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7 ways to train your brain to make better decisions

April 13, 2020

8 min read

The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.

In January 2018, the word “hangry” was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary . The union of hungry and angry (hungry + angry = hungry ) is defined as “bad temper or irritability as a result of hunger”. Many of us are familiar with sentiment, and research shows that it leads to more risky and impulsive decisions.

7 ways to train your brain to make better decisions7 ways to train your brain to make better decisions

Leaving this aside, making good decisions is a fundamental skill for entrepreneurs. Every day brings with it a wave of options, from hiring staff to product features and marketing plans. As the founder and CEO of JotForm , I know that making decisions is one of the most difficult things in my job. Technology and markets evolve at the speed of light, and there is plenty of information to weigh in every choice we make.

The good news is that learning to make better decisions helps us work more productively, manage stress , avoid fatigue, and feel more satisfied with your business and with life.

The reason why we find it difficult to make decisions

You have probably heard the term “decision fatigue,” something that happens when we exhaust our finite supply of self-control. As the day progresses and you have to decide more things, each decision becomes more difficult. Eventually, your brain revolts and takes one of two shortcuts: either act impulsively or avoid the decision entirely.

“Decision fatigue helps explain why sane people get mad at their colleagues and families, waste money on clothes, buy junk food at the grocery store, and can't resist the dealer's offer to protect their new car,” writes John Tierney in The New York Times . “No matter how rational and smart you try to be, you can't make hundreds of decisions without paying the biological price.”

A good start is to cut down on the number of decisions you need to make. It is the reason why so many entrepreneurs wear the same clothes every day , eat the same things, and have predictable routines .

As founders, we also need practical skills. In the last 14 years I have discovered that when I work with my brain, instead of fighting biology and human nature, I make better decisions. Here I share seven techniques that can help you make smarter and more effective decisions.

1. Choose what is 'good enough'

If you've ever spent Saturday night browsing Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and iTunes to find a movie to do with your partner, you understand why having more options makes us less happy. It is a phenomenon that psychologist Barry Schwartz described in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less , in 2005.

According to Schwartz, you can sidestep this paradox by settling for “good enough.” As Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic , “People who do this are often called 'satisfied' and consistently happier, and Schwartz found that the 'maximizers 'They feel they have to choose the best possible option.'

Running a business involves making many big decisions. Apply your best thoughts and personal values ​​to the most important choices, and for the rest, settle for what is 'good enough'.

2. Look for speed

In 2016, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, wrote a letter to his shareholders saying, “Most decisions should probably be made with 70% of the information you would like to have. If you wait 90 percent, in most cases, you're probably being slow. ”

When there are many things at stake, it is easy to delay making an important decision, or to try to know every little detail that could affect your decision. And in most cases, I think Bezos is right. Gather as much information as you can to make an informed decision, and then let it go.

3. Imagine the worst possible scenario

We can thank the ancient Stoics for this approach, which means envisioning big problems before they happen, and then working backwards to make the best possible decision. For example, imagine that you are considering doing a product launch. What's the worst that could happen? If you were to make the same decision, how could you avoid this scenario? Or this exercise may convince you to move the release date.

4. Weigh your options

Usually, we tend to perceive options as binary: vanilla or chocolate, right or left. However, in business it is not usually that simple, and the options do not usually have the same weight. When faced with a difficult decision, make sure that both options have the same value, that they really are two sides of the same coin. For example, option A may generate a massive increase in your earnings while option B has a 5 percent limit. You'll generally discover that an option has much more potential, even if there are risks involved in the process.

5. Put it on paper

The classic list of pros and cons exists for a reason. Putting your thoughts on paper can give you clarity. As Chris Charyk writes in the Harvard Business Review , these lists promote rigorous thinking, which “minimizes the likelihood that critical factors have been overlooked.” They also offer some emotional distance from the decisions you have in front of you. Just stay alert for cognitive biases . These common mental errors, such as anchoring, fear of loss, and confirmation bias can lead us to make irrational decisions.

6. Think short

When entrepreneurs create the minimum viable product, it usually works to make the minimum viable decision. Ask yourself: What is the smallest decision you could make right now? For example, if you are considering moving city, not only do you pack your bags and leave, but you read travel blogs and review stories. You talk to people who live in the city you want to go to. You read a book about the city and you are looking for a space where you can work.

7. Consult with people you trust

Many of us share the decisions we have to make with our friends, colleagues, and family. It is a very useful step that can offer us a new perspective. You can also use the reaction of others to evaluate your instincts. For example, if one of your colleagues agrees that you should move to such a city, and you feel motivated and supported, probably, deep down, what you want is to move. If you disagree with their opinion, then you are not ready to pack. Just be careful not to let other people, especially those you respect and admire, convince you of something you don't believe in or don't want to do.

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