Helping you Make Better Decisions

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The Paradox of a Decision and Its Outcome

A good decision doesn’t always lead to a good outcome. The paradox – and this is the killer – is an unwise decision doesn’t always end up with a bad outcome either.

This reality blinds us.

It creates the impression we don’t have any control. Outcomes are random, influenced by fate, lady luck, and whatever else is in the air. Often, we negate what we can control as well, making choices without consideration. When outcomes go against us, we blame others.

We absolve ourselves of responsibility.

Understanding the paradox of a decision and its outcome is the biggest difference between those who succeed in life – and those who don’t.

It begins with an understanding of what you can control – and what you can’t. You can control the questions you ask; you can control the way you consider your options; you can control your assessment of the information you have. You can control the choice you make.

You can’t control others; you can’t control mother nature; you can’t control chance. You can’t control the outcome.

Knowing this, accepting this, and remembering this will empower your decision-making. It will empower you as accept you can be deliberate in your actions and choices. Your self-awareness will increase as you take control of the things you can control – rather than leaving them to chance. Your quality of judgements will improve.

Your outcomes might not get any better, but the responsibility will be with you. This is the true paradox of a decision and its outcome.  


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Winning the Long Game of Life Is What We Want, but We Forget How to Play

The long game, the long view, strategic thinking. They are all the same thing – a process of not living for the short term but looking for longer-term payoffs. And yet we don’t live like it. We live in ‘the moment’ – guided by our short-term urges as we become ignorant of the laws of life.

The law of large numbers is one such example of a law we know of, but don’t understand.

We see 1% as a small number but ignore the impact of it on an enormous number. Take the mortality rate of COVID-19. If it was 1% – well that’s okay, we tell ourselves. One percent of a population the size of the US – well that’s a vast number – over three million. That’s not okay.

Not grasping this insight from the law of large numbers is one of two points we don’t understand.  When we see summaries from vast sums of data, we naively believe the same dynamic applies to a smaller group. We think a 1% mortality rate won’t affect us, but the disease doesn’t take one from a family – it takes whole families.

We know this, but we don’t understand it.

We can’t grasp the risks; we can’t see the danger we have become ignorant of. We would rather go shopping on a busy high street to satisfy an urge for the joy of a day than stay safe by not.

We have forgotten the rules of playing the long game.


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Why is Decision Making Important?

Why is decision making important?  It is a question which forces us to pause as we consider the complexities of it. In business, it galvanizes energy – all in the pursuit of growth. On a personal level, we see it as a consideration of choices. It is often less urgent, and more emotional.

Decision making is selecting one from a series of choices we face. Each choice gives us options based on our current situation and offers a path for the future. It is the future we are concerned about. Although we live in the present, we imagine our futures and we dwell on our histories.

We can’t predicate our futures, but we can prepare for them. And therefore, the importance of decision making makes itself clear. Decisions for today affect today – but also tomorrow.

It is this grasp of the future we do not understand.  

We do not see beyond today. Only the present – and it leads to a sense of sadness when we reflect on our past. Each decision matters, but our weakness is how we see each possibility as binary – both in choice – and outcome. Life is a game of trial and error, of less certainty and more enquiry.

The importance of decision making isn’t the outcome, but the process. The correct process should be one of testing, seeing, learning, adapting, and repeating. Life is complex – too complex for a binary outcome.


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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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.


Make Better Decisions

Helping you make better decisions

In a world of irrational behaviour, Your Weekly Resolve will help you with making better decisions. Sign up here and every Tuesday, I’ll share valuable insights on the complex art of decision-making.

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