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5 Strategies to Help You Make Winning Decisions

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how to make the best decision

Have you regretted any of the decisions that you’ve made? I’ll take a wild guess here and say “yes.” We all have walked in Remorse-land many times and have made mistakes we would gladly erase if given the chance. So then, if someone comes to you and offers you a time machine to go back and alter some of your not-so-bright choices, you would take it, right?

Of course, this all makes for an enticing plot of a Hollywood blockbuster, but in reality, such kind of magic doesn’t exist. How about then if you are given the next best alternative, the tools to make better decisions from the outset, rather than living with regrets and wishing to have the power to bend time?

Here are five strategies which will help you become better at picking the winning option:

1. See the future you

In his widely-popular research, Hal Hershfield, a UCLA associate professor who has studied for years how people can make better long-term decisions, asked participants to envision themselves in 10 years. fMRIs detecting brain activity showed that we think about our older selves the same way we do about complete strangers.

But when part-takers were shown computer-altered pictures of themselves looking near retirements age, things changed— they allocated twice as much money to their retirement fund vs. buying something new today.

The rather salient takeaway here is that, to make better decisions, we must imagine how they will impact our future selves. If you believe a choice will help you get you closer to the future happy and successful you, then, by all means, take it. But if you are unsure, better have another think.

2. Expand your pool of options

An excellent piece in the NYTimes describes a study by Paul Nutt—a Professor of Management at Ohio State University, who, in the early 1980s carried out a study among senior managers at public and private companies in the U.S. and Canada on how they made decisions. He found out that half of the decisions in companies failed because people tended to take shortcuts and didn’t spend sufficient time looking for alternatives and evaluating them (only 29% did so).

And this can cost us. According to other research, when we ignore assessing other options, our chances for success are about 50 %, while decisions involving at least 2 choices lead to a favorable outcome in 2 out of 3 cases.

To come up with some quality ideas, in addition to expanding the size of our canvas, we should involve other people in our brainstorming endeavor, draft a list of the choices and assign weights to each. The highest score wins.

These approaches will enhance our decision-making skills, which, in turn, will give us a shot at something much bigger; a chance to reach our goals, be happier and have a more fulfilling future.

“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.” – Simon Sinek

3. Limit your pool of information

Yes, this idea goes directly against the above point and sounds counterintuitive, but if you get to think about it—it does make sense. Studies from Princeton and Stanford Universities, have revealed that when we immerse ourselves in a sea of information, we may end up pursuing non-instrumental data, which we then use to make decisions.

Naturally, the quality of that outcome will be questionable. Sometimes, we may end up with a choice that we wouldn’t have made altogether (and possibly regret it later on) if we didn’t rely on this irrelevant information.

How do we end up in such a position? It’s driven by our aversion to uncertainty. Simply put, our brains hate volatility and try to resolve it any way they can. One way is by seeking any information that seems like a good candidate and hastily pick it.

Phew, problem solved! Move on. But, as research tells us, seeking out more details do help make a decision, but it may not necessarily be a good one.

4. Take a page from Darwin and Franklin

When Malcolm Gladwell published his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking in 2005, the world was fascinated by the idea that we can make complex decisions with very little effort—just by trusting our gut instinct and by ‘snapping it.’ That is, the book offers some research to support the idea that quick solutions based on intuition can yield surprisingly successful outcomes.

Sounds great but many subsequent studies don’t quite support this. What’s more, sticking to the “old school” ways of making decisions such as conscious thinking and evaluation of alternatives, can lead to more high-quality results.

Just take a note from Darwin who used the pros-and-cons list to make the most important decision of his life—whether to marry. Ben Franklin, similarly, always used this same “simple” method when confronted with challenging choices. Sometimes, the conventional non-fancy ways to make decisions happen to be the best options.

“Warren Buffett told me once and he said always follow your gut. When you have that gut feeling you have to go with, don’t go back on it.” – LeBron James

5. Kill the Company

“Kill the Company” is a best-selling book by Lisa Bodell—the CEO of a consulting company which helps businesses embrace change and innovation. The basic premise of the exercise is that executives are asked to brainstorm all of the ways in which their company can go down. Then, packed with this insight, they work backwards to try and remedy the loopholes in their processes, strategies and choices.

The idea has proven very effective and easy to practice. Just imagine that a decision you pick today turns out to be a complete failure in the future. What will you do to ensure a better outcome?

In the end, our decisions are the foundations of the future lives we build for ourselves, as they have the power to directly affect our success trajectories. While taking the wrong turn may not always have catastrophic consequences, we are also rarely given a do-over in life.

And why is it so vital that we keep honing our choice-making skills, you may ask? It’s very simple—YOLO.

Which one of these strategies to make winning decisions resonated most with you and why?

Evelyn Marinoff is a writer and an aspiring author. She holds a degree in Finance and Marketing,  works in client consulting, and spends her free time reading, writing and researching ideas in psychology, leadership, well-being and self-improvement. On her website evelynmarinoff.com, she writes tips and pieces on self-enhancement and confidence. You can also find her on Twitter at @Evelyn_Marinoff.

