles Thinking: Why We Need to Ask Questions Like a Child

First Principles thinking has incredible benefits, just ask Elon Musk. The approach has led him to increase battery capacity, making electric cars more practical and from there, building Tesla cars into a multi-billion-dollar company. Not only that, but Elon used the same approach; first principles thinking to dramatically reduce the cost of space travel. So, with examples such as these, why aren’t there more examples of this skill in use?

The answer is a sad one. A failing reality of our education system is it focuses on memory function rather than core skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making. Our schools crush the curiosity found in every child over the age of three or four. The curiosity is first principles thinking…


First Principles Thinking from a Childs Perspective 

My nephew is five. Like every five-year-old, he questions everything. “Why is it bedtime?” “Because it’s dark and time for you to get some sleep,” replies his dad. “Why does it get dark?” And often this is swiftly followed by “Why do I need to sleep?” My brother-in-law humour’s the questioning to a point, but as with most parents’ his patience soon disappears.  

Like every five-year-old, my nephews’ brain is like a sponge, and he wants to fill it. But, even at such an early age, his mind wants to utterly understand what is in front of him. If the first answer he gets doesn’t make sense to him, he keeps asking why until the explanation is something he understands.

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Richard Feynman

First-principles thinking is the way children learn until they reach school age, at which point memorization becomes the dominate way they learn.

Young children have an innate urge to want to understand. It drives their questioning and their thinking beyond just knowing something. They want to fully understand what they see and hear.

Richard Feynman said it best when he said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The simple reason being a child will keep questioning. It is first principles thinking in action.


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The Difference between Knowledge and Understanding

As children at school, and then through college and into working life, we become accustomed to knowing. In some specialist matters, we might undertake the learnings to understand something, but often we don’t.

We become conditioned to accept that if we don’t need to understand something, we can get away with having a level of knowledge. When the world of whatever you’re doing works, it’s okay. Knowledge is sufficient to enable you to keep doing the same thing day after day. But what if something goes wrong, what if it fails, or stops working. Knowledge without understanding is useless.

Knowledge doesn’t enable you to think outside the box.

Understanding does.

Understanding comes through using first principles thinking. Breaking down systems or functions to their parts enables you to develop a granular appreciation of how a system works. By getting to this level, you have grasped the process in its simplest form.


First Principles: Asking Questions as a Child Does

We’ve covered how we see first principles at work in young children. I have also explained why we need to develop an understanding over knowledge. So now, it’s time to look at how we can apply first principles thinking as an adult.

Without re-living your education, it’s hard to break the knowledge – and the assumptions – you’ve made. So, therefore, it’s practical to opt to use first principles thinking in selected situations. A good example is the need to solve problems.

Problem-solving is complex, particularly with difficult problems because our assumptions decide our approach and response. A first-principles approach will look like this:

  1. Break the problem down into its core parts
    • What forms the foundational blocks of the system in operation?
  2. Ask powerful questions to get to the truth of the problem
    • How do the parts fit together?
    • What was the original purpose of the system working in this way?
    • Name and separate your assumptions from the facts
  3. Remind yourself of the goal and create a new solution

A child might steam-roller through these, asking pointed ‘why’ questions at each stage. As an adult, we must apply the same logic to solve the problem at hand. “Why does the system work like this”?


Elon Musk, Space X and First Principles Thinking in Action

If we step back to Elon Musk and his explanation of first principles thinking, we can see this approach in operation. A bold problem such as do we get to Mars opens a vast number of foundational blocks. He would have to hire a rocket from NASA, with the cost – a huge amount. Why were rockets at NASA so expensive?

As Elon quickly discovered, it is because each one has a one-time use. From a commercial point of view, Elon had found a big problem. But it only led to more questions. What are the foundational blocks of a rocket? More importantly, what happens once a rocket has jettisoned its payload?

Ask a NASA scientist, and you’ll get a raft of assumptions about why they can’t return a rocket to earth once it’s finished in space.

It is first principles thinking in action and it is breath-taking. Even more so when you consider Space X has launched 650 satellites into space and is making money doing it. Although Space X hasn’t made it to Mars yet, this demonstration shows the logic of problem-solving using first principles.


Concluding Thoughts

There is a power to first principles thinking which breaks with conventional thinking. It is this step away from knowledge to understanding. The language of assumptions litters our thinking, it limits our decision-making and often stops us from making progress.

