Every day, we face hundreds of choices — from what to eat for dinner to the more complex ones that impact our future. Most of us aren’t equipped for problem-solving because it’s not something we’re taught in school. But, it’s a skill set that everyone should have in their toolkit. One way to acquire it is by using decision making models, a process used to simplify the process. These four decision making models offer different ways to help you think about various problems and make better decisions. (Estimated reading time: 9 minutes)
““Don’t make a permanent decision based on temporary emotions.”— Bishop T.D. Jakes
“I wish I knew then what I know now.”
If you’re old enough, you may have said this to yourself.
I wish I knew then…that taking a detour would land me on the wrong highway. I wish I knew then…that my fiancé was this neurotic; I would not have married them. I wish I knew then… that I had a knack for creative writing – I would not have spent years studying accounting.
Things look a lot clearer in hindsight. You become more self-aware and gain insight into your past experiences and choices. It adds missing pieces to the puzzle to make it easier to decipher the problem.
But there are certain cases where missing information was not the main problem. Your inability to make a decision took you in a favorable direction. Perhaps it was due to a knee-jerk reaction or choosing not to see the circumstances for what they really were.
Many years after making decisions, we often ask, “How did I get here?” But when we retrace our steps, we’ll see that a series of decisions led us to where we are. Our coordinates were set once we made those choices.
If this sounds depressing because you wish you could go back in time and do things differently, know that it was part of the process of your personal evolution. The path you ultimately took served a purpose in making you the person you are today. Those lessons were necessary.
With age, we gain life experience and knowledge that guide our decision making. Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” You can further enhance your decision making abilities by learning about the different types of decision making models.
How modern life affects our ability to make better decisions
Every day, we face hundreds of choices — from what to eat for dinner (sushi or pizza?) to more complex decisions that involve our financial, professional, emotional, and physical well-being.
The pressure to make so many choices causes decision fatigue — that weary feeling you get after facing too many decisions. Additionally, we’re constantly bombarded with information.
Now that we have plenty of information at our disposal, it poses another problem – having more information than we can process.
Information overload can cause a person to experience analysis paralysis or delude themselves into thinking they have all the information they need when they don’t.
Add on the stresses of day-to-today life, and our ability to process information is significantly diminished. According to many studies, the busy pace of life and distractions created by the digital age have reduced our focus and made us too tired to think clearly.
When our logical mind shuts off, we’re more likely to rely on instinct or take the path of least resistance using mental shortcuts, referred to as heuristics.
Some of the most common heuristics that we should be aware of are:
Anchoring and adjustment heuristic: The anchoring heuristic influences how people estimate probabilities. Based on various social experiments, we tend to fixate on the first piece of information we get before deciding.
Social proof: Social proof occurs when we’re overly reliant on the cues that we receive from our external environment. This often occurs in social situations when we’re unsure about how to behave. We might assume the people around us know what to do, and we mimic their behavior.
Affect heuristic: The affect heuristic occurs when we allow our emotions and moods to influence our decisions. When we’re in a positive emotional state, we tend to perceive a situation to be of high benefit and low risk. If we’re in a negative emotional state, we will see a situation to be of low benefits and high in risk.
Representativeness heuristic: The representativeness heuristic is a form of stereotyping where we make judgments and decisions about an event based on how similar it is to a prototype, model, or example we have developed in our minds.
Scarcity heuristic: The scarcity heuristic influences us to believe that the perceived value of an item (or person) is higher and of better quality if it is rare and difficult to acquire.
Availability heuristic: Availability heuristics occur when we estimate or make a judgment about something based on how easily we can recall relevant examples from memory. If we can remember things more easily, we tend to assume that they are more common.
Having an awareness of these shared blocks that get in the way of making sound decisions will help us avoid feeling overwhelmed and conserve our energy. We’ll become aware of our blind spots that can trip us when making high-stakes choices.
Developing the right mindset for decision making
Decision making is much more than being able to choose suitable options. It reveals who we really are. In “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” Dumbledore alludes to this when he says to Harry, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
He offered these sage words to Harry Potter after he emerged from the Chamber of Secrets and was worried about potentially making a choice that would show him in the wrong light. But Dumbledore assures him that the real test of character is how he makes decisions, regardless of the options and means available to him.
This maxim helps us understand ourselves and the people we deal with every day – at work, in our relationships, in school, or in politics. When making a decision, ask yourself, “What does making this decision say about me as a person, and is it in integrity with what I believe in?” Get clear on the ‘why’ before moving on to the ‘how’.
When we’re clear about our intentions, we can consider our strategy. Most decisions we make are simple, and we’re barely aware of them, while others are high-risk, time-consuming, unpredictable, and make-or-break. When we’re dealing with the latter, we’ll have to learn to manage our emotions.
Most of us are unaware of the complex mental process behind our decisions. It’s an art that requires a balance of rational and irrational thinking based on our beliefs, values, perceived knowledge, and how we cope with uncertainty.
