Of course, you have to trust your intuition, like when you’re under the gun at work and on deadline. We do what we need to do and move on.
But what about those times when we have to make big decisions solo? I’m talking about life choices – whether to quit our job, ditch the banker for the poet, or pull up stakes and move overseas – when we ultimately have to depend on our own judgment no matter how much advice we get from loved ones and colleagues. This is exactly what my Red Thread Thinking helps you do – take your choices, expand them, question them, and look at them from every angle, so you can avoid a potentially bad verdict.
Here are 5 ways to approach decision-making – they help you bite the bullet, separate good choices from bad, and assure you’re not motivated by pure emotion. Now you can be a lone wolf but with a resulting determination that is in your best interests.
1. Make a checklist. Write down what you really know and don’t know about the decision you have to make so you’re not telling yourself stories that are too seductive not to believe. Overconfidence can be a powerful source of illusions and it often causes us to take our intuition at face value. Avoid the snare of looking only for data that supports the side you’re leaning toward.
2. Do a “pre-mortem.” This is where you imagine you have made a decision and it’s failed. List all the reasons why. This keeps you from avoiding anyone or anything that challenges your narrative about the competency of your decisions to instead dealing with potential pitfalls before they happen. The beauty of pre-mortems is that they’re easy and help you tweak decisions in beneficial ways.
3. Compare this decision to identical or similar situations you’ve been in. Familiarity is important because our subconscious works on pattern recognition. If you have appropriate memories to scan, your judgment is likely to be sound, but only if the right lessons were learned. When we make a decision, our brains tag it with a positive emotion and record it as a good judgment. Without reliable feedback, these emotional tags can seduce us into thinking that our past judgments were good, even though objective assessments would record them as bad. Can you look back at past judgments and decisions and see where you tripped up – based on results? What do your best results judgments have in common? Can they tell you anything about the judgment you’re facing now?
4. Were you emotional the last time you made a similar decision, or did you have “you’re your head on straight”? Memories come with emotions. So, ask yourself, do I love one choice or idea better than another or what I am doing now because I loved something similar in the past? Do I want to stick with it because it reminds me of something or someone pleasant? Uncover the source of your feelings of attachment. If there aren’t any, great – but if there are, you may have to unpack those feelings and see if they are clouding your judgment.
5. Are you being influenced by personal attachments or outside pressure? When deciding between two approaches to a problem, choosing the one that might be easier or make someone else happy might seem like the path of least resistance – but is it really good for you? Ask yourself why you are tending toward one thing over another to discover if something outside of yourself is bearing down on your thought process.
DEBRA KAYE is a frequent commentator on American Public Radio’s “Marketplace” and contributor to Fast Company. She is partner at innovation consultancy Lucule. Her book, Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation is just published by McGraw Hill.