I have studied thousands of organizational and personal decisions during my lifetime and researched decision-making for most of my life. Yet, I sure have made a lot of bad decisions myself! I can look back every day and find some perfect examples of wrong choices I made, things I could have done differently. It can bring you down, put you in a bad mood
But here is what I know to be true. We focus way too much on the “what” (the result of the choice) and not enough on the “how” (the process for choosing) and “why” (why did we do what we did). Our motivations behind the choice are vital, but we will cover that in another article. For now, lets focus on the process of choosing.
At first glance, when you see a bad result (like money you spent that you later regret, or saying YES when you should have said NO), it can be disheartening. Instead, let these remind you of what is really important about decision-making.
A few things stand out that we should focus on.
First, we have the unique ability to reflect on our choices. No other species seems to have that ability to ruminate over the past as much as we do. We just have to use it constructively (as in, learning from it and fixing it for the future).
Reflect, but don’t dwell too long.
Second, practice does make you better, although we all need to realize that we will never be perfect deciders. If you are a baseball player and see a pitch routinely, you are more likely to be able to recognize it and hit it than if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it. If you are a baker and see your cake has flattened, you will be more skilled in adapting and adjusting temperature or ingredients than a novice. Regular practice of choosing prepares us to make choices better. Although, many people keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Don’t keep making the same mistake repeatedly.
Third, this process of adaptation is essential to our brain’s development and our own improvement of “how” we make choices. We are always integrating new information and senses, and the process of integration helps our brain recognize patterns.
Information about what we gained from a mistake helps us to avoid it later
So making mistakes is good? Possibly. Errors in judgement help us learn, adapt, and get better over time. What is key is how we learn from those.
Start by making a list and document each time you feel you made a bad choice. Ask yourself if you relied too much on other people’s opinions and not enough on your own gut? Ask yourself if you did enough research? Or too much? Were you too caught up on the price and not enough focused on the value or benefits? Did you do something you regretted because of the sticker price or because of some other factor? Did you spend anytime on the choice or did you make a rash decision? Were you influenced by your mood or emotions at the time?
The key it seems to adapting and learning from our choices is that we mindfully reflect back on them each and every time. Not dwelling or ruminating, but assessing what went went wrong (or right). If we do this each time we will all get better at deciding!