It is a behaviour we’re all capable of. We all did it as children, much to our parent’s annoyance. We pushed the limits of our parent’s knowledge and understanding, which sadly ended most of our inquisitiveness.

I see it being a power in decision-making as well. Decisions are all too often made from the assumptions of past behaviour, as we see in our System 1 thinking. The automatic, impulsive act of making decisions comes from an earlier learned experience. And as Daniel Kahneman points out in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, this is a dangerous way to make important decisions. Far better to slow down and use system 2 to think through the choice ahead. Applying first principles thinking will impose a more methodical decision-making process, and that is a good thing.


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Inspiration through empowerment brings the best out of people, and makes them smile

Inspiration Should Be More Than Words. It Should Be Empowering Too

Inspiration is the process of uplifting others. The common belief behind the act of inspiring someone is the words you use. As I was to see, it only works if you empower others through your words too.


The first day is always the worst. If you could ask Dr Miranda Bailey she would agree whole-heartedly. Her glum expression reflecting the hollowness she now feels. Gone is the high of starting her first day as chief of surgery at Grey Sloane Memorial Hospital.

Stood on the open passageway where the two sides of the atrium become one, Bailey has a choice of views. To the south, the red and white stripes hang against the giant flagpole, fluttering gently in the breeze as the Seattle skyline sits poised in the background. In the other direction is the centre of the atrium, the reception area where patients, visitors, doctors, and nurses go about their day.

Instead of absorbing the atmosphere, Bailey sulks, crest-fallen at what has become a horrible day. Despite her fierce reputation, ‘The Nazi’ is all a front. Introverted, but overtly confident, her vision hasn’t materialized. Instead, she has had to isolate one doctor, deal with squabbling surgeons and lovers, and feel scorn from an overworked Meredith.

In Bailey’s mind, Meredith is her Aide-de-Camp. The one who turns strategy into action, or in the case of a hospital, the unwell to the healed. But with no title, Meredith tackles the workload alone, and struggles to keep pace with the events of the day. Exasperated, her tone with the new chief is abrupt. Confused, Bailey’s questioning opens a pandora’s box of frustration from Meredith. 

Battered, humbled, and daunted by the sheer size of the challenge she faces, the views across the atrium offer Bailey a moment’s peace. Not only has she failed in setting out her vision, but she has also lost her colleagues.


Leadership lesson

The wallowing of self-pity escapes Bailey, as the moment of failure becomes framed in words. Her mentor, and earlier chief, Dr Webber is the sponge who soaks up Bailey’s sorrow. “I’ve failed. They hate me.” 

“If you want someone to run a four-minute mile, you don’t chase them. You don’t give them something to run from. You give them something to run to.”

He pauses, his fingers brushing the grey hairs which decorate his chin. His sageness now ready to try and guide his former student back to the right path. “If you want someone to run a four-minute mile, you don’t chase them. You don’t give them something to run from. You give them something to run to.”

His perceptiveness is a nudge to Bailey about the true skill of leadership.

It isn’t micro-managing; chasing and harassing others to get things done. It isn’t being fierce, or sharp in her tone. Leading is inspirational; inspiring her team to achieve goals and stretch them.

As Webber’s quote sinks in, Bailey goes in search of Meredith. An explanation for the overworked surgeon comes forth. “I wanted you to be me. Just as I was the engine to Webber, so I want you to be my engine.” What follows next is the switch Webber spoke about. “I want you to be my chief of general surgery”.

Now Bailey’s words to Meredith begin to turn the tide, the promotion a recognition Meredith can and will work with. Instead of feeling put upon, Meredith takes forth her title to lead and guide her team of general surgeons. Empowered rather than harassed, the change is emphatic.


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Inspiration by empowerment

As the pandemic has done for many of us, box sets are now a pathway to relieve the monotony of isolation. Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s sixteen series have certainly broken up the festival of peace we’ve all experienced this year. Many of the episodes force a lesson upon us. Such is the way with exceptional stories, and this episode certainly prompted me to see how effective empowerment is. 

When I first think of inspiration, I think of General Maximus as he rides his horse back and forth along the frontline of soldiers in the opening scene to Gladiator. His steel sword reflecting the orange light of the fires that burn behind the lines. As he rides, so he issues a rallying cry to his troops. Inspired; so much so, the soldiers can see beyond the horror of war, and start marching towards the enemy.

