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This Is How To Make Good Decisions: 4 Secrets Backed by Research by Eric Barker

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Here’s how to make good decisions:

  • You don’t need more info, you need the right info: Clarify the problem and get relevant data, not all the data.
  • Feelings are not the enemy: For simple choices, use raw brainpower. For complex choices, trust intuition.
  • If you’re an expert in the area, trust your gut: Not sure if you’re an expert? Keep a decision diary.
  • “Good enough is almost always good enough”: Trying to be perfect makes your brain miserable.

And if you forget everything above, what one thing should you remember?

In my interview with Duke professor Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) he said you’re more likely make a good decision if you “take the outside perspective.” What’s that mean?

Just ask yourself, “What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?”:

If I had to give advice across many aspects of life, I would ask people to take what’s called “the outside perspective.” And the outside perspective is easily thought about: “What would you do if you made the recommendation for another person?” And I find that often when we’re recommending something to another person, we don’t think about our current state and we don’t think about our current emotions. We actually think a bit more distantly from the decision and often make the better decision because of that.

Yeah, it can really be that simple: thinking about how you would help others is often the best way to help yourself.

Feelings Are Your Friends

Being calm definitely helps when trying to make good decisions — but ignoring emotions is silly.

As Stanford professor Baba Shiv explains, choices can’t be made without feelings.

Via The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive:

In the late ’80s and through the ’90s, says Shiv, neuroscientists “started providing evidence for the diametric opposite viewpoint” to rational-choice theory: “that emotion is essential for and fundamental to making good decisions.”

And not only do we need feelings to make decisions, engaging them also leads to better decisions.

Professor Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, says feeling beats thinking when it comes to relationship predictions:

It was the people in the “gut feeling” group whose ratings predicted whether they were still dating their partner several months later. As for the navel gazers, their satisfaction ratings did not predict the outcome of their relationships at all.

And matters of the heart aren’t the only place where feelings help. Empathy can be a big positive when trying to make good choices. Research shows doctors who feel empathy make better decisions for their patients.

Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of the bestseller Give and Take, told me:

There is a great study by Turner and colleagues showing that when radiologists saw a photo of the patient whose x-ray they were about to scan, they empathized more with the person. They saw that person as more of a human being as opposed to just an x-ray. As a result, they wrote longer reports and they had greater diagnostic accuracy, significantly.

Certainly there are times when we need to think things through and be very rational. So how do you know whether to go with your gut or not?

  • For simple decisions without many factors involved (What soda should I buy?) be rational.
  • For very complex or weighty decisions (Am I in love?) trust your gut.

Via How We Decide:

As Dijksterhuis demonstrated, when you ask the prefrontal cortex to make (complex) decisions, it makes consistent mistakes… It might sound ridiculous, but it makes scientific sense: Think less about those items that you care a lot about. Don’t be afraid to let your emotions choose.

Now what about when you’re tired and it’s hard to think? Don’t worry — research says go with your gut.

And what about when you’re really really tired? Just go to bed. Studies show the old saw is true: “sleeping on it” works.

(To learn the #1 decision-making secret of astronauts, samurai, Navy SEALs and psychopaths, click here.)

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