Scientific ways to start making better career and life decisions

Some would argue that bad decisions are a staple in our life.

The only sure thing, is that we will make mistakes; as the saying goes, “We are only human.”

Even research can prove that we make a lot of poor choices, due to various reasons such as cognitive biases. Three common areas that we often err in include our career choices, in our jobs, and in our personal lives.

So if there was a scientifically based protocol for making good decisions, wouldn’t you want to know it?

To start with, instead of gathering as much data or information about a problem, decide to define the problem first, so that you know what you are looking for in terms of a solution.

There is more to decision making than simply having more information about the choices at hand. Quality trumps quantity, as in you need to have the right info rather than simply more. For example, if a doctor is attempting to diagnose a patient, he has to look at gathering the correct scans and data rather than just inventorying the whole human body.  In fact, all that extra information can just get in the way of making an accurate and prompt diagnosis.

Dan Pink, author of several best selling books, comments on this matter, saying that one of the great advances in art and science, is spending more time defining a clear problem.  People who focus more on the problem than the solution, are more successful and go further in their careers.

After you have properly understood the problem and gathered the necessary information, the next step is a surprising one.

You’d think that the best thing would be to take all the emotion out of your decision and simply be objective, logical, and rational. However, that is not always correct.

Stanford professor Baba Shiv says that feelings are a part of making choices.  You should be calm when trying to make a good decision, but other than that, feelings can help steer you in the right direction. Moreover, engaging your emotions while mulling over your choices will often lead to making better decisions.

Empathy can be yet another tool when making sound decisions, which is particularly true for professionals that care for or help others.  Adam Grant (Professor at Wharton), mentions a study which describes what happens when a radiologist sees a photo of their patient along with their x-rays – they end up writing longer, more detailed reports and have significantly better diagnostic accuracy.

So ideally, you should use objectivity and emotions/feelings when making decisions.

But, how do you know when to be objective and when to be subjective when it comes to your decision-making process?

To improve your decision making over time, track your results.

Whenever you have to make a major decision, write down what results you anticipate.  Later on in time, compare your expectations with the actual results.  After a while, you will be able to identify, what works for you and what you are good at, and can use that information to fine-tune your approach in order to make better decisions.

Also remember, you have to know when to finally act on a choice.  Chances are whatever option you finally land at will not be 100% ideal, but you cannot let the fear of not being perfect stop you from making your choice. Usually, good enough will be your best option.  Waiting too long to make the best decision may cause you to miss some great opportunities. Try to avoid over thinking and accept the fact that the search for perfection is a fool’s errand.

In you are still stuck in a stalemate of selections, then try to think about the outside perspective; what kind of advice would you give to someone in your shoes?

And now armed with weapons to defend yourself from indecision and bad choices, go forth brave Padawan and watch how your improved decisions make your career and life even better.

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