Inspiration is so much more than leading from the front. It is more than battle cries, more than leading by example, although both are relevant. Inspiration is empowering others, allowing them to take responsibility. It lights up the pathway forward, which is what this excellent example highlights.

Yes, Bailey had delegated her work to Meredith, but she hadn’t empowered her to do it. Without the empowerment, Bailey faces a doctor bitter at the excessive workload, and worse, resentful of her new boss.

The inspiration comes from the empowerment. Now, Meredith is alive to the responsibility. No longer bristling, the promotion lifts the new chief of general surgery to do what Bailey needs. Inspiration should be empowering.


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decision making process is a series as steps

A Good Decision-Making Process Matters. Here are 5 Steps to Follow

A good decision-making process matters. So much so because a bad decision-making process – as in not having one – is even worse. The downsides open a window to a sky filled with darkness. The error-strewn landscape shows the full impact of allowing our impulsive urges and our misplaced intuition to shape our decisions.

Our primal urge to act quickly in every situation is one which must be overcome. Bad habits fester, growing into the blockers of progress which hold mankind back. The vices of gluttony and sloth come not from spectacular events of horror, but repetitive episodes of impulsive and badly thought through decisions.

To prevent the continued spread of the disease of habitual failure, we need a strong decision-making process. One which supplies a pathway to progress, of a means to fill engaged and forward-thinking, rather than standing still.


A Five Step Decision-Making Process

Five steps form the foundation of a good decision-making process. Here they are: –

  1. Stop
  2. Assess the information you have
  3. Name your Biases
  4. Gain a different Perspective
  5. Decide

Each step offers a means of improving your outcome, and although we can’t eradicate the role of chance, we can take consider its impact.

But first, let’s get into the decision-making process one step at a time.

1.      Stop

If everyone stopped before deciding what to do, things would be vastly different. A pause, a holt, a break, call what you want, but just the act of stopping changes the dynamic of every decision. If you don’t stop, well, you just run into your intuition which may be okay. The chances are though, your intuition won’t have an earlier experience; it will think what has gone before was a good fit, but it won’t be.

Stopping has the power to prevent impulsiveness. It is the circuit breaker to poor decision-making. It also gives you the space to begin to think…

2.      Assess the information you have

So, you have paused deciding what to do next. Now you’re in the right place, you start to assess the information you have about the decision in front of you. Questions prompt you to challenge what you know and most importantly, to find out what you know to be true.

Blinded by the bright lights of information, we often find ourselves dazzled, unable to see the reality of the choice we face. Although it is difficult for us to be objective, it’s crucial to assess the situation by proving the facts to ourselves. We must exclude opinions and emotions to exclusively consider the truth of the decision we are about to make.

3.      Name your Biases

Aside from the facts, cognitive biases feed us an alternative view of the decision we face. Confirmation bias limits our acceptance of the truth. We will seek one piece of confirming information to support our choice, conveniently ignoring all the other evidence to the contrary.

We are all gamblers; biased in favour of potential gains and too accepting of the losses. Such is the impact of loss aversion, another proven cognitive bias. There are many, many others. Too many to mention, but each of them has the potential to steer us away from the correct choice.

By naming your biases, you become aware of them.

Having awareness is a window into the limits of our objectivity. It creates some ability to limit what you see through the dimension breaking lenses of our biases. A lack of awareness is horrifying to the outsider who knows better. Therefore, it is imperative you name your biases. Then you have a chance of defeating them.

4.      Gain a different Perspective

Your decision is still fraught with incorrect influences. Information from sources we trust can turn out to be incorrect, but trust blinds us to the error. We can’t see it. The sequence of fact-checking risks exposure to our biases and further compounds a faulty view of the choice ahead and the outcome on offer.

An unfamiliar perspective can change everything. One of the greatest blindsides of a decision is in the moment. Feelings – both ours and others – provoke an emotional response to the choice ahead.

Our only thought is about how we feel now.

An alternative perspective, whether yours or someone else’s gives you the insights not previously considered. Asking yourself how you might feel about the decision in ten minutes, ten days or ten months can change a lot. Removing emotion, which time does changes beliefs.

Asking someone else is another way of shifting the viewpoint. A friend, mentor, or coach can give insights not visible to us when we’re caught up in the heat of the moment.

5.      Decide

Decisions matter. Deciding what to do is the end of the decision-making process I’ve mapped out here. Having made the effort to stop and assess the information you have, to name your biases so you can limit their impact, and seeking a different perspective you can now make the choice.

