9 Little Habits That Make You a Better Decision Maker

Knowing how to make good decisions—like what to wear to a job interview or how to invest your money—could be the key to living your best life. And being able to make those decisions in a timely manner and feeling confident about your decision-making skills could save you a lot of time and hassle.

Fortunately, everyone can take steps to become better decision makers. If you want to become a better decision maker, incorporate these nine daily habits into your life.

1
Take Note of Your Overconfidence

Woman making decisions in meeting
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Overconfidence can easily make your judgment go awry. Studies consistently show people tend to overestimate their performance as well as the accuracy of their knowledge. Perhaps you are 90 percent sure you know where the office is that you’re visiting. Or maybe you’re 80 percent certain you can convince your boss to give you a promotion.

It’s especially important to consider your confidence level in terms of time management. Most people overestimate how much they can accomplish in a certain period of time. Do you think it will only take you one hour to finish that report? Do you predict you’ll be able to pay your online bills in 30 minutes? You might find you’re overconfident in your predictions.

Take time every day to estimate the likelihood that you’ll be successful. Then, at the end of the day, review your estimates. Were you as accurate as you thought?

Good decisions makers recognize areas in their lives where overconfidence could be a problem. Then, they adjust their thinking and their behavior accordingly.

2
Identify the Risks You Take

Familiarity breeds comfort. And there’s a good chance you make some poor decisions simply because you’ve grown accustomed to your habits and you don’t think about the danger you’re in or the harm you’re causing.

For example, you might speed on your way to work every day. Each time you arrive safely without a speeding ticket, you become a little more comfortable with driving fast. But clearly, you’re jeopardizing your safety and taking a legal risk.

Or, maybe you eat fast food for lunch every day. Since you don’t suffer any immediate signs of ill health, you might not see it as a problem. But over time, you may gain weight or experience other health issues as a consequence.

Identify your daily habits that have become commonplace. These are things that require little thought on your part because they’re automatic. Then, take some time to evaluate which decisions might be harmful or unhealthy and create a plan to develop healthier daily habits.

3
Frame Your Problems In a Different Way

The way you pose a question or a problem plays a major role in how you’ll respond and how you’ll perceive your chances of success.

Imagine two surgeons. One surgeon tells his patients, “Ninety percent of people who undergo this procedure live.” The other surgeon says, “Ten percent of people who undergo this procedure die.” The facts are the same. But research shows people who hear “10 percent of people die” perceive their risk to be much greater.

So when you’re faced with a decision, frame the issue in a different manner. Take a minute to think about whether the slight change in wording affects how you view the problem.

4
Be Willing to Sleep on It

When you’re faced with a tough choice, like whether to move to a new city or change careers, you might spend a lot of time thinking about the pros and cons or the potential risks and rewards.

And while science shows there is plenty of value in thinking about your options, overthinking your choices can actually be a problem. Weighing the pros and cons for too long may increase your stress level to the point that you struggle to make a decision.

Studies show there’s a lot of value in letting an idea “incubate.” Nonconscious thinking is surprisingly astute. So consider sleeping on a problem. Or, get yourself involved in an activity that takes your mind off a problem. Let your brain work through things in the background and you’re likely to develop clear answers.

5
Set Aside Time to Reflect on Your Mistakes

Whether you left the house without an umbrella and got drenched on the way to work, or you blew your budget because you couldn’t resist an impulse purchase, set aside time to reflect on your mistakes.

Make it a daily habit to review the choices you made throughout the day. When your decisions don’t turn out well, ask yourself what went wrong. Look for the lessons that can be gained from each mistake you make.

Just make sure you don’t dwell on your mistakes for too long. Rehashing your missteps over and over again isn’t good for your mental health. Keep your reflection time sensitive—perhaps 10 minutes per day is enough to help you think about what you can do better tomorrow.

6
Acknowledge Your Shortcuts

Although it can be a bit uncomfortable to admit, you’re biased in some ways. It’s impossible to be completely objective.

