How to Make Better Decisions (with science)

How to Make Better Decisions (with science)


There’s this one scenario I find myself
in all of the time: I’m trying to get home after a meeting. It’s quicker to drive, so I call an Uber. And while I’m waiting, I realise the car
is stuck in traffic. I could cancel it and get the train, by now
that might be quicker and even with Uber’s $5 cancellation fee, it would still be cheaper. But… I’ve already committed to the car. I’ve already invested this time waiting
and I’d still have to pay that fee. I’ll just take the Uber. And then… we sit in that same traffic and
I get home later – and for a higher price – than if I just took the train. We like to think that we always make rational
decisions, but science shows this isn’t always the case! In not choosing the train, I couldn’t see
past my sunk cost bias, meaning we’re more likely to choose something we’ve invested
time or money in, even if it’s not the best decision for our future wealth or happiness. Whether you realize it or not, you make dozens
of decisions every day. Some of these decisions – like what you
should eat for breakfast – aren’t important, while others – like whether you should take
a new job – can have a big impact on your life. Making a big decision isn’t always easy
and sometimes you might not make the choice that is best for you. But, certain emotions or situations can lead
you to make a bad decision. Fortunately, understanding more about what
influences your decision-making and using certain techniques can help you make better
decisions. Often, emotions like anger, fear, and sadness
can cloud our judgements without us even realizing. For example, feeling angry can really affect
the way that we make decisions. In a 2016 experiment, researchers asked participants
to either write about an event that made them angry, an event that made them sad, or about
their normal evening routine. Afterwards, participants performed a computer
task that involved blowing up a simulated balloon. Each puff was worth money, but if they filled
the balloon too much, it would burst and they would receive no money. In this experiment, people who wrote about
an angry event made riskier choices in the balloon task. Other studies have found that feelings of
sadness can affect your decisions about money, by increasing how much you’re willing to
pay for something. And fear can lead you to make decisions that
aren’t logical. For example, someone with a fear of flying
might choose to drive instead, even though (for equivalent distances) death rates for
driving are much higher than those for flying. So how can you make better decisions? First, try to make important decisions in
the morning. By analyzing online chess matches, researchers
determined that people generally made slower but more accurate decisions in the morning
and faster but less accurate decisions in the evening. In other words, if you are about to make a
big decision late at night, “sleeping on it” and deciding in the morning, may actually
be a wise choice. Next, distance yourself from the situation. Have you noticed that it seems easier to solve
other people’s problems than your own? There’s actually a name for this – Solomon’s
Paradox. The story goes that the wise biblical King
Solomon’s advice was highly sought after from other people, but he had a lot of personal
problems which still lead to his kingdom’s demise. People are often wise about problems where
they’re not involved. So, try to think about a situation from a
third person perspective – researchers call this wise reasoning – and practising it
can increase your ability to recognise other people’s points of view, understanding the
limitations of your own knowledge and reaching a compromise. Also, you can try mindfulness meditation for
better decision making. A 2014 study found that just 15 minutes of
mindfulness meditation prior to a decision-making task increased resistance to sunk cost bias
– that tendency to keep doing something just because you’ve put time or money into
it. Meditation helped people to make the best
choice for their future success, regardless of previous actions. Making decisions isn’t always easy. But by understanding how things like your
mood, time of day, and previous events can bias your decision-making, you can train yourself
to to eliminate factors that predispose you towards bad decisions and make better decisions in your life.