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Make better decisions

From opting for the snooze button to taking time to floss, our every waking hour can feel like non-stop decision making.


While some scientists estimate we take on average 35,000 decisions a day, most of those are fairly mundane and won’t have a tangible effect on our lives.

But others will be crucial. They could have a big impact on our personal and work lives, the success of our business, and the futures of those around us. And the higher we climb, the more responsibility we take, the more decisions we have to make – and the more importance these decisions hold.

So how can we give ourselves the best chance of getting the vital calls right?

Avoid decision fatigue

It might sound counterintuitive but to give yourself the space to make the big calls you need to need to make less decisions.

If you often feel overwhelmed with decision making, ask yourselves these questions:

  • Are there other people better/equally suited to making this specific decision?
  • Is this the best time to be making this decision?
  • Can I delegate responsibilities of projects to avoid decisions like this?

Try to take yourself away from decisions others can handle and take a moment to recognise the importance (or not) of the decision you’re faced with.


Banish sources of stupidity

We might not like to admit it, but we’ve all made the odd stupid decision. These ‘sources of stupidity’ from Farnham Street might be why you’re failing to make the right calls sometimes:

Unintentional stupidity

Cognitive bias, being tired, rushing, being distracted, herd mentality, they can all make us unintentionally ‘stupid’. Recognising when we’re in one of these mental states allows us to stop before jumping into a bad decision.

The wrong information

To make the right decision we need the right facts – and not assumptions.

We don’t learn

Doing the same things and expecting a different outcome won’t work. We need to learn from mistakes and make changes.

Choosing easy over right

Try to avoid falling into the trap of doing what’s easy or basing choices on what people will think or what will get validation.

Think smarter

So we know how to avoid making the wrong calls, how do we make the smarter ones?

Here are some ways to level up your decision making.

Work with the world not against it

Making a pros and cons list seems a good place to start with a decision, right? Not necessarily. If those pros and cons are developed in a vacuum they might lead you down the wrong path. Knowing how the world around you works can stop you fighting against it.

Farnam Street share a great example… We all rely on maps to make decisions, but they aren’t always accurate, as General George S. Patton Jr. showed when his troops were studying a map wondering where was safe to cross the Seine and he told them that he had just waded across it and it was not more than two feet deep. Patton understood that the map is not the territory.  Don’t fight against how the world works, use this knowledge to inform your decisions.

Borrow from thinking frameworks

Decision making isn’t a time for innovation – look instead to learn from tried and tested frameworks that can help you view things from different perspectives. These two are a great place to start.

Second order thinking: First order thinking involves looking at the obvious implications of a decision, second order thinking unravels the implications of those initial thoughts. As Howard Marks puts it in The Most Important Thing: ‘First-level thinking says “it’s a good company; let’s buy the stock.” Second-level thinking says, “It’s a good company, but everyone thinks it’s a great company, and it’s not. So the stock’s overrated and overpriced; let’s sell.”

Inversion thinking: Turn a situation backwards or upside down. Want to know if you should take on a project? Don’t ask what the benefits are, start by listing all the reasons why you shouldn’t take it on.

The Great Mental Models is a great resource for exploring these more.


Learn from big thinkers

Better decision making isn’t something we can switch on overnight. For us it’s a constant learning point and we’ve picked up some gems of wisdom from these thinkers:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – a good place to start if you want to understand the drivers for the way you think and how slow thinking can help you make better choices.

Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them by Max Bazerman – if you want to learn how to understand, anticipate, and prevent bad things  from happening check this out.

Smart Choices – this practical book from professors at Harvard, MIT, and the University of Southern California has actionable ways to approach all types of decisions with a simple set of skills.