One of my favorite approaches to dealing with uncertainty is from the book “How Will You Measure Your Life” by Clayton Christensen. He says that we can’t always start with the perfect strategy. That’s why we need an emergent strategy that considers both threats and opportunities. Once our plans evolve and we test our assumptions, we can switch to making a deliberate strategy that we stick with and pour our resources into.
Taking this flexible and informed approach takes the pressure off in high-stakes situations as we’re allowing room for change, knowing that we’re doing the best that we can with the knowledge we currently have.
4 Decision Making Models to Help You Make Better Decisions
Problem-solving for everyday decisions is not something we’re taught in school, but it’s a skill set that everyone should have in their toolkit. One way to acquire it is by using decision making models, a process used to simplify the decision making process so that we can reach a balanced solution.
Each model offers different ways to think about a problem. These are especially helpful when you have time constraints or other limitations that prevent you from engaging in regular problem-solving. Each model is appropriate for different decisions based on factors like time and knowledge.
Here are four decision making models that you can use to make good decisions:
Rational decision making model
The rational decision making model uses logical steps to develop various alternatives. It involves gathering information on the options available and then weighing the pros and cons of each one. The end goal is to choose the one that is the most sensible and high-quality.
While rational decision making models offer a clear structure, they can be time-consuming. It often takes time to gather information, and we don’t always find everything we need to make a decision foolproof.
There are several types of rational decision making models – most of them follow similar steps that include defining objectives, coming up with alternatives, researching alternatives, choosing the best one, and implementing it.
A popular rational decision-making model is the DECIDE model, created by Kristina L Guo. The DECIDE model is an acronym for six specific steps in the decision making process:
D = define the problem
What is the decision you need to make?
E = establish the criteria
What factors are relevant to this decision?
C = consider all the alternatives
What are the options available to you?
I = identify the best alternative
Which is the best option given what I know?
D = develop and implement a plan of action
How are you going to put the best option into practice?
E = evaluate and monitor the solution and feedback when necessary
Did you choose the best option? Do you need to choose another option?
Once you narrow down your choices, commit and create a plan that you can follow.
Intuitive decision making model
Intuitive decision making is all about doing “what feels right.” You decide based on instinct and inner knowledge of a situation. This method is useful when you must make quick decisions and don’t have much time to research.
However, making an intuitive decision isn’t done at random. It works best when someone has the experience that helps them recognize patterns and forecast potential outcomes. You should also have a clearly defined goal and be able to identify biases that might impact your choices.
Unlike rational decision making, intuitive decisions are less structured, and there’s no conscious comparison of options.
One way to evaluate using your intuition is by considering each option and running them through different scenarios. Think of it as a sort of dress rehearsal where you try each option on for size.
For example, if you’re deciding where to go on a vacation, imagine yourself visiting each place and fully immersed in the culture. As you do this, pay attention to how you feel. Are you excited? Indifferent? Curious? Your emotions are hints that may indicate how you genuinely feel.
Alternatively, you can research each place by looking at images of the destinations online and reading about them on travel forums. As you explore more, thoughts will bubble up, making it easier to narrow down your options.
Creative decision model
The creative decision model is a fluid way of coming up with solutions. By removing constraints, we free our imaginations to develop innovative ideas that can lead to alternatives that we didn’t think were possible.
This out-of-the-box way of thinking requires flexibility, openness, and creativity for us to get the most out of it and to come up with something new and original.
This model is often used in the initial stages of new situations you haven’t experienced before, like a course of study or project. Without similar experiences that you can refer to, you must “guesstimate” by tapping into your imagination.
Practicing visualization is an effective way to consider alternatives. In your mind, picture each scenario with as many details as possible. Ask yourself what it would look and feel like? Add sensory details like sounds, smells, touch, and taste. After a period of incubation, solutions and ideas surface in your thoughts.
Another way to implement the creative decision model in group settings is to have brainstorming sessions where members develop their own creative solutions through open dialogue where they can share their ideas and suggestions.
Recognition-primed decision model
The recognition-primed model taps into earlier experiences to make decisions using quick thinking. Gary A. Klein created this model. In his book, “Sources of Power” he recommends this technique to those working in a fast-paced environment where there isn’t much time to think through a problem.
This model involves assessing the basics of a situation and then creating a solution based on that. This works well if you have lots of experience with this type of scenario, as you can foresee obstacles and come up with viable solutions that could work.
To speed up the decision process, you develop a generic solution and add or change details as you go through it. You “wing” your way through the idea and improvise based on what you know from past experiences.
If you lack any references, the recognition-primed decision model will not work. You’re better off trying one of the other models.
Life is like a mosaic. Each decision we make represents a shade or design that we add to it. So, every time you make a decision, do it with the intent of creating a beautiful work of art that you can be proud of.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: How do you usually make decisions? Which of these four decision making models appeal to you the most and why?
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