How to get what you want – The psychology behind making good decisions

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The decisions you make, big and small, make up who you are. It’s something that everyone has to contend with. We make decisions throughout the day and throughout the year, and these decisions that can affect how our lives turn out for decades to come.

So, how do we achieve the things we want through the decisions we make? Well, it’s important to understand what goes into decisions and to understand that decision-making is a skill that you can exercise and get better at. Here we’ll take a brief look what we can do to improve at it.

 

Rational Decisions or Gut Feeling?

Most of us think being completely rational when making decisions is the be-all and end-all. However, a lot of research has indicated that this may not be true. Social experiments have found that the decisions made by participants based on ‘gut feeling’ were sometimes better than those based on rational thinking.

‘Gut feeling’ basically means going with your intuition, which is when you have a good feeling or a bad feeling about something. Neuroscientists say that your intuition is a very real thing and relies on older parts of the brain that evolved to process new information very fast, often in times of danger or alarm.

For normal, non-threatening decisions like the kinds we make now, intuition is not a foolproof solution. It can be prone to bias and can also be suggestible. So, when trying to get the best outcome from a situation, you should take your intuition and gut feeling into account, but maybe don’t forget about the other factors…

 

Finding the Balance

Try to take a balanced perspective. Look at both sides of an argument.

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In a thought-provoking TED Talk about what goes into good decision making, TV presenter and professional poker player Liv Boeree gives an interesting and unique take on what helps an individual make good decisions in terms of health and relationships. Boeree’s talk explores the difference between knowing when to plan and when to act on impulse, as well as how to know which tactic to apply and how to find a balance. She doesn’t go that far into it in the video, but having balance in your life generally helps quite a bit, and maintaining a healthy mindset is an important aspect in continuously making beneficial decisions rather than self-destructive ones. A lot of people try meditation or yoga, or simple breathing exercises, in order to maintain a mentally-healthy lifestyle.

The talk also explains how basic number-crunching can actually be a useful tool in your arsenal. This involves thinking in indefinite statistics when making a decision. Say, for example, that you’re deciding between two options for dinner. They both look good—so how do you know which to choose? Simply try to turn how you feel into numbers:

Is 60% of you leaning towards the Carbonara? Are you only 40% interested in Bolognese? It’s a pretty basic approach, but when applied on larger scale, it can immediately make the desired outcome seem more obvious than it was before. Do yourself a favour and order the Carbonara.

 

Never Underestimate a Good Night’s Rest.

Sleeping on it is also an effective way of preparing to make a decision. Having a good night’s sleep before an important day where you need to be decisive has been proven to improve the quality of your decision making throughout the day. A lack of sleep is one of the most common health issues that everyone has to tackle at one stage or another.

Sleep is needed to keep your mind and body at peak efficiency throughout the day, both physically and mentally. You have a larger capacity for decisiveness after a good rest because throughout the night your body and mind get to switch off for a while, relax and reset. This gives time for your underlying thoughts and emotions from the previous day to be calmed and will allow solutions to the previous day’s problem to be seen in a fresh light, with better clarity.

Getting a good night’s rest, and getting it regularly, is important to keep mind and body in tip-top shape.

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In addition, deep sleep and REM sleep (rapid-eye-movement) have been shown to stimulate the creative parts of the brain. During REM sleep is when you have dreams, which usually involves your unconscious mind thinking over the events of the previous day. Allowing this process to take place, along with the regenerative effects of a good sleep, can really help when trying to come up with a creative solution to an impending decision.

 

So that’s it? Pretty much.

There are many ways to make you a more effective and decisive person, but a lot of it comes down to how you, as a person, compose yourself before a big decision or moment of change. Getting a good night’s sleep, learning when to trust what your intuition is telling you, and crunching a few numbers when the need arises will all set you in great stead to face challenges and decisions as they come—and help you get what you want in life.

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