3 Things I Removed From My Life to Become a Better Decision Maker
“I’d say that leaving my post as North American CEO of J. Walter Thompson.”
That was the best decision James Patterson made professionally. Yep, the same best-selling author James Patterson whose master class I took only a few months back. Apparently, he’d never had a passion for advertising. I suppose it says something about someone’s ability if the absence of passion leads them to be the most senior person in the place. That decision changed James Patterson's life.
Decisions are the basis of human life. It sounds a bold statement but it’s not when you consider how many decisions you make on a daily basis. Each decision you make, essentially, makes your life what it is. So with that in mind, it’s perhaps pertinent to consider how we can make better decisions.
Here are the 3 things I’ve removed from my life in order to make decision making a little easier.
Suggesting one can simply remove stress is, of course, rather absurd. It’s all well and good in theory to suggest it’s feasible but practically, trying to remove stress in the midst of a stressful day is quite a different question altogether. Yet, stress plays a role in the decisions you make.
“ A wide range of stressful experiences can influence human decision making in complex ways.” — Porcelli
Stress has been proven to change the biology of the brain. Yep, you read that right. You might not think a ‘feeling’ could be so powerful but it undoubtedly is. In fact, stress over a long time plays a large role in your decision making over the long term too. Adults that have significant early life stresses are seen to change their reward-response in decision making. In other words, stress is changing the way you see the world.
A recent paper describes this idea perfectly:
“Early research suggests that stress exposure influences basic neural circuits involved in reward processing and learning, while also biasing decisions towards habit and modulating our propensity to engage in risk-taking.”
Understanding the importance of stress is the first step in recognising when to make decisions and when you avoid making decisions if you can. Simply put, stress can change the decision you make.
Ways to distress before you make a decision:
- Go outside and get some fresh air, changing your environment has been shown to change your mood.
- Avoid making decisions on stressful days. Can you move the decision back? Change your ‘decision day’ to tomorrow?
- Understand your ‘stress triggers’. What are the signs that you are feeling stressed? Learning your triggers will help with your decision making.
2. An Empty Tank
Food is an important aspect of decision making. You might not think it, but it is. Hunger changes your reward preference. In that, hunger motivates impulsive behaviour that is often at odds with your long term goals. For instance, trying to suppress your urge to eat a chocolate cake because it’s not in line with your dieting goal is much harder in the midst of hunger than it is in the absence of it.
“A study found hunger made people more likely to settle for a small reward sooner, rather than wait for a delayed but larger reward.” — BBC
There is a huge amount of research that dictates that hunger plays a leading role in your impulsivity. We know from the research that an impulsive person is more likely to have reduced risk preferences. In other words, you are more likely to choose the riskier option if you are impulsive and you’re more likely to be impulsive if you’re hungry.
“An overwhelming amount of evidence exists indicating that people become more impulsive and opt for immediate gratification of their desires when they are emotional and hungry”
Ways to avoid being hungry?
- Eat. No seriously.*
- Make decisions after periods of eating: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
- Snack before making a big decision.*
*This maybe isn’t good dietary advice.
3. The ‘Grass is Greener’ Mentality
Comparison is the nature of all human behaviour. By describing yourself as something, you are, by deduction, communicating you are more or less than someone else. Our vocabulary is plagued with comparison metrics, usually ending in ‘er’.
We’ve all got so sick of this mentality that there are whole businesses and movements dedicated to the opposite. Minimalism and essentialism are both grounded in the notion that enough is enough. That you should not constantly pit yourself against other people. That you should merely compete with yourself and that be that.
Comparison does have a place in our cognition, a rather important one too. Without the ability to compare we would be pretty stuck:
- We’d be unable to understand the relative risk.
- Be fairly stuck when it came to understanding ourselves and learning from others.
- We’d have no idea what is considered successful and what is not.
Yet, we can take it too far. We can start to compare ourselves on every single aspect available to us which then can be rather overwhelming.
To avoid the ‘grass is greener’ mentality
- Limit comparison time.
- Make sure your sample group is fair, in other words, it is unfair to compare your life successes to Kim Karadashians.
- Compare yourself to yourself. Perhaps consider focusing on comparing yourself now to where you were a year ago.
In conclusion, it’s probably no great surprise that decision making is hard, not least because the world is so vast and the human brain is so complicated. But what has helped me over the last few years is adopting the following habits:
- Reducing stress.
- Filling up the tank before making a hard decision.
- Trying to manage the ‘grass is greener’ mentality.