Decision making may seem like too basic a matter to cover, but attending to the basics in life has profound benefits. Getting them right is not an objective, but an ongoing process; as such, it’s paramount to reflect regularly on your day-to-day operating system and make tweaks as needed.
Because the choices you make on a daily basis largely determine the course your life takes, ensuring that you are making them with thought and care is integral to success. Oftentimes, we operate based on what feels right in the moment, rather than arriving at a decision with calm and logic. In some cases that can serve us well, such as when our senses are alerting us to danger from someone. But more often, it seems, a spontaneous, knee-jerk style of decision making paves the way for a life riddled with problems.
Mull over these questions prior to making any decision, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
1. Would this action contribute to a desired positive outcome you envision for your life over the long term?
A simple method of determining this is to exercise a little imagination—would future you reflect on this action with gratitude and satisfaction? If the thought gives you pause, you may want to rethink it.
2. Would this action be in line with what seems to be the best/ideal way of doing things, or would it be symptomatic of operating based on comfort level and acclimatization?
Sometimes, we know what needs to be done and how we can be doing things better, but we’re so used to mediocrity and weakness, afraid to push our boundaries, that we continue on in the same mode. Every choice we are presented with is a new chance to get it right. Don’t let your track record constrain you. Don’t feel the need to maintain your own status quo if that status quo is not serving your own greater good.
3. In taking this action what would be the opportunity cost?
This dovetails with the previous question but is slightly different in concept. Everything comes at a cost, which is not always monetary. Everything is a sacrifice for something else. Think long and hard about what is likely being given up. You can’t take time back, and in most cases you can’t undo an action.
4. What would be the underlying motivation of this action?
If its motive would be sheer emotion, see question number one (would it lead to regret). For instance, succumbing to the urge to exhibit frustration toward another person probably won’t create a positive result; rather, patience, self-restraint, and moderation of behavior would most likely be more advantageous to all parties involved.
5. If this action is based heavily on knowledge, have you undergone due diligence to ensure its validity?
As an example, misinformation relating to food is pervasive, and we tend to both perpetuate it and incorporate it into our shopping habits without doing sufficient homework, a topic I covered in 7 Food Myths Burning a Hole in Your Wallet.
6. Is it a product of the sunk cost fallacy?
The sunk cost fallacy is an important concept in behavioral economics that is applicable to life generally. It refers to having an aversion to loss that causes us to make an irrational decision in the present in order to (in our minds) get the most out of an investment (of time, money, effort, etc.) we made in the past. An example is ordering a meal and trying to eat every last scrap beyond the point of fullness to make it worth it. What matters most right now is the present. Trying to make sunk (irretrievable) costs count at the expense of something better (which goes back to question three, concerning opportunity cost) is a common decision-making pitfall to steer clear of.