Deciding what to do isn’t about saying yes, it’s also having the means to say no. Arming yourself with knowledge offers progress. It empowers you to decide.



Decision-Making Process – a means to behave logically

As an ending, I’m going to offer a warning. It’s a warning of the perils of not using the five steps, of opting to go with one, or two, or even four of the steps to this process.

Typically, we face a multitude of decisions every day. Take the act of crossing a road, a behaviour so simple we don’t stop to even think about it. Our intuition normally takes control, ignoring the known dangers.

Sometimes, we dart across the road impulsively. Chance doesn’t favour us, as the red lorry struggles to stop in the rain, you’ve misjudged the lorry’s speed as it hits you, sending flying to the floor.

But what if we paused; what if we assessed the information to hand? What would we learn? We would see cars, buses, and occasional lorry going about their day. We might also assess the weather, becoming aware of the wet road surface as rain makes the tarmac slippery.

Getting to the second step of the decision-making process alerts to factors ignored in our dash to get to the other side. As we consider naming our biases, loss aversion appears. We forget about the downside of being run over, instead favouring the muffin and the caramel latte calling you from the café across the road. Confirmation bias alerts us to the speed of the car passing in front of us but ignores the red lorry that can’t stop as quickly on the wet surface.

At the third stage, you might still run for it. But what about an alternative perspective? “Should we go now?” You ask your partner. Her view suggests the pedestrian crossing a short walk away.


The outcome

Your decision made at the end of the decision-making process is not to cross the road. Instead, you decide to use the pedestrian crossing and remove the risks found when you assessed the information but also factored in your biases and an unfamiliar perspective.

A simple story, but one which proves the power of using the decision-making process in everyday life can change your outcomes.

It is exactly what a good decision-making process should offer.


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Quick decision making looks like these cars speeding past

Quick Decision Making is Bad for You. Here is Why you Need to Slow Down

Quick decision making is rarely a clever idea unless you’ve received training on how to make quick decisions, then you’ll be okay. Armed with pressure-driven crisis management tools, you’re poised to assess the situation quickly and respond accordingly.

Most of us don’t have the benefit of a teacher to explain the fundamentals of decision-making, let alone quick decision-making. A good school will teach you everything to do with spelling, reading, and experimenting through the wonders of English, Maths, and science, but nothing on how to make decisions.

And that’s bad.

It’s a little sad too because decision making is the most important skill you can have. You should be aware quick decisions normally have a bad outcome unless lady luck is lingering. A quick decision often ignores the situation, instead relying on your intuition to guide you towards your preferred outcome.

Intuition isn’t as good as we believe it to be. You see intuition is a learned response from an earlier experience. Sadly, learned responses only develop through repetition. If the song isn’t stuck on repeat, then you’re unlikely to learn the words. Instead, you’ll choose your own words, you’ll hum, you’ll even mumble your way through.

We do the same with our intuition when it comes to quick decision making. We fudge it, we make an earlier experience fit the new one we’re in. Downsides come thick and fast, and serendipity hasn’t even lent a hand yet.


Forget Quick Decision Making – Slow Down

Direction over speed. When travelling, going in the right direction matters more than the speed you’re going. Going fast in the wrong direction is bad. We’re only travelling to get to a destination.

Making decisions is the same.

A decision made in haste offers little thought to the outcome. It takes no account of the situation we might find ourselves in. Little or no assessment of the facts, all of which matter in every decision. Don’t fool yourself but be aware, no one fools us like us.

Slowing down your decision gives you the platform to assess the situation. You can find out the facts, considers the probable outcomes, and ponder the behaviours of others in the decision you make.

You might consider your emotions and your biases, as you become influenced by the time you’ve spent on the task in hand. Loss aversion, confirmation bias and the sunk cost fallacy are all demons sent to blight our considered choices. You might not see them, but they are there, ever ready to pounce and spoil the outcome.

Without slowing down, you don’t even get the chance to consider the part they might play.


Defeating the Quick Decision

Our habits tend to drive quick decisions; we become accustomed to reacting quickly. A simple example is what time you go to bed. Your binge-watching: the clock on the polished fireplace is creeping ever closer to eleven, but the programme you’re glued too is so good. As the credits start to roll a button appears on the screen, the glowing box a hook to keep you seated for the next episode.

Do you accept it? Or do you stop it and go to bed?

An assessment of the situation might declare to you your eight hours sleep has become seven already, and another hour will make it six hours sleep reducing your time in bed by a quarter.

