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How to Make Big Decisions in Life

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We all grow up to be decision makers. Yet somehow there’s no well-established way to make high-stakes decisions well. That’s a problem since by the end of our teen years, we’re faced with many of decisions that will have a long-term impact on our lives. But where the outcome is unknown and the price for making the wrong decision could be costly.

So is there a system that can help you solve complex problems? And is there a way to do it that boosts your confidence in your decision making capabilities and enables you to have conviction that your solution has a good likelihood of succeeding?

big decisions

I believe there is. Let me share my AREA Method decision making system with you so that whether you’re deciding between colleges, navigating a career decision, helping your aging parents find the right housing, or building a business you have some tips to help you work with – and through – ambiguity. AREA, an acronym that gets its name from the perspectives it addresses and it can be boiled down to four simple steps that you can use immediately to help you make smarter, better decisions when you’re facing a complex problem that you need to solve:

  1. Recognize that research is a fundamental part of decision making.
  2. Recognize that we are all flawed thinkers and fall prey to relying upon assumption, bias, and judgments that may help us make many small decisions well, but can impede clear thinking when making big ones.
  3. Address the critical component of timing head-on so that we don’t make rushed decisions, but instead have time for calculated and strategic stops in our work to promote insight.
  4. Use a clear, concise, and repeatable decision-making process that works as a feedback loop in part or in its entirety.
  5. Recognize that research is a fundamental part of decision making.

In reality, your ability to make a thoughtful decision is dependent upon the quality of the information you have. Therefore you need a good research process to be an integral part of a decision- making framework. But keep in mind: Research is an umbrella term for a whole series of tricky steps that need to be carefully navigated and thoughtfully completed. Break down your research so it’s manageable and organized.

Be aware that we are all flawed thinkers.

Much has been written lately about how we are all prey to mental mistakes. Behavioral science research and books like Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow explain that we rely on faulty intuition and are swayed by authority and public sentiment. This new research explores the many ways that we allow biases, snap judgments and assumptions to drive our decision making. Having a heightened awareness that we don’t see the world as it is, but that rather we see it as we are can help prevent mistakes.

Address the critical component of timing by resisting rushing to judgment.

High-stakes decisions deserve time and attention, but often we’re in such a rush to reach a conclusion that we never really take the time for deep reflection. We’re already over-programmed, answering emails late at night and waking to urgent texts. We struggle with the need to react when we also need to really think.

big decisions

We all need a way to have a check and balance for bias, and that’s why a thoughtful process like the AREA Method focuses on alerting you to disconfirming data. The idea is that when it comes to making big decisions we deserve the time needed for thoughtful reflection as well as tools for examining both our data and our thinking. Insight doesn’t come from collecting information alone; it comes from brainwork, so slow down and think about the meaning behind the information you are gathering and the work you are doing.

Recognize that good decision making needs a repeatable process that works as a feedback loop.

Not all investigations are linear, nor should they be. At times you need to be driven back into earlier steps to do more work, collect more data, or conduct more analysis.

We can’t control our luck, but we can control our process and, in doing so, make smarter, better decisions.

We can’t control our luck, but we can control our process and, in doing so, make smarter, better and big decisions. Here, we heave discussed how.

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