Why People Struggle To Make Decisions

”Caedere” is also the etymological root for the English word “homicide.”  When we make a decision we are “killing” our options. We are cutting off the chance to remain open, so to speak. We are choosing to decide and this feels like a loss. Remember, we are hard wired for “loss aversion” more than we are for anything. This goes way, way back and isn’t going away, ever.

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In my coaching journey this week I have come across a number of situations in which both myself and several clients had to make ”big” decisions. It is noticeable how different ”DISC” styles make decisions, eg. ”D”’s find decision making easy, whereas ”C” personalities like to analyse the situation first…..so I’ve done some research and have found….

The etymology of the English word “decide.” The Latin word “caedere” is where the word decide got its start. It means to “cut off” or “to kill.”

”Caedere” is also the etymological root for the English word “homicide.” When we make a decision we are “killing” our options. We are cutting off the chance to remain open, so to speak. We are choosing to decide and this feels like a loss. Remember, we are hard wired for “loss aversion” more than we are for anything. This goes way, way back and isn’t going away, ever.

Dan Ariely, author of a really useful book: ”Predictably Irrational,” drives this home with clarity. “Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of a loss.”

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This is why so few people achieve their goals and have that discipline. Their untrained brain is tricking them into thinking that, by not finishing, they are keeping their options open. The truth is something else.

By NOT deciding we are choosing to remain where we are. We are marrying the status quo. We are closing off the chance for growth because we are afraid to move. This “no decision” is actually a death nail that leads to the worst kind of death…A slow one.

Older people find it hard to make financial decisions, owing to “noise” in an area of the brain critical for predicting pay-offs, according to one study. Gregory Samanez-Larkin and Brian Knutson of Stanford University in California, conducted the study, in which people played an investment game in a brain scanner.

The researchers scanned the brains of 110 men and women aged 19 to 85 with functional MRI as they played 100 rounds of a game in which they had to choose one of three possible investments. Shrewd investors will keep picking bonds until they figure out which is the profitable stock.

They found that the activity in the striatum, a region critical to sensing reward, was more sporadic in these older volunteers – this area only lit up strongly in some rounds, whereas in younger volunteers activation was consistent.

The researchers suggested that the fluctuating activity could act like noise, clouding someone’s ability to work out the best investment.

“This part of the brain seems to be very important for learning from past history about whether something that happens is good or bad,” said Scott Huettel, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. When Samanez-Larkin repeated the game but this time told elderly volunteers what the stakes were (ie small) this prompted them to invest just like younger players.

Problem solving and decision-making are important skills for business and life. Problem-solving often involves decision-making, and decision-making is especially important for management and leadership. There are processes and techniques to improve decision-making and the quality of decisions.

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Decision-making is more natural to certain personalities, so these people should focus more on improving the quality of their decisions. People that are less natural decision-makers are often able to make quality assessments, but then need to be more decisive in acting upon the assessments made. Problem-solving and decision-making are closely linked, and each requires creativity in identifying and developing options:

1.Brainstorming

2.SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)

3.PEST (Political, Economic, Social and Technological) analysis helps to assess the potential and suitability of a market.

Good decision-making requires a mixture of skills: creative development and identification of options, clarity of judgement, firmness of decision, and effective implementation. For group problem-solving and decision-making, or when a consensus is required, workshops can  help, within which you can incorporate these tools and process as appropriate. Here are some useful methods for effective decision-making and problem-solving: First a simple step-by-step process for effective decision-making and problem-solving.

A suggested decision-making process:

  1. Define and clarify the issue – does it warrant action? If so, now? Is the matter urgent, important or both. Consider the Pareto principle
  2. Gather all the facts and understand their causes.
  3. Think about or brainstorm possible options and solutions.
  4. Consider and compare the ‘pros and cons’ of each option – consult others if necessary or useful – and for bigger complex decisions where there are several options, create a template which enables measurements according to different strategic factors (SWOT, PEST)
  5. Select the best option – avoid vagueness and weak compromises in trying to please everyone.
  6. Explain your decision to those involved and affected, and follow up to ensure proper and effective implementation.

Decision-making maxims will help to reinforce the above decision-making process whether related to problem-solving or not, for example:

We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.” (Aneurin Bevan)

In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”.  (Theodore Roosevelt)

There is often more than one good answers when you are faced with a complex decision. When you’ve found the best solution you can find, involve others in making it work, and it probably will.

For more complex situations, especially which entail many more rows and columns, it’s sensible to use a spreadsheet.

Use whatever scoring method makes good sense to you for your situation. The example shows a low score method, but you can score each item up to 10, or 20 or 100, or an ‘A/B/C’ or three-star scoring method – whatever works best for you.

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In the above example, on the basis of the pros and cons and the weighting applied, there seems to be a clear overall quantifiable advantage in the decision to go ahead and buy a new car.

Notice that with this decision-making method it’s even possible to include ‘intangible’ emotional issues in the pros and cons comparison, for example ‘it’ll be a load off my mind’, and ‘decisions scare and upset me.’In the above example, on the basis of the pros and cons and the weighting applied, there seems to be a clear overall quantifiable advantage in the decision to go ahead and buy a new car.

A decision-making pros and cons list like this helps remove the emotion which blocks clear thinking and decision-making. It enables objectivity and measurement, rather than reacting from instinct, or avoiding the issue altogether. Objective measurement helps in making a confident decision.

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The total weighted scores are the main deciding factor rather than the total number of pros and cons, although there is not a scientific ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to consider the total number of pros and cons compared with the total weighted scores.

If the weighted scores are indicating a decision which makes you feel uncomfortable, then check your weightings, and also check that you’ve not missed out any factors on either side of the table.

If the decision makes you feel uncomfortable and this is not reflected in the table, then add it as a factor and give it a score.

Seeking feedback or input from a trusted neutral friend can be helpful in confirming your factors and their scores.

You decide. Your decisions have consequences. The encouraging thing is that the more you make decisions, the easier they get to make.

Start taking action!

Here’s to your success.
Andrew Cussons
Email: andrew@andrewcussons.com
Phone: 07801 612889
www.andrewcussons.com

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