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The 3 Types of Confidence You Need to Know and Understand

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We’ve all heard it before, confidence is everything. Those that seem to have it, have it all. They, themselves, are not necessarily perfect human beings, but they seemingly have the charisma to attract whatever they want in life. (more…)

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3 Simple Tips to Strengthen Your Emotional Intelligence for Better Relationships

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Relationships are challenging. They make you examine yourself from all angles, and that can be triggering. For example, have you ever had a friend or significant other say something that sparked an argument instantly—only to find out you misheard what they said in the first place? (more…)

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If You Want to Avoid Failure Once and for All, Ask Yourself These 4 Questions

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You just invested in yourself and in your business. You are taking massive action but the results are just not clicking yet. While everyone is making 10X, 20X, and even 100X ROI on their initial investment, you have made $0 return. Failure is starting to overcast your bright shining positive attitude and you are feeling the pain and shame of it. (more…)

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3 Simple Hacks That Can Recharge Your Willpower and Help You Perform Better at Work

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How many times did you wake up feeling like you could conquer the world? You set ambitious goals for the day, you put on your best attire and walked out the door with a big smile on your face but eventually, life took over. Traffic, emails, work, family, and everything else you have around slowly but steadily started to drain your energy and made you feel exhausted.

You run out of battery, and the only solution that seemed viable was to rely on more caffeine. When that stopped working, all the temptations around you started to look much more appealing, and that sense of drive and commitment you had before slowly faded away. This is you running out of willpower.

Willpower: what is it? Why is it limited?

The American Psychology Association describes willpower as “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” In the book “The Willpower Instinct”, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, explains how every person’s willpower is limited, and slowly depletes throughout the day. The more “willpower challenges” you face, the quicker your reserve drains. Dr. McGonigal divided the different types of willpower challenges you might encounter in three categories:

  • I will: We face this type of challenge whenever we should do something, but we simply don’t feel like getting it done right now.
  • I won’t: We face this challenge when we try to resist temptation, or we try to keep cool in stressful situations.
  • I want: This is a particular type of challenge where we keep track of our long term goals, dreams, and desires. In this instance, we feel like we should take action right now to come one step closer to the goal. 

It’s easy to recognize it when you face a willpower challenge because you literally “feel it in your body.” Imagine being really hungry and walking in front of a bakery. The sight and the smell of pastries quickly triggers an “I won’t” type of challenge, and it takes a severe amount of effort and energy to walk away.

Every time you manage to win one of those challenges, a little bit of your willpower reserve gets used. The more challenges you face daily, the harder it will be to stay true to your goals.

Can you train or recharge your willpower?

A growing body of research suggests that willpower should be considered a muscle. To strengthen it, you should exercise it regularly, but you should not overwork it. Therefore, we shouldn’t try to “be good” at all times. Instead, we should learn how to relax and recharge our willpower.

The general advice on how to improve willpower involves sleep, proper nutrition, and regular exercise. This broad and general recommendation is often not downright applicable by most, because it consists of changing various daily habits. Luckily, three very effective hacks have been discovered, that have an immediate effect on our willpower and take just a few minutes to apply.

Here are the 3 ways to refill your willpower reserves:

1. Focused breathing

Breathing, when done correctly, can stimulate the release of calming hormones while reducing the release of stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines. To make this effective, you should deeply and slowly inhale through the nose for at least five seconds. Fill your belly with air first, then your chest, and when there’s no more space for air, still try to do tiny inhalations through the nose.

You should feel a pulling sensation around your neck and trapezius muscles. Once your lungs are full, try to hold the breath for five seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth for at least five seconds. If you repeat this process ten to twenty times, you should feel dramatically more relaxed. Use this method several times a day, especially when you’re experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety.

2. Reward yourself when you accomplish a micro goal

According to a recent study, frequent instant rewards can boost motivation, and therefore, willpower. Creating your own reward system can help you to accomplish your to-do list, and also resist temptations. Since every individual has different tastes, you should come up with creative ideas about the small and frequent rewards you will give yourself upon winning any willpower challenge.

You can see this hack in practice in Apps like the popular Duolinguo, where after completing each lesson you get presented with a chance to open a treasure chest. This rewarding system seems to keep the users much more likely to keep learning new lessons.

3. Taking cold showers

Your body has an autonomic response to cold water. Getting into a cold shower is a difficult (but minor) willpower challenge on its own. As I previously mentioned, winning a willpower challenge strengthens your willpower muscle. Having a morning cold shower, on top of having multiple health benefits, will set you up for a positive winning streak of further challenges.

High performance is the sum of many small habits. Successful people don’t have an unlimited reserve of willpower, but they do have a set of daily rituals that made them succeed. These three hacks are some of the most effective techniques to develop willpower, but some of them may not fit every individual. You should try to find the perfect mix of daily practices that best fits your lifestyle and likes, so that you can strengthen your willpower muscle and perform better at work.

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