Our outcomes are the results of the decisions we make. They could be big decisions such as the city to live in, the career path to pursue, and the person to marry. Or small choices like what to eat for breakfast, what tasks to prioritize, and whether to skip a workout today.
Research shows that we make over 20,000—big and small—decisions a day. That's a lot. While many are insignificant, some will have a big impact and carry real consequences.
To get a desirable outcome, you must master the art and skill of decision-making. There are many ways to improve your decision-making:
- Learn about mental traps and mental models.
- Study a few decision-making frameworks.
- Develop your own sets of principles based on past experiences.
These strategies help us dissect a problem, analyze available data, and compare consequences and tradeoffs. They are all rational thinking. And they all take time.
But what if you're forced to make emotional choices? At a moment's notice?
Getting into the right state of mind
After studying decision-making for many years, one thing stood out to me among all the frameworks and strategies. It's a prerequisite for making good choices. It comes before all the tips and tricks—nothing works without it.
It's our mental state—in the moment of making important choices.
Our mental state affects how we feel, think, and behave. Because of that, we want to ensure we are in the right mental state when making important decisions.
Now you may be wondering: What is the right mental state?
The right mental state is made up of three components. And the last one is crucial.
1. Raise—or preserve—energy
First, you want to have high energy and manage it well. When we're fatigued, we make mistakes.
Thinking takes energy. To increase the chances of making good choices, you want to ensure you're in a peak energy state.
That's why high performers take their fundamentals like sleep, workout, and diet seriously. It helps them raise their energy. Another strategy is to preserve energy by making fewer decisions.
2. Prime for the right context
The second component of the right mental state is the right context.
In many cases, you won't know what gets thrown at you, but you should have a good enough understanding of what you're getting into to prime yourself in the proper context.
Priming is like setting a default for your mental state before getting into the zone or the action.
- Stay calm and open-minded before going into a debateful meeting.
- Turn fear into excitement before giving a speech in front of an audience.
- Make a promise to keep going before starting a marathon.
3. Trust your gut after decisions are made
To get into the right mental state for important decisions, you need to believe in yourself, even in the face of uncertainties.
Some call it instincts, and some call it guts. That was how our ancestors made decisions 200,000 years ago because taking two minutes to decide what to do when facing a hungry lion won't end well.
As time passes, we don't face as many urgent life-or-death choices as our ancestors. So we get increasingly analytical and rational and forget about trusting our guts. However, it's still an essential tool because we will never get all the information we need for a decision-making problem.
A strong self-belief, instinct, or gut doesn't guarantee a good outcome. But it's better than falling into the paradox of choice, getting paralyzed, and making no choices at all.