You would likely have a significant emotional reaction, including feelings such as anxiety, fear, or anger. Unfortunately emotions such as these cloud our ability to make good decisions. When we get into the emotional part of our brain, our innate reaction is to protect ourselves. We get an adrenaline rush or flight-or-fight response, and short-term survival is the immediate goal. As you can imagine, being in this state is not particularly conducive to making strategic, long-term decisions. This is why emotional self-control is so important. Great leaders are aware of their emotional state and are able to manage intense emotions so they can make smart decisions.
In order to make strategic, long-term decisions, we must know how to bring down the intense emotional reaction so that we can engage a different part of our brains the prefrontal cortex , which is responsible for looking at the big picture and long-term planning. Paradoxically, the way to do this is to accept and allow whatever emotional reaction we are having and choose to focus on the facts as much as possible.
Trying not to experience an emotion is like trying to pull a rollercoaster backwards as it heads down the hill. It takes a lot of effort, which ultimately backfires and we feel worse. Instead, simply jump on board and ride it out. The intensity of the emotions will quickly pass and then you can think logically. The goal, however, is not to take feelings out of the decision-making process. It is simply to keep them from taking over and losing emotional self-control.
Why is it so difficult to make decisions? Perhaps it is because the variables and the outcomes are often uncertain. We do not like uncertainty. Uncertainty creates discomfort and analysis paralysis. We try to analyze the situation from every angle to alleviate the sense of uncertainty.
These efforts are often futile and waste valuable time and energy because so often we must make decisions in the face of uncertainty. In a study conducted by cognitive scientists Amos Tversky and Eldar Shafir, college students were asked whether they would purchase a great deal on a trip to Hawaii over their holiday break. They were told that they would receive the grade on their most important exam before they had to decide.
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When researchers designed uncertainty into the mix, results changed dramatically. The majority of students 61 percent said that they would wait. The first part of the study showed that students for the most part wanted to go if they passed or if they failed the exam, but here they were willing to pay to wait and find out their grade.
This study shows the lengths that we will go to avoid uncertainty.
Students seemed to think that knowing their grade would help them make a good decision when in reality it would not make a difference in their decisions. Question your attempts to find certainty before making decisions because you may be seeking a false sense of security. Much like the aforementioned method to reign in negative emotions to achieve emotional self-control, acceptance is a crucial starting place. If we are able to accept the uncertainty rather than try to resolve it, we can focus our limited time, energy, and money on making the best decisions in the face of an uncertain outcome.
This does not mean that you should not bother to analyze a situation before making a decision. Various analyses can be helpful in providing the information necessary to make the best decisions in the situation. If, however, you find yourself getting stuck or investing too much time or other resources in the analyses, ask yourself if the uncertainty that you are attempting to resolve is truly resolveable. If not, it would be best to accept the uncertainty and move on. One of the decision-making mistakes we commonly make is to give ourselves a lot of options.
We figure that if we consider every possible alternative, we will have better choices and make the best decision. Sometimes we do this exhaustive search as a way to resolve uncertainty. We assume that if we go through everything, no stone will be left unturned and there will be no uncertainty. The problem is that we are likely to get overwhelmed and make no decision. They had 24 jams set up for tasting in one display, and just six jams in the other. They found that more people were attracted to the table with 24, an equal number tasted at both tables, and a huge difference in purchasing resulted: only 3 percent of those who had tasted at the table with 24 jams bought a jar, whereas 30 percent of those who had tasted at the table with six jams bought a jar.
This study and various others like it show that when there are more than five or six options, people have a more difficult time deciding and often opt not to make a decision. To help yourself and others effectively and efficiently make decisions, limit your options. Keep options fewer than five and you will find it much easier to make a decision.
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Excellent leaders often say that they go with their gut to make decisions. They are able to trust themselves and their expertise and not get stuck in the cycle of over-thinking. The more you know about a subject, the more reliable your intuition will be. Make yourself an expert in your field and your intuition will be your best guide. Participants in a study conducted by Timothy D.
Wilson and his colleagues at the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh were asked to choose a piece of art to hang in their homes. Half of them were asked to think rationally about their choice, and the other half were instructed to go with their gut. Those who went with their feelings rather than their analysis were happier with their selection. We can rationalize our way into anything, but our first impressions often tell us how we really feel.
You may have heard intuition described as a nagging little voice inside you.
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It typically speaks softly rather than screaming out at you. Unfortunately in our non-stop, busy, technology-filled worlds, it can be easy to not hear our intuition. It is always speaking, but we are often not listening. Hone your skills at listening to your intuition by building some form of meditative practice into your daily life.
The Art and Science of Decision Making – Take Charge
We are typically so bombarded with information all day television, radio, Internet, cell phone, Blackberry… that we miss out on opportunities to notice ourselves thinking and feeling. Build periods of quiet into your life and you will be surprised at what you hear. Great decision making takes practice. As you now know, this process requires a certain level of comfort with discomfort.
We could play it safe and defer important decisions to others, spend hours and hours analyzing and agonizing over every option, or we could accept the level of risk and go for it. Many people are afraid of making a bad decision or the wrong decision. Accepting this truth can make it easier to move forward with a particularly difficult decision. Beware of obsessive quantifying. With really important, high-stakes decisions, it's tempting to get sucked into extensive quantification — studying reams of data and comparing huge numbers of criteria.
This approach not only consumes significant time, it can also overwhelm you, making it even more difficult to choose a course of action. Resist the urge to over-quantify.
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Narrow down your criteria to just the handful that matter most and rely a bit on your intuition to help show you the way. Appreciate the risk inherent in not deciding. When a decision seems difficult, it's temping to avoid making a choice. But there's no such thing as not deciding: Taking no action is also a choice, and it will have consequences that you may not have intended or desired.
Gain a variety of experiences. The more diverse your life experiences, the more you'll be able to see patterns and parallels across seemingly unrelated fields.
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These patterns and parallels enable you to draw analogies when making a difficult decision. For example, an entrepreneur trying to decide how to develop a new wireless networking technology remembers a scene in a movie in which medieval warriors lit signal fires on mountaintops to rally their far-flung armies in the face of a growing threat. She conceives of a networking system that works in a similar manner — and the system proves a huge success in the marketplace.
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