You've Been Making Decisions the Wrong Way

Think back to a crucial decision you made in the past year. How did that decision turn out? In our lives, we constantly face decisions whose outcomes shape our future. Yet, our judgment is often clouded by biases.

Hindsight Bias

Have you ever looked back on an event and thought it was bound to happen? That's hindsight bias – the tendency to see outcomes as inevitable after they've occurred. For example, consider stumbling upon a social media post about an old college friend who sold their startup for a hefty sum. You might think, "I always knew they were destined for success." But was it truly that obvious back when they were just brainstorming ideas over coffee?

We often overlook the myriad of challenges and uncertainties that were present at the beginning, and instead, view past events as more predictable than they actually were.

This bias can be particularly misleading in our own decision-making. For example, after seeing your friend's success, you might be tempted to think that starting a business is a surefire path to wealth, ignoring the complexities and risks involved. It's crucial to remember that what seems obvious in retrospect was not necessarily clear in foresight.

Quality of Choice v. Quality of Decision

Imagine Alex, a trans woman, standing at a crossroads full of life-changing decisions. It's not just about one choice; it's a series, each echoing her journey to authenticity. She researches Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) extensively, consults doctors, and weighs the pros and cons. Despite the uncertainties, she decides to proceed, aligning her outer self with her inner truth. Next, she faces the daunting task of telling her family, balancing fears of judgment with the need for openness. She makes these decisions based on her knowledge and feelings, but the outcomes – varied family reactions and the effects of HRT – are unpredictable. 

This is where we see the real deal. Good decisions don't always mean smooth sailing. Alex makes brave, informed choices, but the outcomes are a wild card. It's a stark reminder for all of us. Making decisions that feel right, especially when it's about being your true self, isn't about guaranteed results. It's about owning your path, come what may, because the reward can often far outweigh the risk.

Alex's experience illustrates the crucial distinction between the quality of a result and the quality of a decision. Good decisions don't always lead to smooth outcomes. Life's unpredictability means that even well-informed, brave choices can have unexpected results.

Avoiding Cognitive Traps

When analyzing our past decisions, we must be wary of cognitive traps like mistaking correlation for causation or cherry-picking data to confirm our biases. These errors can distort our understanding of events and outcomes.

We often fall prey to resulting, which is equating the quality of a decision with the quality of an outcome. This often stems from our difficulty in distinguishing luck from skill.The best example of this type of distortion can be seen in gamblers. Most of what we do on a daily basis exists in automatic processing and we struggle to execute our best intentions and make sense of events that lead to the outcomes we experience.

The world is a random place and it gives us a lot of opportunities to feel bad about being wrong if we want to measure ourselves by outcomes. When we think in advance about the chances of alternative outcomes and make decisions based on those chances it doesn't automatically make us wrong when things don’t work out. You can make the best possible decision at every point of your journey and still come up short.

The quality of life is the sum of our decisions plus luck. Daily we face decisions that are not black and white. There is a sliding scale of how right something can be or how wrong something can be. This leaves us often saying “I’m not sure.” I’m not sure is vital for becoming a better decision maker - instead of being sure about something, figure out how unsure you are. 

When making your next decision remember these tips:

  • Acknowledge Uncertainty: Embrace "I'm not sure" as a valid starting point. Assess how unsure you are rather than striving for certainty.
  • Evaluate Probabilities: Think in terms of probabilities of different outcomes, rather than binary success or failure.
  • Reflect on Processes: Focus on the decision-making process, not just the outcome. Analyze what information you had and how you used it.
  • Learn from Mistakes: View mistakes as learning opportunities, not just failures. Reflect on what can be improved in future decisions.

So, now ask yourself again, what has been the best decision you have made this past year, and how did it turn out?

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