Email or call? Tea or Coffee? Exercise or another hour of peaceful sleep? Resigning right now or staying? Writing or reading? White shirt, grey suit or pink shirt & black suit? To be or not to be?
Decisions .. yes, that is right, we make an awful lot of decisions every day, if you studied psychology like I did back in school, you’d know that on an average day a functional & thinking human being makes 35,000 conscious decisions, alone, if I bring subconscious decisions into the counting as well .. the figure will bloat itself into a number which will sound unbelievable to many. Decision making is integral to being human. Decision that we take influence every part of our being .. at all levels. The binary scale of good or bad applies to decision making also, except, it is not as binary always as we might think & to make that point, I’m going to conveniently bring what we know as ‘perspective’. What may seem like a bad decision from one angle may appear fabulous from another. Don’t believe me .. let’s take an example. Titanic ended in a tragedy on its very first voyage .. it was catastrophic, a tragedy that terrified the world. The loss of human life and property is lamented, even today. Let’s observe a moment of silence for people who suffered that night. Now, let’s take another perspective, think of crabs (of course living ones) that must have been kept in the salty tank to be cooked the following day? When this crash happened and they met water again .. Wouldn’t it have felt celebratory to them? Nice for sure. Had Titanic not happened Kate Winslet and Leonardo De-Caprio wouldn’t have delivered a massive hit years later. That Oscar that had Titanic written over it wouldn’t have existed if that tragedy wasn’t a fat reality of an ugly day.
Having studied history as my second subject I can go on and on about listing dreadful events and talk about the ways in which they changed the course of humanity for good after they happened but I think the point has been well made so would ‘decide’ to stop right here, that is another decision made 😉
The point I was trying to drive home is that perspective makes a decision either good or bad and that at all times both worldviews exist, you can never be 100% sure of anything, in life. That pushes me to the next logical question .. what should we then do, not make any decision or just make random ones when they go wrong find the perspective that makes them feel right and cling on to them? Of course not. That is not what I’m suggesting. If 100 decisions go wrong in a row you will still need to make the 101st decision hoping that it turns right.
Before we delve deeper, let’s get the definition out of the way.
Decision making is the process of identifying the rational choice among several available alternatives. Now that we have a working definition, let’s just say that broadly there are two kinds of decision making, while a few books that I read last year seem to suggest that there are more than 2 but textbook definition 8 out of 10 times goes with these categories so I’d consider them for this article.
Judgmental and intuitive!
We all know what judgmental is, so let me pick the later.
Smart people, gather data, evaluate them to find discernible patterns use those to make models, pit one model against the other, weigh the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, the short term vs the long term and then pick what comes out to be the best option from the available lot. Only 1.68% (as per a research paper from the Yale University) life situations do not give you choices, for instances if your kidneys have failed and you wish to live longer .. transplant is the only option. Situations like these aren’t popular and aren’t even frequent, so don’t worry. Statistically speaking, in a lifetime of 65 years you will not have more than 60 such instances where there are absolutely no alternatives, very small quantity, you can even ignore those should you choose to.
The popular perception is that unemotional decisions are the best ones and thus we should not allow emotions to cloud judgment; the only problem with this theory is that it is untrue, strictly scientifically speaking. Human mind read data as emotion and leans on biases that they identify most with and then pick that over everything else that is available. Yes, I’m open to a bet on this concept.
What is intuition; it is a form of knowing .. connected to a deeper perception, it is this magical black box with unknown dimensions, it resides at a formative layer of our cognitive structure. For a long time, researchers have had a problem comprehending it fully. When you are making a decision and you can’t clearly articulate why you are making it .. it just feels like the right decision to make is when you are relying on this much deeper system engraved in the most intelligent parts of your brain. Call it gut, instinct, experience or just intuition.
Oddly enough, psychologists, believe that intuition is a companion to rational decision making, my professor, would tell me that is an inseparable part of decision making. I’d like to believe him .. he is my Guru, after all, I haven’t quite found enough literary evidence of that but then it feels kinda right. It is a complementary component. Senses and how you feel are all indicators of what decision is likely to be a good or a bad choice.
As human, we believe that we normally form an opinion or take a decision based on data and that we make decision thoughtfully and later come to have an emotional attachment to it, more and more researches are showing that it is not true, we make an emotional decision first and later find data to support it. Rational decision making requires data but then often times data can cause problems and uncertainties of incomprehensible magnitude. And this principle is NOT to be applied in business. When at work .. you gotta rely on data heavily, this article is about larger decisions in life, substantial ones or should I say personal decisions. To pick a good performer at work you must look towards data but who to befriend is the kind of decision where only data will be less useful. This article is about those kinds of decisions, informal ones that determine the formal set up at an organizational (organization here doesn’t mean a business unit .. it means ‘set up’ ) level. Coming back to data, sometimes data is not enough .. or just not complete, sometimes you are pressed against time or trapped in cognitive biases. What do you do then?
Moments like these are when turning toward intuition may have real benefit. Let me throw such an example, here. Have you ever had to get down at a small railway station when it was midnight dark? To walk that 2 Kms or wait for the sun to come out is a decision that only your intuition will help you make. If even you had data .. you won’t rely on it solely. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say, here. Human brain is wired to see what can’t be processed through numbers … which is why we have a complete system of recognition and safety built in the brain. Blinking of the eye is not a result of thoughtful decision making but an involuntary defense system put to action by the part of the brain that is for sake of simplicity (I’d say) is most awake and functional, even in those individuals who are slow or seated below in the intellectual scale.
Psychologists around the world have been trying to break the code of intuition but they haven’t succeeded in it as of yet. Why senses know things before you’ve had the chance to gather information is still unresolved.
The question then is what do we do with it? Is there a formal training for it? Like exercising strengthens your muscle more decision making makes you a better decision maker, of course, conscious efforts have made to learn from a bad decision and examine well when to let gut take over. The only way know thus far is be aware and in some sense quantify how well does your gut serve you? In what matter it works better for you and are you willing to bear the cost of a bad decision? Every one has a way of knowing it, the question is do you have the courage to pursue it?
There is no formal training in intuition. You can exercise, begin with lower stake decision. Observe and learn to see how you can improve. If your gut pays off you know .. it is good and you can rely on it. I must emphasize on the fact when you take most personal decisions of life you are alone, but its impact almost always will spill over your private spaces and impact those connected to you, therefore you have to be cautious.
You must have heard “ignorance is a bliss” a couple of thousand times in your life if not more. The thing here is happiness is a creation of our own, when we are getting into smoking .. every drag make us happy. The day we realize that smoking is a bad habit and we must quit, every cigarette avoided gives us happiness. So you see how a change of context changes an unhappy act into a happy one and vice versa? There is a reason why those with lower IQ or intellectual capacity lead a happier life, if you have the burden of a high scoring IQ, you will see things which others easily miss. You will analyze, over analyze and remain in this unhappy space, most part of your life. But your higher IQ (130+) is a gift .. if you see things which others don’t. You must use it to make decisions that others don’t.
At the end of the day, it is not always about being right but taking a stand. The way life is you will never be 100% sure, sometime you just gotta listen to the calling of your deeper self and do as it commands. When you fail, take it as your, inner self’s way of giving you an opportunity to work on reconstruction.
At the end of it all, every choice is a matter of chance.
Wishing you and your family a very happy and prosperous Diwali in advance!
Wishing you and your family a very happy and prosperous Diwali in advance!