Decision Making: Are You an Autopilot?

According to a survey by Columbia University decision making researcher, Sheena Iyengar, the average American makes approximately 70 conscious decisions every day. One must keep in mind that most decisions are made unconsciously. Jim Nightingale, author of Think Smart-Act Smart, states, “we simply decide without thinking much about the decision process“. In a controlled environment, such as a classroom, instructors encourage participants to consciously and proactively weigh pros and cons before making a decision. However in the real world, most of our decisions are made unconsciously or on “autopilot mode” as I would like to call it because frankly, it would take too much time to sit down and list the pros and cons of each decision we must make on a daily basis.

What do I mean by autopilot mode? Let’s take an example of driving- when we are amateurs we are consciously aware of our actions while driving. Manoeuvrings, brakes, shifting gears- these are all done with full awareness. However when you become an expert, you don’t spend time in thinking about his next move. It flows seemingly automatically. Through experience we are aware of what action is required for every specific scenario.  A pattern is formed and is followed. Similarly a pattern of thinking and decision making is formed over life and one uses these set frameworks to make decision.

In order to make better decisions it thus makes sense that we identify these set patterns of decision making and also establish new efficient pattern. Intuitions, or gut feelings, are sudden, strong judgments whose origin we can’t immediately explain. Although they seem to emerge from an obscure inner force, they actually begin with a perception of something outside—a facial expression, a tone of voice, a visual inconsistency so fleeting that you’re not even aware you noticed. This is rapid cognition or condensed reasoning that takes advantage of the brain’s built-in shortcuts. Think of intuition as an unconscious associative process. Long dismissed as beneath the dignity of science, intuition turns out to muster some fancy and fast mental operations. The best explanation psychologists now offer is that intuition is a mental matching game. We choose actions and form opinions via mental processes which are influenced by an entire gamut of past information stored in memory.

Things you can do to improve your decision making :

  1. Check premises
  2. Check if you have taken necessary factors into consideration
  3. Effective cost benefit analysis
  4. Be aware of cognitive biases
  5. Use rationality and not emotions
  6. Keep the goal clear and in focus always.
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