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How to make better decisions

Life is full of tough choices.

But no one teaches you how to be a great decision maker. At best, they tell you to trust your gut or make a pros and cons list.

I don’t know about you, but those methods don’t always work for me. So, I went to the library to do my research.

And guess what I found? A simple process that works well for all your decisions. Finally, something you can trust.

In this post, I’m happy to share Chip and Dan Heath’s decision-making framework from their book Decisive. This process teaches you how to make better decisions in life.

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The Four Villains of Decision-Making

According to the authors, there are four villains of decision-making. They are:

  1. We have too narrow of a focus. We don’t explore all the options open to us.
  2. We fall victim to the confirmation bias. This is another fancy word for confirming our beliefs. We have a belief about something and then go out to confirm that belief, without exploring other options or facts.
  3. We rely on short-term emotions. There’s a reason the proverb “sleep on it” is so powerful. Too often, we make a rash decision in the heat of the moment. We forget to take a step back and think about what’s best for us in the longterm.
  4. We are overconfident about our decisions. We fail to consider both good and bad scenarios. Instead we blindly believe in our decision and hope it will work out for the best.

A Smarter Decision-Making Framework

So, what can we do to combat these four villains in our decision-making? Fortunately, the authors offer us a simple framework called WRAP. This stands for:

  1. Widen Your Options
  2. Reality-Test Your Asssumptions
  3. Attain Some Distance Before Deciding
  4. Prepare to Be Wrong

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

1. Widen Your Options

Your first step is to expand your options and see what else you can be doing.

For example, you can:

  • Find someone who has already solved your problem.
  • Run the vanishing options test. Sorry, that option you were considering? It just disappeared. Now, what do you do?
  • Consider opportunity cost. Use a “yardstick” to compare your options to other things you could be doing instead. For example, compare expenses. “If I buy this music program, how many nights out would that be?” Now, is the music program worth three nights out?
  • Switch between the promotion and prevention mindset. Write a SWOT (list Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).
  • Try to multitrack. Think AND not OR. Is there any way you can do both?

Got more options? Great! It’s time for you to reality-test your assumptions…

2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions

When you decide, you often gather information and facts that already confirm your beliefs. This is a sign of poor decision-making skills. To make sure that you assess your options fairly, make sure to reality-test your assumptions first.

For example, you can:

  • Ask disconfirming questions: “What’s the biggest obstacle you see to what I’m trying to do?” or “If I failed, why do you think it would be?”
  • Consider the opposite. When you do, you get new information and facts. What does this tell you?
  • Make a deliberate mistake. A mistake can give you some valuable insight. Penicillin and Viagra are both famous mistakes.
  • Spark constructive disagreement. Think: devil’s advocate. This forces you to consider a different angle on the topic.
  • Zoom out: get the bigger picture.
  • Zoom in: take a close-up.
  • Ooch. Simply put, sample your option first. For example, do a two-week internship before you embark on that 4-year degree.

Your mission in this step is to challenge your beliefs and what you already know. When you feel done with this step, you’re ready to attain some distance before deciding…

3. Attain Some Distance Before Deciding

It’s easy to make decisions in the heat of the moment. You think with your lizard brain, and you let your short-term emotions make the call. But are you making decisions that are in line with your core priorities?

Here’s how you can attain some distance before deciding:

  • If you’re agonizing, gather more options or information (see steps 1 and 2).
  • Try 10/10/10. If you make your decision, how will you feel 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now? Try to go through this exercise with a friend. Wait until you hear your thoughts out loud!
  • Shift perspectives to gain distance. My personal favourite is to ask yourself: “What would I tell my best friend to do?” You can also ask yourself: “If I were replaced tomorrow, what would my successor do?”
  • Identify and enshrine your core priorities. What are they? Knowing your core prioroties helps you make a better decision.
  • Go on the offensive against lesser priorities. Don’t be afraid to make a decision that is in line with your core priorities. It’s OK to exclude things that are not a key priority for you.

Your mission is to think about what’s best for you in the longterm, not just make a decision that feels great for the moment. Once you’ve attained some distance, it’s time to prepare yourself to be wrong…

4. Prepare to Be Wrong

Everyone seems to think their decision is the best. To avoid being overconfident about your decision, you need to prepare yourself to be wrong. Here’s how you can do that:

  • Bookend your future. The future is a spectrum of possibilities, not a single outcome.
  • Run a premortem. Ask yourself: “It’s a year from now and the decision was a disaster. Why did it fail?”
  • Run a preperade. Ask yourself: “It’s a year from now and the decision was a success. Why did it succeed?”
  • Use a safety factor. For example, you could set aside some money in your budget.
  • Set a tripwire. A tripwire is there to wake you up. Some leaders use a watch that beeps every hour to remind them: “Am I working on the most important task right now?” Another tripwire could be a deadline or a budget goal. For example: “Once I’ve saved up 500 dollars, I’m booking that trip to London.”

Remember to do the premortem and preperade separately. If you’re doing it in a group, don’t share your results until everyone has finished brainstorming. Share one finding from one person at a time to avoid a narrow frame.

Make better decisions today

I know that making a decision can be hard. But at least this process helps you explore your options and act with your core priorities in mind.

Yes, it takes awhile to “wrap” your head around this framework, but once you do, you know how to make better decisions.

How do you make decisions? What did you think of this process? Anything you’d like to add? Please let me know in the comments.

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