As you ponder the stark loss of a quarter of your sleep, you become aware of the impact; you’ll be tired, grumpy, and unable to function properly at work. Logically, the answer should be to hit the off button and head for bed.

But logic rarely exists in a quick decision. The choice in the heat of the moment is an easy one, intuition takes over meaning you don’t even have to decide.

You’ll keep going. One more episode won’t hurt, and besides this series is amazing.

To defeat quick decision making isn’t easy. It will require self-awareness of every choice you have to make, and then you’ll need to stop. Take a moment to pause and then begin a new decision-making process.

Bad habits are defined by bad decisions that litter our world like trees in a forest. Like an overplanted woodland, it’s time for some pruning.

It is the first step to getting away from quick decision making.


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Writers Hate Change as this writer ponders whilst using a laptop

Why Writers Hate Change in a Changing World

October brings a momentous change to Medium – one I’m happy to see

Change is the only constant we’re told, nonetheless, we writers hate change. A noticeable reminder of this was the arrival of the new homepage to the Medium website. Its appearance teased in a recent article by the CEO of the platform. Gone is the traditional header bar with links to the primary publications, heckling traffic away from the universe of us underlings grasping for attention below the fold.

The strategy of Medium is another constant of change, moving from platform to publisher, and now from publisher to platform. It offers yet another reason for writers to moan and complain about how unfair the world is.

The emphasis from the new app and the website is on the writers you follow because the platform wants to be the home of the blogger. Yes, it favours publications, it must; to keep some structure for the vast numbers of new articles published every day.

It’s changing; an innovative approach, a fresh clean reading page in the app, more relational content on the homepage, and yet the groans echo around the Facebook groups. Writers hate change, they hate the fact the reader is the priority.

Writers want to be king, so the platform should focus on them.

Before these recent changes, the platform demanded appeasement to their rules. For me, this meant I had resentfully stopped writing for me, focusing instead on gleaming the perfect headline, scrolling the endless images of Unsplash, and devoting my attention to the requirements of the publication.

I couldn’t write with abandon; to conform to the rigours of perfection the platform desired to put its best foot forward. I tried to play by the rules, but the never-ending quest for the perfect article was a hindrance to my goal to write and express myself.


Control

A visit to the vast atrium of twitter led me to a previously unseen corner. The corner was full of intellect, wisdom, and hope of a brighter future. As I read – and learnt, so I came to see my old writing platform as a prison.

In a world where most writers just want to write and be free, Medium was inducing a fog of confusion. Writers critically want their work seen, consumed, and hopefully enjoyed. To achieve this, writing meant appeasement of the rules, of baying to the ideals of others. Firstly, publications; the commanders of the audience with their own rules of topic, format, and curation.

Opting to self-publish brought other horrors. Articles overflowed from the cradle of articles pending curation. Days, and sometimes even weeks would past. Each day the candle of hope which would see an article find an audience through curation slowly dimmed. Curation was the last hope, but too much time had slipped by.

The prison I was writing in had all the control. I had none. I could keep battling, but with ever-diminishing returns and little or no views, the game was up.

My frustration grew to the point my blog via WordPress appeared. I mirrored the blog with my publication on Medium, revelling in the delight of writing what I wanted, when I wanted, and most importantly, publishing it when I wanted to.

It was changing, but one where I was in control.


Pinterest Pin: Writers hate change, as this man ponders such a thought.

Medium’s Biggest Change

October’s Medium newsletter brings news of a huge change. Not the cosmetic changes of a new app and website, but one which will change the game for writers.

Curation is no longer a blocker to distribution.

I don’t know if I’m right, but it is my view every article published without curation was red-flagged. The red flag limited the distribution of the article to just your followers. Now the system is open, and curation is no longer the pass or fail it once was.

For sure, Medium will still be looking and reading, categorising the best to achieve greater visibility, but no longer will we be playing the checkbox game of curation to achieve views.

“This is the conversation I want to have.”

Tyler Cowan

As a writer, I hate change, but I hate rules more. I don’t want my writing to conform, I want it to expressive and delightful, like the chirping birds as they sing to welcome the orange hues which greet a new day.

I’m the selfish one. The one who writes for me, to vent my anger, to grow my passions, and occasionally to figure stuff out. I don’t want to be framed in a prison, where someone dictates the pen I use, the words I craft, and all the other rules, most of all though, I don’t want someone else’s opinion as to whether a larger audience should read it or not. If readers follow me, its because they like what I write. As Tyler Cowan says, “This is the conversation I want to have.”

