Tough Calls

I was reading O magazine May 2011 issue and came across an article about decision-making by Catherine Price author of 101 Places Not to See before You Die. I had always been very intrigue by the process of making “decision”. In Harvard business school we had a whole course on decision-making. We had these fancy decision-making trees that we had to go through in order to make a decision on whether we should expand our factory and all those intrinsic steps we needed to put down so we can make a good decision.

All those exercises I did were left brain activities to make sure that we had all the facts together and that we analyzed the situations thoroughly to make rational decisions. Based on the story I was told about my family, I have come to the conclusion that decision-making is very much a combination right and left brain activity. The severe and dangerous events my family encountered and how my parents made their decisions through them always fascinated me. Their choices in many situations totally changed our lives and there were guiding principles my brothers and sisters and I noticed. We thrived in difficult times and we all were happy with our choices.

Decision-making is intrinsically linked to our emotions, so much so that when a person suffers damage to her orbit frontal cortex- a part of the brain just behind the eyes that’s strongly involved processing emotions-she can lose her decision-making ability entirely. One way our emotions help us decide is by creating a physical response to information we don’t even realize we’ve noticed. When we slam on the brakes at the sight of an unexpected car, for example, it’s because out sub-conscious mind has recognized danger and translated it into a flash of fear; we decide to act without any conscious thought.

I remembered in Hong Kong I was day dreaming and some how I stopped short of stepping into the street and a cable car almost hit me but for some reason I just stopped and retrack my steps for going to cross the street. The cable car driver was cursing me because he was more frightened than me.

Our emotions can also lead us astray, as when they encourage us to give a doomed relationship another try. Every choice represents a battle between your rational conscious and emotional subconscious minds, the key to good decision-making is learning how to pick which side should win.

The best decision makers let the situation guide them. The more experience you have a particular type of decision, the safer it is to go with your intuition, since your subconscious has a wealth of reliable information from which to draw. According to Barry Schwartz PhD, a psychologist and professor of social theory at Swarthmore College and author of “The paradox of choice”, we are confronted with too many choices.

My cousin Hon Tin came to US about 15 years ago and I remembered he said,” I am overwhelmed with all the choices in this country and I am always full of anxiety and when I was in China and I do not have many choices because the government made the choices for me.” Even though my cousin enjoyed the good life in US, he had encountered a lot more anxiety because he is not used to have to make so many decisions.

A summary of 7 steps to better decisions:

  1. Identify your goal:
    “People who aren’t reflective are going to end up making bad decisions because they don’t really know what they want in the first place.” As stated by David Welch, PhD, professor of political Science at University of Waterloo in Ontario and author of Decisions, Decisions: the Art of Effective Decision Making.
  2. Eliminate choices by setting standards:
    If you are trying to buy a digital camera, list the features you’ll actually use. Any camera that has them is good enough for you. Ignore anything fancier.
  3. Don’t worry about find the best.
    How good you fell about decisions is usually more important than how good they are objectively.
  4. Be aware of biases
    They can lead smart people to make dumb decisions. We hate to lose more than we like to win, which can result in behavior such as holding to tanking stocks. We remember vivid examples better than facts, which is why plane crashes stick in our heads more than statistics on air safety.
  5. Try not to rush.
    People tend to make poorer choices when they are in a bad mood or under a lot of stress. When facing a complex decision, use your conscious brain to gather information , then take a break. Go for a walk. Spend a half hour meditation. Take a nap ( my father did when he had to make a decision that can save our lives). The idea is to give your unconscious mind sometime to do the work. The decision you make afterward is more likely to be the right one.
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    When possible, eliminate the need for decisions by establishing rules for yourself. You will do exercise three time a week, You will not drink more than two glass of alcohol. This way you do not have the make decisions on these matter and it is your rule.
  7. Do a postgame analysis.
    After each decision you make, you ask yourself how you felt afterward and what about the experience you can apply in the future.

A summary of the article by Catherine Price.

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