In fact, your mind has created mental shortcuts—referred to as heuristics—that help you make decisions faster. And while these mental shortcuts keep you from toiling for hours over every little choice you make, they can also steer you wrong.

The availability heuristic, for example, involves basing decisions on examples and information that immediately spring to mind. So if you watch frequent news stories that feature house fires, you’re likely to overestimate the risk of experiencing a house fire. Or, if you’ve recently consumed a lot of news about plane crashes, you may think your chances of dying in a plane crash is higher than a car crash (even though statistics show otherwise).

Make it a daily habit to consider the mental shortcuts that lead to bad decisions. Acknowledge the incorrect assumptions you may make about people or events and you may be able to become a little more objective.

7
Consider the Opposite

Once you’ve decided something is true, you’re likely to cling to that belief. It’s a psychological principle known as belief perseverance. It takes more compelling evidence to change a belief than it did to create it, and there’s a good chance you’ve developed some beliefs that don’t serve you well.

For example, you might assume you’re a bad public speaker, so you avoid speaking up in meetings. Or you might believe you are bad at relationships, so you stop going on dates. You’ve also developed beliefs about certain groups of people. Perhaps you believe, “People who work out a lot are narcissists,” or “Rich people are evil.”

Those beliefs that you assume are always true or 100 percent accurate can lead you astray. The best way to challenge your beliefs is to argue the opposite.

If you’re convinced you shouldn’t speak up in a meeting, argue all the reasons why you should. Or, if you’re convinced rich people are bad, list reasons why wealthy people may be kind or helpful.   

Considering the opposite will help breakdown unhelpful beliefs so you can look at situations in another light and decide to act differently.

8
Label Your Emotions

People are often more inclined to say things like, “I have butterflies in my stomach,” or “I had a lump in my throat,” rather than use feeling words, like sad or nervous, to describe their emotional state. Many adults just aren’t comfortable talking about their feelings. But, labeling your emotions can be the key to making better decisions.

Your feelings play a huge role in the choices you make. Studies consistently show anxiety makes people play it safe. And anxiety spills over from one area of someone’s life to another. So if you’re nervous about the mortgage application you just filed, you might be less likely to ask someone out on a date because you’ll think it sounds too risky.

Excitement, on the other hand, can make you overestimate your chances of success. Even if there’s only a small likelihood you’ll succeed, you might be willing to take a big risk if you’re excited about the potential payoffs (this is often the case with gambling).

Make it a daily habit to label your feelings. Note whether you’re feeling sad, angry, embarrassed, anxious, or disappointed. Then, take a minute to consider how those emotions may be influencing your decisions.

9
Talk to Yourself Like a Trusted Friend

When faced with a tough choice, ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” You’ll likely find the answer comes to you more readily when you’re imagining yourself offering wisdom to someone else.

Talking to yourself like a trusted friend takes some of the emotion out of the equation. It will help you gain some distance from the decision and will give you an opportunity to be a little more objective.

It will also help you to be a little kinder to yourself. While you may be likely to say negative things to yourself like, “This will never work. You can’t do anything right,” there’s a good chance you wouldn’t say that to your friend. Perhaps you’d say something more like, “You’ve got this. I know you can do it,” if you were talking to a friend.

Developing a kinder inner dialogue takes practice. But when you make self-compassion a daily habit, your decision-making skills will improve.

Sources:

Alós-Ferrer C, Hügelschäfer S, Li J. Framing effects and the reinforcement heuristic. Economics Letters. 2017;156:32-35.

Feld J, Sauermann J, Grip AD. Estimating the relationship between skill and overconfidenceJournal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics. 2017;68:18-24.

Guenther CL, Alicke MD. When it pays to persist less: Self-enhancement and belief perseveranceJournal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2008;44(3):706-712.

Inbar Y, Cone J, Gilovich T. Peoples intuitions about intuitive insight and intuitive choiceJournal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2010;99(2):232-247.

Myers DG. Psychology. New York: Worth; 2007.

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