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How To Make Better Decisions

August 26, 2019

How To Make Better Decisions

Have you ever thought about how many individual decisions you have to make in the course of a day, or in a week? 

What about big life decisions, or decisions that have a great impact? Do you have a process for reconciling how to move forward in a methodical way, or do you primarily follow your gut and intuition?

Do you ever ask yourself these questions?:

  • what tools can I leverage to better guide my thought process?
  • how can I become more confident in my approach?
  • are there easy ways to step away from a problem to see it more clearly?

  • Personally, I have asked myself many of these questions and, for years, have been a ‘gut-person’. This has not necessarily been intentional; it’s usually as simple as not thinking to put on my “strategic” hat in a personal situation.

    Having had this epiphany recently, I now employ various strategies or decision-making models to make sure I feel comfortable moving forward with the large decisions in my life, or really any decisions that have major flow-on effects to work or personal life. 


    1. Reversed Assumptions

    Anytime we approach a problem, we naturally make assumptions about it.  Next time you’re facing a big decision or dilemma, try sitting down and intentionally thinking about and identifying the assumptions you may be bringing to the situation. 

    This is hard, I know - so start small.  

    Try writing a list of “facts” you believe to be true about the situation. Ie:

  • What are you assuming to be true? 
  • What is your gut reaction to how best to solve this issue? 
  • Why is this problem a challenge in the first place? 
  • What are you assuming can or cannot be done in your given situation, and why? 

  • Assumptions fence in our thinking. By identifying these “truisms” and questioning their authority, we give ourselves permission to think outside the box or beyond the fence. 

    Now imagine the reverse of each of your identified truisms and write these down too, next to each one. How would each of these reversed truisms be accomplished? You are not necessarily looking for one right answer, but for a different way of viewing existing information. 

    Use this tool to destabilise conventional thinking patterns and free information to come together in new and provocative ways.

    2. Back-casting

    Another very helpful tool - and one that any “planners” out there will appreciate is ‘Back-casting’.

    This involves: 

  • firstly asking yourself, ‘what is my ideal outcome here?’, and writing this down in a sentence. 
  • now methodically consider how you would work back from your ideal outcome to your present state - creating a roadmap of steps in reverse order. 

  • As a planner myself, I really like this tool. However, I must say, the reverse assumptions process is profoundly effective for challenging my thinking and viewing dilemmas and challenges in new ways. 

    3. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats - SWOT

    Another active thought process I find helpful when analysing a decision is to conduct a tried and tested SWOT analysis. I’m sure you’ve heard of it? 

    It’s a strategic technique that helps you to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relevant to the issue you’re facing. 

    Begin by drawing a cross on an A4 page in front of you and complete each quadrant with information relevant to your issue within the four titles above to help guide and visualise your thinking. 

    This tool is particularly useful for visualising the different elements of your challenge and efficiently identifying key favourable and unfavourable outcomes that will aid the decision-making process. 

    4. Leveraging your unconscious mind

    Would you believe me if I told you that the best decisions you make are, in fact, made by your unconscious mind?  

    This framework is most helpful when you’re facing a complex decision with no obvious answer –  in this situation, it is better to rely on your intuition rather than a more conventional systematic thinking tool (like the ones described above). The reason for this is that your unconscious mind is actually much more effective at sifting through large amounts of data than your conscious mind. Your unconscious mind also deftly balances any decision making required to be conducted within the ambit of all of your past learnings and experiences. 

    To do this, you just need a mechanism to occupy your conscious brain so that your unconscious brain can come to the fore! Try applying the following steps to tap into your unconscious brain quickly:

  • Write down your problem or challenge in one sentence. 
  • Set a timer and spend 5 minutes occupying your conscious mind (fully) for that entire period.
  • When the timer goes off immediately write down the first solution that pops into your mind.
  • This will ultimately be the best and most congruent solution to your problem.


    • Sleep on it- When you have to make an important decision, it’s best to do it when you are rested, focused, and motivated.  It’s always helpful to wait 24 hours before moving forward with a chosen path particularly with a big decision. 24 hours of space can make a world of difference to how you feel about the chosen outcome.

    • Take your time- Thinking clearly and logically takes time too. When you’re under time pressure and short deadlines, it’s easy to get rushed into making the wrong decision. If it’s not feeling comfortable, give the decision some more time and space to sit with you.

    • Get all the facts - Beyond having the time and energy to think clearly, our decisions are only as good as the information we have about our choices and options. Try to find out all the facts, so you’re properly informed to make the best decision. And then repeat framework 1 above, reversing all “facts” to ensure you have identified any assumptions you may be incorrectly relying on informing your ultimate decision.

    • Stay open - Keeping a positive and open mindset when considering facts, information, and options can make all the difference when forming your final decision.

    • Have hard boundaries - Don’t try to make decisions when you’re tired, unmotivated, rushed, stressed or emotional.

    Happy decision making!

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