Removing the wall of curation enables me to do that again.


Writers Hate Change, but they might grow to like this one

For sure, many will moan. We crave certainty, not a mystery. The lines of confusion and fear were palpable as writers questioned the clear removal of curation. The gamification of Medium is over, and many writers will hate this change.

Don’t get me wrong, this won’t open the door for bad writers to make hay. Instead, like reading time, the audience will confirm great writing when they find it.

Writers on the platform have lost sight of what writing is. It is our creativity, our expression, our imagination, and our knowledge time stamped in pixels. Why should this art need rules?

I write this piece with a growing sense of excitement.

The platform I thought I had found to express the storm of thoughts spinning around in my head is now before me. The rules have diminished, shrunk by a realization that what writers want is freedom, not restrictions.

Welcome to a Medium without curation.


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A Successful Habit Needs More Than One Decision

It needs a hundred

A successful habit isn’t just one decision, it’s a hundred decisions. A habit is a sequence of repetitive tasks over a period. The writer of Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about building a system, of forgetting the goal; that’s how you build a habit.

James isn’t wrong, but we fail because we don’t grasp that a system, no matter how easy it is to start, still needs a decision. The great fallacy of building habits is the belief that the commitment to the system is one decision.


The One Decision Habit

Most new habits come from a desire to be healthier or wealthier. There is always a goal; an outcome we look to achieve. Don’t delude yourself a habit is anything less than a pathway to achieving this. We create a running habit to become healthier, we set up behaviours to save money for the holiday we want. There is always a goal.

With a goal in place, logically a system is the best way forward. There are good systems and bad systems. Good systems are easy to start, have low barriers to entry and offer the hook of satisfaction at the end, so we can congratulate ourselves for the effort.

Accountability, along with the tease of reward prod and poke us into keeping the habit. We are supposed to become slaves to the process, repeatedly following the system and seeing the gains we make towards our goal.

And still, we fail.


The Reality of a Habit; Another Decision

I start and break habits with jarring frequency. Loathing the fact, I take the warm, pulse calming comfort of the duvet over getting up to go running. I enjoy running; being at one with nature as pound up the path, with the first rays of the morning sun lighting up the route ahead for me. The moment the elements are at their toughest is the moment I feel most alive. When the rain cascades in sheets, soaking me to the skin. With the leaves swirling in the wind, blowing me one way, then the other. These are the moments I run for.  

I love them, but still, I can’t escape the bed.

There was the decision at the beginning, but now I’m having to make another one. I wasn’t prepared for this. My mind is arguing with itself. Why would I want to get up I ask myself? All sense of the goal has gone, all I have is a choice between a warm bed and a chilly morning run. The big picture has left, lost to the more urgent choice of warmth over cold.


A Successful Habit takes a Hundred Decisions

We don’t get our running kit out the night before, leaving it cocooned in its drawer. We ignore the alarm when it interrupts the sun-drenched beach with the waves lapping gently against the shore. Dreams are also more inviting than our current surroundings. We forget the system, stalling on starting. What went wrong? Why did we stop?

At the beginning of every day is a new requirement. A need for commitment, a request to make a new decision. A habit is a pathway to your goal. Don’t kid yourself its anything else. Delivering the goal takes decision after decision.

Success comes from recommitting yourself every day.

The failure to keep a habit stems from this oversight. It doesn’t matter easy it is to start (although it helps), you still have a decision to make.

Habits fail because we don’t prepare ourselves for the hundred decisions ahead. The decision is one where we recommit ourselves to the goal we’re chasing. Renewal brings a fresh commitment; removing the need for smaller decisions which get in the way. In the first stages of habit building, recommitment is vital. Without it, the only decision is a local one. One which ignores the goal.

With time, by repeating the habit over and over, it becomes part of your intuition. The decision is an automated one. Your mind has come to accept the habit as something you do, just like you eat, sleep, ride a bike or drive a car. To make a habit part of your intuitive behaviours you must recommit every single day.

It’s why a successful habit is so much more than one decision.


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Overthinking as a man sits and a smokes

The All-Consuming Agony of Overthinking

If there was a competition for overthinking, I’m the winner. The crescendo of noise builds as I walk through the crowd, shaking hands with fans as I get closer to the presentation stage. Other competitors look on with envy, unhappy at their wasted time spent pondering the imponderable. As I stand before the trophy, I become lost in thought.

