To Make Better Decisions, Start With Knowing Yourself (Decision Series 2/8)

How confident are you in your decision-making skills? Which principles guide you most when choosing?

Part of the struggle that we have in making decisions is that we do not know much about ourselves. By taking time to explore our values, decision-making style, and optimal state for making choices, we will be much better at deciding with satisfaction.

Getting clarity about ourselves in these areas can make decisions easier:

1. Know your values. What is your vision for life? Have you put in the work to carefully articulate your value system? How can those decisions get you closer to what you want more of and away from what you want less of? For example, if you know you value having a career and are planning to start a family, how can you still be able to work part of the time because that will fulfill you and make you an even better parent? The best decisions reflect our values, and when they are aligned, choices are more comfortable. When we are caught up in a decision, we may have our emotions pulling us in multiple directions. Successful people know how to stick to their values and trust their guidance during stressful events fraught with fear and doubt.

If it aligns with your values and creates excitement, go for it! If it does not, do not do it. When deciding to do an event or to put something in his calendar, Derek Sivers has a simple rule — it is either hell yes or no, nothing in between. Is there a rule you can use to make this type of decision easier?

2. Know your style. When it comes to decision-making, are you a maximizer or satisficer? Maximizers seek the ultimate benefit or highest utility; they aim to make the most intelligent decisions possible. Satisficers, on the other hand, are looking to make choices that they are minimally comfortable with, perhaps determined by more modest criteria. The concept was first proposed by U.S. Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon who combined satisfying and sufficing as a way of describing this form of decision-making. For example, suppose you are looking to purchase a TV, you might spend significant time reviewing many other TVs, comparing price and quality until you find the absolute best one on the market, determined by a set of criteria. In contrast, satisficers will review a few options within a given time and then decide because they got something they can enjoy, and that’s enough.

It may seem like maximizers are the way to go because they aim for the absolute best option, but the research points to the opposite. Satisficers will be more content with their decision, even if it is not the best they could have hoped. In contrast, maximizers experience pressure from the high expectations they impose; they are more prone to doubt because they fear that a better choice is always out there. They envision their life if they had chosen a different path. Using this framework, which style are you, and how is it serving you to bring peace to your decisions?

3. Know your optimal state for decision-making. Our mood, energy, and willpower significantly impact decision-making and are heavily influenced by these crucial factors: sleep, exercise, and diet.

A. Sleep. When you experience deep restorative sleep, you can tackle a problem with fresh eyes and have the clarity to make sound decisions; otherwise, if you are sleep-deprived, you could be moody, emotional, and reactive. When making a decision, Jeff Bezos talked about prioritizing 8 hours of sleep to make better executive decisions otherwise he will be tired and grouchy.

B. Exercise. The stress of a significant decision naturally produces cortisol, the chemical that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol clouds our ability to think clearly and rationally. When we find ourselves stressing about a decision, we can exercise to recharge and refresh the mind. As little as 30 minutes is all it takes to get an excellent endorphin-fueled buzz and return to mental clarity. Exercise also helps you get past that fight-or-flight state by putting the cortisol to practical use. Research shows that long-term exercise improves the overall functioning of the brain regions responsible for decision-making.

C. Diet. Similarly, your decisions are likely to be sounder after a meal. In a study led by psychologists at Columbia Business School, researchers found that judges were significantly more likely to issue favorable rulings when they made their decisions first thing in the morning or right after lunch. But the longer they waited to decide after they ate, the more likely the judges were to deny prisoners parole. The reason is because the more decisions we have to make over the day, the worse we get at making decisions. We are prone to taking shortcuts when we are tired or hungry. For a judge, it’s easier to deny parole than to do the mental work of having to think about whether bail is justified, so they took the easy route, which was to default to a denial.

If we want to make sensible decisions, we want to be at our best, but that time of day differs for everybody. In the book, When by Daniel Pink, he argues that our energy levels and cognitive abilities are not the same throughout the day but change in dramatic and unpredictable ways. Some people feel their best in the morning and should choose that time slot to tackle complex decisions while others’ energy levels dip in the afternoon, and that slot should be used to make small decisions when fatigue is greatest. When our willpower is low, we fall back to our default setting; it is why we go for chips over carrots and why the judges denied parole. You can manage your willpower better by sleeping well, exercising, and eating healthy.

Part of being an excellent decision-maker is knowing yourself, which can include your values, style of decision-making, and optimal state for choosing.

Quotes of the day: “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” -Roy E. Disney

“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” General Norman Schwarzkopf

Q: When do you make your best decisions? Comment and share below, we would love to hear from you!

[The next blog in this series 3/8 will focus on knowing yourself to make the best decisions]

As a leadership development and executive coach, I work with leaders to help them make hard decisions, contact me to explore this topic further.

You can get clear with how you decide

CEO and Founder at Next Levels Coaching Regina@nextlevelscoaching.com