Assumptions are the beliefs we carry in our heads – drawn from experiences of events or thoughts in our past. Each assumption comes loaded with risk because the present isn’t the past.
We assume what happened before will happen again.
Sometimes chance favours our assumption, and we get away with it. Where we come unstuck is, we don’t see it as ‘getting away with it’, we see it as good judgement, good luck, or simply great skill on our side.
Our confidence rises as we begin to believe we know better, as we puff our chests out and flex our shoulders. Of course, self-belief compounds the situation as we do not see the confirmation bias blinding our systems of judgement.
We can do no wrong.
And then, one of our assumptions fail. The chances are the failure occurred when we applied an assumption to a big decision. One where we need the outcome to go in our favour, but it doesn’t. We will bemoan luck or the unexpected as the reason, as we do not grasp the consequences of accepting an assumption.
Ray Dalio, in his book, Principles, uses one simple challenging question to every decision he faces. What do we know to be true?
Assumptions aren’t facts. They are beliefs born from a moment when the facts aligned with the circumstances of the situation. Circumstance changes, life changes, luck changes – everything changes – which is why we must challenge our assumptions. We should always ask the same question Ray Dalio does.
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.
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.
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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