Yep, I’m overthinking again.

As I lift the trophy above my head, soaking up the vibrations and the buzz from the audience, I notice a beeping sound. It grows louder as I turn to the crowd and they raise an even bigger cheer when I hoist the trophy up high, punching the air to show my delight. Then, the beeping takes over; the crowd, the clapping, the trophy, they’ve gone. All I have is darkness and high-pitched beep which I can hear, but also feel…

Another blow lands as I become aware of the bedroom, my wife hitting me again as I awaken to silence the alarm, beeping for what my wife feels is eternity. I’m disappointed not to see my trophy, with an etching of Rodin’s The Thinker on the front, his chin resting on his hand as he ponders and overthinks.


Overthinking – Quantity not Quality

My dream was a sarcastic prod at something I do too much of. I think – a lot.

You won’t find me dealing with a three-pipe problem, unlike Sherlock Holmes as he sits in his armchair pondering the mystery in hand.

It is quite a three-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It is an iconic scene, as a haze of smoke drifts through the rays of sunlight as they pierce the window. Holmes is oblivious to it all, his only thought the problem in hand. His imagination is an engine room of creative ideas, as he considers a variety of solutions to the problem in hand.

For Holmes, it’s one problem pondered, imagined, and conceptualised, as he puffs through three pipes. His focus brings the quality of thinking required to solve the mysteries we know him for.


The Paradox of Overthinking

I marvel at my imagination. I marvel at how I’m able to think; to overthink instead of working slavishly on my work. Unlike Sherlock Holmes who concentrates deeply on one topic, I don’t.

My mind is like my nephew this summer; running along the sandy beach teasing the seawater as he waits to see how close it will get to the bottom of his shorts. For hours, he is dancing with the tide, running backwards and forwards, roaring with laughter as the crest of each wave tickles his legs.

Like my nephew, I never go deep when it comes to thinking. The waves take the shape of innovative ideas, old ideas, memories, regrets and a thousand other thoughts. Each one splashing at me for my attention as I try to think. As I start to think about one thought, another one comes along. Wave after wave pounds at my legs as I overthink on everything, rather than one thing.

It is the all-consuming agony of overthinking. 

When we think about overthinking, we face a paradox; one where we convince ourselves overthinking is bad for us. We fret about daydreaming, of procrastinating and ending up with nothing.

The paradox is right. What must change is the focus.


The Three-Pipe lesson in Thinking

Sherlock’s superpower: his unique strength was his ability to focus on one problem and one problem alone.

We live in world of noise that no human has ever had to face before. A continuous stream of inputs all fights for our attention. Distracted by email alerts, message notifications, breaking news banners, the TV, interactive displays, and each other, so our thinking reflects our inputs. Our minds are a mirror. What goes in, comes out.

Multiple inputs mean a glut of outputs – that is thoughts and ideas spinning in our heads as we think. We call it overthinking.

Of course, Sherlock lived in quieter times. Free from the iPhone, the mac book, the iPad, and his iWatch, he didn’t have the inputs we do. His sources of information were books and a newspaper.

His inputs reflected his outputs.

For the time it took Sherlock to smoke three pipes, he would sit in silence. No distractions, no noise, no squeals for his attention. Nothing would distract him as he sat in his armchair and thought. His mind utterly focused on a complex case which the police were unable to solve. By the end of the third pipe, Sherlock had the case cracked.

All he did was sit and think about one thing.


The Power of Peace

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”

Blaise Pascal

Pascal was clearly onto something with this infamous quote. The inverse of this quote also makes compelling reading.

All of humanity’s opportunities stem from our ability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Concentration, focus, attention; these are the superpowers of mankind. Often referred to as deep thinking, this concept is more alien to us now more than ever. Not because we can’t sit quietly, but because we can’t manage our minds in the same way.

When we do spend an hour free of distraction? When do we spend more than a few minutes contemplating a big decision?

The answer: we don’t.

Pinterest Banner of man overthinking as he smokes

My Overthinking Dream

I reflected on my dream about overthinking and I suspect my subconscious was mocking me. Let’s face it, nothing good comes from overthinking. I, like many others, become distracted with multiple inputs all trying to grab my attention. As I sit here, authoring this article my mobile is never far away. A flicker from the screen acts as a call for my mind, trying to pull me back in.

My urge to open my browser and check social media is equally unflinching.

