If you ever wonder why some days you hit the pillow feeling absolutely exhausted even though you’ve done very little physically, spare a thought for the effort your brain has put in that day. It’s estimated the brain uses around 20% of our ideal daily calorie intake, or around 300 – 400 calories per day, and its little wonder – a study by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom found that we typically make around 35000 decisions each and every day. No wonder we cant wait to crawl into bed each night!
Unfortunately, not all of these decisions are good ones, regardless of the energy we might burn. In his 2007 book Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb details the two primary ways we make decisions.
System 1 is immediate – which was designed to provide us with the “flight or fight” mentally for early survival. We didn’t have time to analyze a threat coming towards us, we had to rely on intuition to quicken the process. Unfortunately, we still rely rather heavily on System 1 which is automatic, experience-based, fast, and effortless. This appeals strongly as, by instinct, we enjoy minimal effort.
The second system is cognitive – it requires us to think, to analyze and to reason. It is slower and less intuitive and consumes more time and energy which can be tiring as we have seen, but can normally be more effective.
Sadly, because of the relative ease, many of us rely on System 1 “emotional” responses to issues which, while simpler, can tap into our many biases and lead to poorer quality decision making. A structured decision making process can provide you with better results, or at the very least, a pathway to discover where you have erred. Here’s some of the key steps I consider important in making a structured decision.
- Gather information: Sadly we don’t always get all the information together we need before reaching a conclusion. Time can work against you with this, but you should try to get as much together as possible within the limitations provided.
- Identify the problem: Sometimes we are guilty of not being clear on what outcome we want. Taleb provides a great example of this when he compares “no evidence of Black Swans” with “evidence of no Black Swans”. There is a difference and not defining your issue clearly will likely lead to poor outcomes. As the old saying goes, garbage in leads to garbage out!
- Know the Ideal Outcome: How do you define a successful conclusion? What is it that you want? We can be guilty of not defining the ideal scenario leading to frustration when we can’t seem to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
- Consider the options and analyze them: Are you being objective? Are you using System 1 or System 2? Although this is an exercise in thought, be careful to avoid too many options which can lead to “paralysis analysis”.
- Seek Advice: Is there anyone else who can provide additional input to the process? Who has information that you don’t have?
- Test Your Assumptions: Can you trial your preferred option with minimal risk or outlay before you commit? The less risk there is in the final outcome the more confidence you can approach the issue with.
- Make a Decision: This is sometimes the hardest part. At some point you must commit to an outcome. The more thorough your process has been the more confident you can feel about the end result.
- Review and Evaluate: Has the correct decision been made? If not, what changes need to be implemented? Always be willing to change your mind if your original decision was wrong.
Although this is a simplistic approach to making a decision, the steps involved will give you a strong basis to systemize how you do it. Gut intuition can be a good starting point but it doesn’t provide you with all the information you need to reach an effective conclusion.
So spend a little more time thinking, if nothing else the extra calories burned might just be that diet supplement you’ve been looking for!