But there are lots of these choices to be made. In fact, according to author Noreena Hertz in her book Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions In A Confusing World, “we have to make up to 10,000 trivial decisions every single day.”
Other decisions aren’t so small. Other decisions can affect our health, career and relationships.
Decision-making is further complicated by data. A whole lot of data. “For this is the age of data deluge,” Hertz writes.
“A New York Times Weekly Edition contains more information than the average person in the seventeenth century was likely to come across in their entire lifetime.” Add to that social media, countless websites, TV and print ads, and a slew of other sources, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, even paralyzed, very quickly.
In her important book Hertz presents 10 practical steps for helping us make these decisions – from a smarter, more informed perspective.
She also shares research findings and stories about the cognitive errors all of us make, even the experts, which jeopardize our decision-making.
Here are some insights and tips from Hertz’s book to get you started in making decisions with eyes wide open.
Explore Your Decision-Making
Figure out how you make decisions in the first place. Do you consult others or just yourself? Are you a quick decision-maker or do you prefer taking your time? Who typically influences your decisions? Who do you trust in general?
Take in the Whole Picture
In a 2005 experiment cognitive psychologist Richard Nisbett showed American and Chinese students a set of images, such as a car on the road, for three seconds each.
The American students focused on the focal object, mostly ignoring the background. The Chinese students, however, took longer to focus on the focal object, and even then, their eyes moved around the image, taking in the surroundings.
Now imagine there was a snake on that road. Would you be able to see it? It would definitely help you figure out the next step to take.
In order to make better decisions, we need to examine the entire landscape, instead of hyperfocusing on the obvious or shiniest.
For instance, numbers only give you one part of a story, according to Hertz. Find out what the numbers aren’t telling you.
Also, pay attention to the form your information comes in. “Is it too reductionist?”
For instance, ask yourself what that PowerPoint slide or executive summary is missing. Consider what information you’re not being given. Maybe there’s an in-depth report you can find.
We need to look beyond big fonts and bold headlines. The information you need may very well be in the details, and the facts that haven’t been presented.
Seek Opposing Information
We often seek out information that just confirms our beliefs and biases. Everyone is prone to this kind of cognitive error, according to Hertz.
“In fact, it turns out that we actually get a dopamine rush when we find confirming data, similar to the one we get if we eat chocolate, have sex, or fall in love.”
Instead, actively seek out information that challenges your ideas and proves you wrong.