Sitting for the time it would take me to smoke three pipes (approx. one hour) and only think about one thing, would be a sizable challenge. But I also know how good it could be. I know how much better my decision-making would be. I know I could solve problems which previously appeared unsolvable.

The trophy: well I consider it a prompt. A nudge to remind me where my, and humanity’s great superpower rests.


Superpower Thinking

To access this superpower means change. An easy answer might be to try and sit quietly for an hour, but drawing on the insights of Sherlock Holmes, it is clear this is entirely the wrong approach. Our minds are conduits; we feed in information and do our best to absorb it, using the lessons to inform our outputs.

It must be less in, less out.

Less in means an end to notifications; less time connected to the internet and less noise. I’m minded to the catchline of the Farnam Street blog, signal in a world full of noise. I must filter my inputs and improve my signal. Even without notifications, I’m still in an atrium of sound, listening, reading, and consuming vast swaths of information.

I recently committed to reading five books a year. The reason: to learn more, to understand more, and to build a better retention of the insights I’m learning. Previously, I read and read with little gain. I’m drawn to the image of my nephew in the sea again, my reading wasn’t deep, just flirtatious.

To become a deep thinker, I must become a deep learner. Only then can I expect not to get a trophy for overthinking.


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The Pleasure of Writing as the writer finishes and puts the pen down

The Pain and the Pleasure of Writing

Writing is both delightful and terrifying in equal measure. The journey can assault your senses, giving moments of joy as words flow quicker than water from an exposed fire hydrant. Smiles can quickly turn to frowns as ideas evaporate before your eyes.

Where can a writer find pleasure from writing?

It is unlikely to be a stinging assessment from a reader who didn’t appreciate your craft. The worst feedback is none, no words of praise or thanks. Only silence.


The Pain of Writing

The reader has little idea of the journey. No idea of the pain of forging one way with your prose, only to find a dead end. The delete button removing moments of thoughts as blocks of text become an empty white space. The white wall only serving to inspire the same emptiness of mind. Not ideal when imagination is the creator.

These moments of hollow thought are the worst. Your stomach churns with the realisation you’re alone, like an astronaut floating in space with no gravity to return you safely to the ground.

It is a feeling of true pain for the writer.


The Pleasure of Writing

We all crave pleasure; for writers, it’s the ultimate alternative to pain. Pleasure appears in many ways; it could be from the finished piece which is poised to entertain. Or the happiness from a positive comment, kind words spreading an internal warmth. The count of readers gives another shot of adrenaline to the pleasure-seeking writer.

Before the results appear, there is the internal monologue of joy when writing is at its best. When ideas spew forth and words tumble. Sentences knit themselves together like lines of a pattern, bringing the page to life.

It is the flow state of writing writers crave.

“Happiness is a way of travel. Not a destination.” Roy Goodman

It doesn’t matter whether one person reads the article or a hundred. The pleasure doesn’t come from the neatly adorned title, or the flow of words as they run down the page. No, the pleasure comes from the journey it took to get to the end. The thinking, the debate you have with yourself about whether to go this way or that way. The crafting of each sentence, of each word.

This is the way writers travel with their prose. It is their moment of happiness.

The assault on the senses when things flow is profound. The challenge for every writer is creating these conditions. It’s like trying to climb a mountain without a map, all paths lead to the top, but some offer an easier, less tiring ascent than others. Find the right path and you’ll make it to the top every time.

Writing is more complex than hill climbing.


A Journey of Discovery

You arrive at the foot of the peak blindfolded. No idea of your position or where the summit is. Your only goal; to reach the top as quickly and efficiently as you can. And you’re still sightless. It feels like an impossible mission. 

By some fluke you find a path, having spent hours circling the base looking for a way up. Not only does it have a handrail, but it’s also free of vegetation, and then you’re climbing. 

Creating the first draft, developing a structure, and formatting sentences is a similar experience. Writers have a multitude of pathways they can’t see. 

It makes it exciting; like Columbus on the Santa Maria, discovery is the end goal. For some, uncertainty is the starting point, for others, it offers a moment to freeze.

Slowly, but surely, you work it out.

Developing your ideas, creating a story, teasing the outcome, crafting the outline, all way markers to check off as your draft evolves. Yes, it’s tough, painful, and exciting — all at the same time. A rollercoaster of emotions throwing you in all directions.

It is the journey we love. 

It’s why we love the pain and the pleasure of writing.


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