Hey there, Dean here. I run content and SEO at AppSumo. Here, I write and share about productivity, leadership, money, psychology, marketing, and more.
During my high school years, I was an avid reader. Then, I got busy and I stopped reading when I started college and had a part-time job on the side. Right about the time I started this blog, I started to pick up the habit of reading again.
The first book read is a long, thick book called Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins. In the book, one particular idea struck me:
Every decision we make is going to shape our lives. And therefore, every outcome we have starts with a single decision we made.
From then on, I paid exceptionally close attention to the decisions I made. To be honest, I’ve made more bad decisions than good ones, but slowly, I’ve gotten better at it. The best way to change your life is by changing your decision making — regardless of however big or small the decision may be.
Decision-making is a skill everyone can learn. I even went as far as claiming that it’s critically important to be a good decision-maker than a highly productive person.
As always, I pick up most of what I know from books: the mental frameworks of successful people, the fundamental principles of human psychology, decision-making strategies and tactics, and more.
In this article, I’m going to share with you 10 books I highly recommend to help you get better at decision-making.
Principles is a book packed with insight and wisdom from Ray Dalio. For anyone who doesn’t know yet, Ray Dalio is the Founder, CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut based Hedge Fund with over $160 billion under management.
In Dalio’s words, principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that get you what you want out of life. They can be applied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals.
To get what you want in life, you should develop your own set of principles that inform your decision-making process. And for any group or organization to function well, its work principles must be aligned with its members’ life principles.
Unlike big ideas and principles that focus on the organizational level, Smart Choices is a book that comes with decision-making strategies and formulas for individuals. The book covers how you can make better decisions, especially for the important aspects of your life like buying a house or changing your career.
The authors suggest we look at a decision from these nine elements: Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs — coined as PrOACT. You might not need to define all the elements for some smaller choices (like what to eat for dinner), but the thoughts that go into it will definitely help in making larger decisions in life.
In short, Decisive gives you a 4-step approach to make better decisions in your life and career. The ideas and insights in the book are backed by extended studies of the available literature and research on the topic.
In the book, Chip and Dan Heath introduce a 4-step decision-making process called WRAP: 1) Widen your options, 2) Reality-test your assumptions, 3)Attain distance before deciding, and 4) Prepare to be wrong.
The book also covers some of my favorite concepts, like evaluating opportunity costs, running experiments to validate your hypothesis, and broadening your perspectives and focus on your objectives.
Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli-American psychologist who was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The core idea of his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is about the two systems — one conscious and one automatic — in our brains that are constantly fighting over control of our behaviors.
These two systems are both important to us, but unfortunately, they don’t always work together perfectly. This leads to errors in memory, judgment, and decisions. Kahneman then teaches us how to deal with these errors with research and fact-backed strategies.
When it comes to making important decisions like deciding what things are worth to us, how we view the world, and even how we approach our long-term goals; we try to get as rational as possible and often believe that we are. However, the truth is that we may not be.
In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely explains the hidden forces that drive our decision-making, which can turn out to be far less rational than we think. He then provides strategies and tips on how to make better choices especially on money, social interactions, and happiness.
Gladwell’s books are never easy reads. However, the information in Blink got my attention in a big way. The book covers ideas, research, and stories about our unconscious mind and snap judgments.
Snap judgments are undervalued by the majority of us because it is invisible, frugal, and out of our conscious awareness. But it’s highly valuable—or destructive—because there are times when we have to make decisions under fast-moving, high-pressure situations. Just like our conscious mind, it can be trained, with practice and be framed, with the manipulation of our environment
I’ve watched Barry Schwartz’s TED talks for countless times and even wrote about the Paradox of Choice here in this blog. I truly believe his message includes important concepts that everyone in modern society should learn.
In the book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that the freedom of choice we have today is the root of many people living an unhappy and miserable life. The book shows you how the vast choices you have today make you frustrated and more likely to make poor decisions.
Even if you’ve made the best choice, you’re more likely to be unhappy simply with the presence of other unforeseen alternatives. The author then moves forward to provide concrete tips to ease the burden created by this paradox.
I once read Who Moved My Cheese and The Present by Spencer Johnson, and loved both of them (I even bought them as gifts for family and friends). Like those two books, Yes or No is another thought-provoking story about a young man who embarks on a hiking trip with a group.
They use the hike to reflect on the decisions they have made, and then analyze how they could make better decisions in the future. One of the best ideas I learned from the book is this:
Our poor decisions were based on illusions we believed at the time, and our better decisions, on realities we recognized in time.
If you love reading about psychology and human behavior, The Art of Thinking Clearly is the book you don’t want to miss. This book covers 99 common cognitive errors we’re facing in everyday life. A paragraph in it that is best at summing up the book is this:
Thinking is in itself not pure, but prone to error. This affects everyone. Even highly intelligent people fall into the same cognitive traps. Likewise, errors are not randomly distributed. We systematically err in the same direction. That makes our mistakes predictable, and this is fixable to a degree—but only to a degree, never completely.
By no means is Mastery a book written solely to help you make better decisions. Instead, the book covers ideas and strategies on sculpting your mind and your life to become the best at what you do. To become the best at what you do, you need to go through three different stages: Apprenticeship, Active-Creative, and finally, Mastery. However, the strategies and tips in attaining mastery through each stage will directly transform your decision-making ability.
In the Apprenticeship stage, you absorb everything you can about the craft and develop social intelligence in the process. During the Active-Creative stage, you create breakthrough by combining the tensions and insights. And during the final stage, you fuse your intuitive thinking with the rational mind to attain mastery.
Like mastering any skills in life, developing good decision-making skills takes time. But the ability to making good decisions will hugely transform your life outcome. I’ve just laid out a list of books you need to read if you want to learn more about decision-making.
The next step is truly on you. Making the decision to read them and start implementing the knowledge you gain from them, in your work and life can be monumentally beneficial to you for the rest of your life.