A Better Framework to Make Smart Decisions

A perfectly good decision that seems like the most rational choice at the moment can turn out to be a disaster later. We aren’t intentionally stupid or try to make bad decisions. Because we lack the tools to help us make better decisions, we tend to jump to conclusions. Realizing that decision-making boils down essentially to eliminating poor choices, and asking the right questions is key.

Making consistently high-quality decisions isn’t reserved for a few talented people who are born with the art of decision-making. It’s a skill that can be learned. The ability to ask good questions can make your decision making easier and help you avoid regrettable decisions.

1. Are I using the correct terminology? 

It is important to understand how you are framing the problem and what your goal for the decision. A wrong decision will result if you assume a solution or start with the symptoms. You can identify if the question you ask is biased toward a particular solution, or begins with assumptions. You must ensure that your question is relevant. 

2. Are you able to reverse or reverse this decision? 

Each decision is important, but there are many. While low-consequence reversible decisions can be made real quick, it’s the high-consequence irreversible decisions that must be made with extra care. 

Jeff Bezos explains this in his 2015 annual shareholder letter “Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. These can be called Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through.”

Separate reversible from irreversible decisions to determine the process, time, energy, and strategy you need to apply to make that decision.

3. Which decision is most important to you?

It can motivate you to reconsider your decision and to understand why it is important to you. This can help you see the possibilities and encourage you to look at other options that might seem more difficult but better fit your needs. Find out what your stake is in the decision. Ask yourself why you care so much about making the right decision. It is important to let go of your identity, and instead focus your attention on making the right decision. It is not your rightness that matters, but making the right decision.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

4. How much will I pay to defer this decision?

It is a common tactic to avoid confronting our true fears. If it is not addressed, fear can cause havoc in your life. It can lead to us imagining the worst scenarios possible, which are unlikely and using them as excuses to not act. 

Avoiding making a decision or getting stuck in analysis paralysis can keep you from taking advantage of the right opportunity at the right moment. Indecision can often lead to a higher cost than making the wrong decision.

You can eliminate any unfounded fears and doubts by clearly defining them. The worst thing that could happen is to delay making the decision. Set a realistic date for making a decision, and then work backwards from that date in order to complete the task on time. 

5. Which are some alternatives?

Consensus bias plays a role in our interpretation and selection of data. This allows us to reject alternative possibilities while confirming our beliefs. Asking this question sets the expectation that there’s more than one possible solution. You will be open to exploring other possibilities. 

Annie Duke, a former professional poker player and author of Thinking in Bets, writes in her book “What makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome. The result of a great process is a great decision. That process must also include an attempt at accurately representing our state of mind. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of I’m not sure.”

Instead of trying to make a decision where you are 100% sure, embrace uncertainty. Consider the likelihood that one outcome will be achieved by evaluating different options. Include others’ opinions. You will be able to judge the reliability of your opinions based on their experience. 

6. 6.How will your decision impact the future?

We often think one step ahead of ourselves and take a decision, without considering the possible future consequences. While we try to maximize for the immediate gain, we ignore the possible downsides.

You can avoid making mistakes later by understanding what the outcome of your choice will be. You can prevent the unavoidable by considering your future and visualizing the outcome of your decision.

These questions will make your decisions more effective and you’ll notice an improvement in your quality. Although mastering these questions and building on them takes practice, you will be able to notice subtle shifts in your thinking process when asking these questions. This will allow you to make better decisions.

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