“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Roy E. Disney
Think about the choices you made today. How many of them were the result of thoughtful analysis, sorting through options, considering their potential effect on others, setting aside your personal bias? How many were based on your own desire to get it done, taking the effortless way out, not being personally invested, ignoring how your choice might look or feel to others, or succumbing to peer pressure? Everyone wants to believe they’re capable of sound judgment, yet most of us can use a little help to make wiser decisions — even if we think we do fine as it is.
Why bother with wise reasoning? Research shows that wise reasoning is associated with a greater quality of life satisfaction, less negative affect, less depressive thinking, better social relationships, speech that consists of words that are more positive than negative, and, perhaps most important, longer life.
Pay attention to personal motivations.
Why do you select one choice or solution over another? Does it matter if you’re trying to solve a problem for yourself or someone else? Research exploring the connection between personal ideals and reasoning conducted by the University of Waterloo and published in Psychological Science, a journal for the Association of Psychological Science, found that the more study participants’ motivation to pursue virtue increased, the more valuable they rated wise-reasoning strategies when thinking about personal problems.
Wise-reasoning strategies explored included searching for a compromise, adopting an outsider’s perspective, and developing intellectual humility.
Recognize and acknowledge uncertainty and change.
Decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. There are situational circumstances to consider, timing required for reaching a decision, factors that are presently unknown, and change, among other variables. Whether you are attempting to arrive at a workable solution for a business problem or helping a friend figure out the best strategy for dealing with a family difficulty or trying to navigate your own options for a problem you face, proceeding without recognizing how important the factors of uncertainty and change are can make decisions not only less wise, but also not well thought-out or effective.
Building upon 1989 research that found that prospective hindsight increased ability to correctly identify outcomes by 30 percent, an article in the Harvard Business Review detailed the concept of a project premortem. In the business environment, the method can help team members identify risks before a project commences, reduces group full-speed-ahead attitude, and sensitizes the team to better detect signs of trouble after the project begins.
Consider the broader context.
Ever been in a meeting where a proposed decision is unanimously accepted and little, if any, discussion about other alternatives ensues? With the group fervor accelerating the do-it-now consensus, there’s not much impetus for looking elsewhere. In their book, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work,” co-authors Chip and Dan Heath suggest that getting past the “mental spotlight” and widening it to encompass areas that would not otherwise be looked at is important for wise decision-making. Having more options, rather than seizing upon and settling on just one, may make for better outcomes.
Ask yourself if this is the right thing to do.
In alignment with pursuing virtue, to prepare yourself to make wiser decisions, always ask the question, “Is this the right thing to do?” What’s right may fly in the face of the prevailing choice, and peer pressure may be exerted to attempt to change your mind. Being willing to stand up for what you believe is right may influence others to see another perspective, to potentially alter their decision or, at the very least, allow more time to weigh assorted options. Decisions based on integrity and values also show the benefit of true leadership. While it may be tough to be the lone dissenter, sticking to what you believe is right may prove more beneficial to the eventual decision.
Adhering to a choice that’s more ethical and consistent with your values also works when making decisions on a personal level. Your inner voice tells you what’s right. Whether you listen to it and act accordingly is entirely up to you. Taking the effortless way out may be quicker, but won’t be as satisfying as being true to your values and acting with integrity.
Leave emotion out of it.
When emotion runs high, it’s no time to attempt deciding, for the sentiment will cloud your judgement and result in a less-than-wise decision. The best way to guard against emotion getting in the way of a wise decision is to step away, give yourself (and/or others) time to cool down, allow the emotion to subside, and reason to return. Besides, emotions are fleeting, so it shouldn’t take too long before you can come back and resume deliberations.
Refine focus, eliminating all distractions.
Zeroing in on what’s most important helps you refine focus on the decision that needs to be made. Key to this is eliminating all distractions that serve to scatter your attention, drawing your thoughts to extraneous issues, topics or problems that are perhaps better attended to at another time or setting. Prioritizing must-haves is another crucial step toward clarifying objectives, including the uppermost goal.
Be mindful of the setting.
If participants in the decision-making process are uncomfortable because the room is too hot or too cold, the chairs or desks are too hard, the acoustics are bad or external noise intrudes and distracts, they’re more likely to want to rush through the process, make excuses to leave or ask to cut the meeting short. The meeting outcome is much less likely to produce wise decisions. There are good reasons why corporate boardrooms are situated in sound-proof rooms, minus windows or see-through enclosures, the temperature is carefully controlled, and outfitted with comfortable chairs. The idea is to get things done, not provide avenues for attendees’ minds to wander.
Consider others’ perspectives.
When contemplating or proposing a solution to a problem or working to arrive at a reason-based decision, it’s helpful to consider the perspectives of others involved in the decision-making process. If you want to arrive at wiser decisions, avoid the tendency to steer the consensus toward your own choice at the expense of considerations others may suggest, given the opportunity to be heard. Your choice may turn out to be the wiser one, yet the goal is to engage and empower other participants to feel like their input matters. Besides, their contributions may well inform the decision and result in one that’s not only smarter, but wiser as well.