From People Skills to Strategy: How Do We Make Decisions? From People Skills to Strategy: How Do We Make Decisions How Do We Make Decisions? Considering we make a seemingly infinite amount of decisions on a daily basis, it’s not surprising that there are multiple factors that contribute towards the choices we make. No single decision is simply a whim where the answer is plucked out of thin air. Every choice we make is based upon a number of factors from the innate behavior we’ve developed over the years to the emotions we feel in the split second where a decision needs to be made. In fact, according to scientists, our emotional state is a critical element of decision making. With so many options and alternatives to choose from, how do we make decisions? Making decisions is a part of life, but when our bad decisions begin to outweigh our good decisions, it’s time to take a closer look at ourselves. Here, we’ll be exploring how we make decisions, why bad decisions occur and how we can all start to make better decisions moving forward. Neuroscientist and USC professor Dr. Antonio Damasio even went as far as to develop a somatic marker hypothesis that helps describe how our most basic emotions can determine our decisions. Dr. Damasio’s theory is that the amygdala (the part in our brain that holds our most visceral emotions) and the orbitofrontal cortex (the decision-making factory in our brains) are crucial to the neural circuit that helps us create judgments and decisions. In his book Descarte’s Error, Dr. Damasio wrote: “nature appears to have built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it.” He believes our feelings are intrinsically connected to our rational (or, occasionally, irrational) functions. Ultimately, making decisions would be impossible without emotions according to his hypothesis, as we’d lack any motivation to make them. Of course, our feelings aren’t the only factors that can affect our judgments. Another is the fact that decisions have real consequences and, in a sense, can cost us. A study undertaken by the University of Minnesota found that making decisions can result in reduced “self-regulation”. That can encapsulate less stamina, less motivation following failure, increased procrastination, and overall, just putting less effort into life to ensure we don’t lose out. This is closely linked with the inevitable expectations that can affect the decisions we make. If we have very low expectations, which is usually caused by the core beliefs we hold about ourselves and society as a whole, and these expectations are met, we’re more likely to make more decisions. However, if a decision we make goes unrewarded in our eyes, it can really put us off making similar choices in the future. Why Do We Make Bad Decisions? For many of us, bad decisions are simply written off as mistakes. Unfortunately, this changes once we begin to realize that our bad choices are happening far more often than good choices, that the balance is out of alignment and mistakes are far too common. Since emotions have such a big impact on our decisions and choices, surely they must have something to do with the bad decisions we make? Everyone knows that bad decisions are made when we have to rush or if we are stressed, but could there be something more? For one of the best answers, we must return to the work of Dr. Damasio and consider one of the most decision-heavy games in existence, one where your victory is based entirely upon your choices: poker. According to an 888poker article that delves into the world of poker psychology, even the best poker players in the world can’t stop themselves from making bad decisions every so often. Dr. Damasio conducted an experiment to see how a card player’s emotions affected their skills, finding that emotional intuition often kicked in long before a player could possibly know if their cards were good or bad. It was after this experiment that he concluded that stored emotional memories could impact decision making on an unconscious level. So, not only can bad decisions be caused if you’re flustered at the moment, but it’s also possible if you have negative emotional memories stored in your mind. It’s clear that emotions play massively important roles in how we make decisions. Despite these being deeply personal factors, external influences can also cause us to make bad decisions. Decisions often require more than a yes or no answer. Many of us rely heavily on social information collected from our family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others on social media. Over time, this can lessen our innate instinct to rely on our own thoughts and feelings about a situation and cause us to go with the group mentality. Poker requires many decisions, but even the most experienced poker players can make mistakes. If we’re members of a well-functioning group with great information, positive social dynamics, and reasonable opinions, then bad decisions may remain few and far between. However, if we find ourselves in a group where there’s a lot of negativity and, let’s be real here, idiots, then we’re more likely to make bad decisions. Ultimately, bad choices are formed from bad information. This could be from a bad situation you find yourself in, bad memories, or a bad social circle. If you find yourself making bad decisions far too often, then it’s time to make some changes in your life. How Can We Make Better Decisions? To put it simply, in order to make better decisions moving forward, you have to get better information: good information that can inform your choices. You should rarely base your personal or business decisions off of what others are doing, but it always helps to start by surrounding yourself with positive, emotionally intelligent people. Think of your decision-making processes as a computer – if you have only negative data going in from unreliable sources, chances are, you’re not going to function very well. Next, you must begin to work on your own internal struggles. Figure out why it is that you make certain poor judgments. Is there an emotional memory stored away that either stops you from making the right decision or causes you to make the same bad choices repeatedly in the hopes of a different outcome? Perhaps you are more preoccupied with the cost that making a decision could leave you with, so you simply make the choice that best suits your low expectations? By asking yourself these questions and really getting to the heart of your decision-making abilities you may be able to rebuild your whole decision-processing facilities. In time, you’ll be making good decisions as if there were never any negative choices to make at all. SWAAY Studios Meet the branded content arm of SWAAY.