Posted in personal growth

4 vital factors to consider when making decisions

The decisions we make determine the kind of person we are. When it comes to decision making, there is no decision too small to affect your life. From what you choose to eat for dinner or what you choose to do in your free time to your career choice and life partner. None of these decisions should be overlooked or handled with levity.

Decision making, like any other art, can be perfected, so that it comes to us easily. This is necessary if we wish to live a life on track and ordered in the domain of the purpose and goals we have set for ourselves.

In Daniel Kahneman‘s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow“, he talked about two systems, The System 1 which we use for ‘fast thinking’ and the System 2, that takes care of our ‘slow thinking’.

What he referred to as the “Systems” are not specialised aspects of the brain, but he explained them as a kind of way designed to help us think and make decisions.

System 1

System 1 for example, is at work when we have to make quick decisions. It uses our intuition, the biases we have been exposed to, and the quick connections our brain can make in a new situation based on what we have previously encountered.

System 2

System 2, on the other hand, takes time. It is more deliberate. It is the one we employ when we want to make decisions or answer questions that the solution does not easily jump out to us. For example, when asked the answer to 38×13, it takes a bit of focus and mental calculation to get the answer ( well, except you are a math wiz). That’s the System 2 at work. Unlike when asked 2×3 which we can easily answer with our System 1.

Some people, however, are so dependent on System 1 that they never give serious thought to any decision they make in their lives, even ones that are evidently critical to their personhood. They, in other words, ‘wing it’ through life.

The art of decision making should be regularly improved upon so that regardless of what you are deciding on, you can be quite certain that you are making the best possible decision at the moment.

This is not to say System 1 is not needed. In fact, we use System 1 more than we use System 2, as we should. It is rather unrealistic and wasteful of time to call on System 2 whenever we want to make simple decisions. This is why, to improve the ability of our System 1 in making decisions, we need to improve on the things that affect the said system.

Being aware of existing biases, such as the confirmation bias, sunk cost fallacy or the negativity bias, will be instrumental in avoiding the pitfalls they present. Picking up simple lessons in everything we encounter also has the potential of reducing the number of mistakes we make when deciding with System 1.

The more deliberate System 2, however, needs to be watched when used to make decisions. And this is our focus today.

Deciding to quit your job, for example, is not something you just wake up and do without proper thought. When I decided to quit my job in 2017, I knew it was not the right place for me because I wasn’t answering my deepest WHY working there. I figured it was time to leave. That was in December. I didn’t just get to work and quit the next day. I had to employ my System 2 to figure out if, indeed, quitting my job was the right move or not; and if it was, what then?

From my research and observations, here are 4 vital things I have learnt should be considered before making decisions:

1. Never make a decision in an excited state.


When you are emotionally aroused is not the best time to make important decisions. It could be happy, sad, angry or hungry. Never make a decision with these emotions in play. They have the ability to distort your rationality. When you experience intense emotions such as these, it is best to defer making an important decision until a later time.

2. ‎Before making a decision, first, consider the situation objectively.

Be like Sheldon for a moment

To be objective means to remove sentiments and personal biases from the situation. It means, for a second, don’t make it personal. Ask yourself, what is the best way to resolve this if I wasn’t the one it is happening to? This helps you see a situation the way it really is, unclouded by our attachments. That way, it is easier to see the right thing to do.
It’s like when someone asks for your advice on what you think they should do in a particular situation. To truly help them, you have to detach yourself from whatever it is and think of the best way forward. This is usually easy to do since you are not the party experiencing the situation. But when the situation is yours, you have to be able to do the same thing. You have to remove yourself from the equation first in order to clearly assess the situation.

3. ‎Ask for the opinions of people who have different ones from you.

But not just anybody; you want to ask from people whom Ray Dalio referred to in his book, Principles, as ‘believable‘. They are people who are qualified to have an opinion on that subject. If you have a health-related issue, a doctor is more likely to give you a better answer. Not your friend who is a writer or a lawyer.

Asking opinions of people who hold the same belief or have the same level of knowledge as you, and hence, are as naive as you only echo your own thoughts and possible flaws. To make a good decision, talk to people you disagree with, people who see things differently from you. Because it is only then you can see all the sides to a situation. This provides you with a clearer view of the situation.

4. ‎Consider the second- and third-order consequences of your decision before implementing.

This means, after you have objectively considered the situation and heard varying opinions, you then put yourself back into the mix. You have decided on what seems to be your best move, but how does it play out if you are in the equation?

You don’t just go ahead and implement a decision you haven’t considered subjectively; without imagining the scenario that follows if you do make that decision. What’s going to be the outcome of my decision? And then, what would be the effect of that outcome on my life?

This would keep you prepared for whatever might result from your decision. This helps you foresee difficulties that might arise as a result of your decision and adjust accordingly. And if it still won’t work, you can come up with a better alternative.

I was discussing with some colleagues at work about the recent ban on motorcycles and tricycle in most parts of Lagos. It didn’t take us too long to realise that the majority of the problem with that ban was not really in its immediate effect. You could see issues such as inflation, increase in crime rate, and even drop out of pupils from schools.

This is the kind of thinking that precedes making a good decision. It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t go through with it. It just means you now have more information to help you better decide.

Consciously practising this is not a guarantee that you won’t make mistakes sometimes. No. But it will gradually help you get better at making decisions. And when you make better, well-thought decisions, the quality of your life can improve.

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