Decision Making Matters

by Chuck Wachendorfer

Been to that high school reunion and run into the “most likely to succeed” from your class or happened upon that old college friend who had so much going for them at the time, only to be thinking as you’re shaking their hand, “What happened to you? You had so much going for you years ago.”  I think most of us have had that experience with someone from our past at one time or another in our lives.  How can so much talent, intellect and potential sometimes appear to be wasted? That my friends, illustrates the impact of decision making on the trajectory of our lives.

Researchers have estimated that we make 3000 decisions on average every day. Everything from when we wake up to choosing what to wear, how we get to work, where we eat for lunch, on and on and on…  That’s 21,000 decisions per week and over 1,000,000 decisions per year.  Many of these decisions we make out of habit and never give them a second thought. Some don’t really matter that much like whether I wear my black shoes or my favorite brown ones. There are, however, others that we make every day that can and do have a tremendous impact on the direction our lives take.

Many of us pride ourselves on being great decision makers, logical thinkers that use reason and rationale when making choices. And there are those of us who are actually better at using logic and reason than most people.  We are all, however, susceptible to the same weakness that can sink every well intended decision, emotion.  It is not that emotions are a bad thing.  Emotions are powerful motivators for action.  In fact, emotions often drive us to act without the benefit of logic.  How we feel is real and there are no good or bad emotions.  But it is how we respond to an emotion that makes the outcome good or bad.

Know this; we are hard wired to be emotionally reflexive.

When we feel a strong emotion (fear, anger, excitement, euphoria), our brain wants us to respond very quickly.  Our emotional responses are patterns that have been with us in many cases for years because our emotional memory is permanent. The things that scared us 20 years ago, still scare us today.  It’s why that occasional irritating family member can push our buttons so quickly.  Our brains are hard wired to be emotional first, logical second.

Why does that matter?

Know this; our emotions sacrifice accuracy for speed.

When we’re emotional, our brain wants us to respond very quickly and is often wrong. This is true for both negative and positive emotions as both alter the chemical balance inside our brain and cutoff our ability to think clearly and logically.  In some situations that’s a good thing. Like when I step off the curb in downtown Manhattan only to find a crazy cab driver barreling towards me at 60 mph.  In this case, my brain feels fear and doesn’t want me evaluating the options.  It wants me to get out of the way of the cab, saving my life. That same quick reflex response to get out of the way or run may work against me when I feel that same emotion of fear when the market drops and my investments lose some of their value.

At Think2Perform, we work with successful executives from financial services, heath care, technology, banking, real estate, non-profit, etc. all helping them improve the performance of their organizations by improving decision making.  Whether it be an individual, team or an organization, performance in an area of life is a function of three things; talent, skill and decision making.  Of the three, decision making has twice the impact on performance than talent and skill combined.  I’m not saying talent and skill don’t matter. They just don’t matter as much as decision making.  Unlike our IQ (which we can’t improve), we can with attention, practice and focus improve our decision making.

Unfortunately, part of the human condition is making mistakes so it’s not about being perfect. It is about focusing on improvement.  For those 3000 decisions we make every day, what if we were able to make 1% of them better? That’s 30 better choices per day,

210 per week and over 1000 per year. Think about the impact of that over a lifetime…

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