Good Decision-Making

One of the most important skills in life and work to perfect is decision-making. Successful outcomes are always based on good decision-making but good decision-making is not a skill you can learn overnight or learn from a book. It takes great thought, patience and courage to: (a) slow down to notice the connection between your current decision-making and the results you are getting (b) question the validity of your own knowing, and (c) risk some bruises and broken bones from inevitable mistakes along the way.

Good decision-making is a very complicated, nearly subconscious process. First of all there are only three main ways to mentally process decisions and they all fall prey to mistakes. These three ways are:

• Gathering information from trusted sources such as your senses, beliefs, critical thinking, outside authorities or “scientific” research; and then drawing conclusions, making choices and taking actions that this information says will most likely get you the outcomes you want and expect to get.
• Going with what your non-verbal gut instincts and intuitions seem to be trying to tell you.
• A combination of these two methods.

Now there are several questions that need to be asked about the information you are getting from the first method:

• Do I have enough information to make an informed decision on the matter?
• Am I wasting my time getting too much unneeded information, just to delay decision-making until I am guaranteed the right outcome?
• What assumptions am I making about the correctness, accuracy and completeness of the information I have?
• Am I using the information that I presently know in the smartest way?

Similar questions need to be asked about the information you get from intuitions and gut instincts:

• What exactly are these vague feelings I am having trying to say to me?
• How can I be sure that I can trust these intuitions and instincts?
• What has their “record” been in the past?
• How do I feel about these gut instincts—good or bad?

And of course there is one big question to ask when you combine these first two methods:

• How do I know when either the scientific, rational information I have or the gut feelings going on inside are more correct and will get the better outcome?

At this point we start examining our purpose of decision-making. Of course we want the best outcome, but there several additional questions that need to be resolved at this point:

• Do I want me to win and the other person lose or do I want everyone to win from this decision?
• Who is the stakeholder with the most investment in the outcome of this decision—me, someone else, the majority of people it will affect or some unknowns?
• What exactly is the outcome I want and why?
• Is the most important outcome a short term gain over a long term one or vice versa?
• Is the decision an “ethical” one?
• Do I need to use some moral model or standard to judge the likely outcomes against such as the Golden Rule, Utilitarianism, a higher religious, legal or expert authority, Pragmatism or the simple Reiki rule of sacrificing some minimal short term pain for lots of beneficial long term gain?
• Is the decision irreversible? Or can I start with the path of least resistance and escalate as needed?
• Is this an insignificant decision that should be made hastily or a very difficult one that needs deliberation?
• How much of the outcome is not under my control?

I have two decision-making “models” to offer: One is very rational and one is very abstract and needing some real live examples to apply:

(1) Identify and weight the pros and cons for choosing both alternatives and total the both scores for each side of the equation to see what the rational decision should be. Then figure out how to get your emotions to support it.

(2) Make the easiest and quickest decision that is more likely to get the most beneficial results with both the short and long-term gains with the least “cost” in negative side-effects.

The next time you have to make an important decision, slow down a bit and think it through by challenging yourself with some of these difficult questions. The more you think through a tough decision, the better the outcome for all.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or