We’ll inevitably overlay our own predisposition towards any decision. We are who we are because of countless previous decisions we’ve made, good and bad, and the implications of those decisions that we have lived through, again, both good and bad.
Consider Alternative Viewpoints
All our decisions, then, are made from our own vantage point – how else could they be made? If I had a pound for every time a client has asked me what I would do when they were faced with a decision, well, I’d have a few quid, I can tell you.
“Pete, what would you do?” That’s actually a pretty good question. Clients pay me for my professional, considered, I’m-liable-if-I-get-it-wrong recommendations. The problem is, people don’t stop there. What they actually ask is “what would you do if you were me?” That’s a nonsense question – I’m not them, so how can I answer if I was?!
Asking someone else with a different outlook on life, with a different perspective, would do, makes a lot of sense because in so doing, you’re trying to overcome the mother of all cognitive biases: confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to see everything as confirming our own previously held beliefs. We exclude anything which might challenge those beliefs, either consciously or unconsciously. This is insidious and dangerous and can only be addressed intentionally.
Picture in your mind someone you admire and trust; someone with good judgement and ask yourself what they do in this situation? How would they handle things? What might the outcome of that be? Take a thought experiment and ask yourself: ‘If I handled this in a way completely differently from my first thought, how might things turn out differently?’ Consider alternatives and try to think things through.
We’ll never overcome confirmation bias completely, but as with all such things, awareness is half the battle. If you’re aware that your thinking is inevitably coloured by your own perspective and go out of your way to consider alternative viewpoints, you’ll mark better decisions.
Long-time listeners to my podcast (and readers of my blog) will know that I’ve been obsessed with behaviour around financial decision making for ages, from back when I interviewed a very smart cookie called Greg Davies – an expert in the field – back in 2015. You can find episode one here and episode two here.
In those episodes he used the example of Ulysses who wanted to listen to the beautiful song of the Sirens, while knowing that if he did so, his ship would be lured onto the rocks and wrecked. So he got his sailors to stop up their ears with beeswax so they couldn’t hear, and had them tie him to the mast so that when he heard the song, he wasn’t able to do anything stupid.
This is a great parable for building decision-making frameworks that we use to give ourselves the best chance of making good decisions. Thinking ahead to the point at which we will need to make a decision, and building a framework in advance.
We might say, for example, that we will never make an important financial decision on a weekday evening. Why? Because we tend to be tired after a work day and not at our cognitive best.
Putting the rule in place means we don’t have to think about whether or not to make a decision on a Wednesday – we can put it off till Sunday morning when we’re refreshed and alert. We could decide never to make a big decision while drinking alcohol for all the obvious reasons.
Or we could decide that whenever we’re thinking of making a big purchase, we force ourselves to defer the purchase for seven days, or a month and see if we still want or need the thing after that long. Amazon Prime has definitely made me less patient and quicker to buy stuff I don’t really need – how about you?!
For a decision that has bigger ramifications than your choice of socks that day or whether you watch another episode of How I Met Your Mother or not, it pays to set some parameters for making those decisions and stick to them. Create frameworks to help you make decisions more optimally.