Habits, Hunches, and Heuristics: Making the Most of the 3 H’s to Improve Your Decisions

So, we all want to think we’re unique (and we are, from a biological perspective). But when it comes to how we behave (act) and choose (decide), we fall into some reasonably well-identified patterns. There are continuums for all of the key traits. Some of us tend to be conservative (risk-averse), while others like to be relatively aggressive and take risks. Some of us act and decide using emotional parts of our brain, and others are more calculating and measured. You can be a short-term thinker, considering the impact in the next few hours or days, or focused more on the next year or five years even. We can rely on crunching numbers or just going with our gut.

How do you see yourself? How do others see you?

We have three (3) main “H’s,” as I call them- hunches, habits, and heuristics, which essentially define our choices and the outcomes or results from those choices.

Habits are those patterns of activities we fall into naturally and repeatedly. We can perceive habits as negative or constructive. Habits are the behaviors we repeat nearly instinctually without even thinking about them. Habits can be destructive because they are performed without conscious thought. A habit of drinking coffee every morning might be okay, while a habit of jumping directly into your email or social media without developing a target priority list each day is not. For some great work on habits, see the books by James Clear (Atomic Habits) and Brendan Burchard (High-Performance Habits).

Hunches are what we refer to as our ‘gut’ or instincts. Our tendency to rely on what we believe to be accurate, based on experience or intuition. Hunches can help us by forcing us to depend on our internal strengths and experiences, but they also are unreliable predictors of good decision quality. If a judge relies on his hunch about a defendant in court based on their appearance alone, she would not fully incorporate all of the other information about the case and the circumstances. Hunches usually result in errors in our thinking, despite what you might believe.

Heuristics are the mental short-cuts we take every day to help speed up our brain and take the load off our cognitive processing (much the same as an index in a computer) to help improve search times and reduce the time necessary to find specific files). Heuristics are tendencies not to process or analyze information but instead to automatically respond to certain situations. For example, some common rules of thumb include estimating that one of your feet is roughly equivalent to one linear foot, or that you need 1 scoop of coffee for every two cups of water. Or, if you see a thin person, you assume they never eat. These are just mental short-cuts, which I view as somewhat lazy, because they shut down our brains and they are rooted in errors in thinking.

So, given your specific combination of the 3 H’s in your own brain, you will process information differently and make different decisions—they form the core DNA of decision-making!

How do we make the best decisions? Well, we focus on these three areas. Ask yourself a series of questions before any significant decision.

  • Have I thought through all my options? Are there other alternatives?
  • Have I done some research to check on prices, options, and others’ feedback?
  • Should I get a second opinion or seek input from others?
  • Am I doing this out of routine, or is this really the best course of action?
  • Am I over-weighting my internal gut-level instincts?
  • If I do this, will it improve my long-term chances of meeting specific goals?

This is a mindful approach to making decisions. I routinely ask myself these six questions before anything I buy, lease, invest, or pursue—basically, ask yourself these thought-provoking questions before any major course of action.

If you do the same, I can guarantee you will have better outcomes and a more mindful decision process.

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