Practice Mindfulness

Again, becoming more observant is key for making smarter decisions. Mindfulness is a great way to learn to focus on the entire landscape and sharpen your ability to pay attention.

As Hertz writes, mindfulness helps us “get better at opening our eyes to what we might otherwise overlook.”

(This blog offers many mindfulness techniques.)

Employ a Challenger-in-Chief

Whether at home or work, enlist the help of someone who will challenge you. This person can help you question your own biases and make sure you’ve gathered enough information and aren’t simply confirming what you already know.

Challenge Experts

We tend to put experts on a pedestal and take their words as gospel. As Hertz writes, “Bludgeoned by their stats and theories, pacified by their institutional affiliations and the letters after their names, reassured by their self-confidence, we surrender our intellect, instincts and power to them.”

In fact, one experiment found that when participants were pondering a financial expert’s advice, it was as though the decision-making parts of their brains just switched off.

But experts get things wrong. All the time.

Consider the following statistics: Doctors misdiagnose patients one in six times. In the U.S. and Canada, 50,000 hospital deaths every year may be prevented if the cause of illness was accurately identified.

A study of 82,000 predictions by 284 experts over 16 years on everything from the future of the USSR to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait found that experts weren’t any more accurate than a monkey who randomly put a pin on a board.

In other words, experts are human, and as such, they make mistakes.

Experts also falsify data and other parts of their research. “Eighty-one percent of biomedical research trainees said that they would be willing to select, omit or fabricate data, to, among other things, “win a grant,” Hertz writes.

A recent study also found that over 40 percent of the best-designed, peer-reviewed papers in prestigious medical publications included misrepresented findings, mainly because of funding pressures.

So if your decision requires an expert, what can you do?

For starters, if you’re asking an expert for objective advice, “find out in advance whose payroll they are on, and what conflicts of interest this may present.” If they’re pushing a certain product, stock option, medication, whatever, ask them directly if they have a conflict of interest or any kind of benefit to gain.

Also, ask experts whether they’re up-to-date on the latest research and how doing so has changed their thinking. After a well-renowned gastroenterologist told Hertz, very proudly, that he didn’t have the time or see the need in familiarizing himself with the newest research, she wisely “quickly ran.”

Similarly, be aware of experts who are cocky. Arrogance doesn’t equate to competence. In fact, research has shown the opposite. Look for experts who are curious and open, and not driven by ego.

Seek out several experts before making a decision. Find out the experts’ track records. For instance, if you’re having an operation, ask the surgeon how many times they’ve performed this specific surgery and how many times something went wrong.

Become your own expert. Immerse yourself in the literature and research. This way you know the right questions to ask, and you understand an expert’s responses and recommendations.

If you’re not so good at the technical lingo, pick someone you trust to act as a translator.

Making decisions is not easy. And it takes time. Empower yourself to become a better observer, find opposing information, question experts, and become an expert yourself.