From People Skills to Strategy: How Do We Make Decisions?

How Do We Make Decisions?

Considering we make a seemingly infinite amount of decisions on a daily basis, it's not surprising that there are multiple factors that contribute towards the choices we make. No single decision is simply a whim where the answer is plucked out of thin air. Every choice we make is based upon a number of factors from the innate behavior we've developed over the years to the emotions we feel in the split second where a decision needs to be made. In fact, according to scientists, our emotional state is a critical element of decision making.

With so many options and alternatives to choose from, how do we make decisions?

Making decisions is a part of life, but when our bad decisions begin to outweigh our good decisions, it's time to take a closer look at ourselves. Here, we'll be exploring how we make decisions, why bad decisions occur and how we can all start to make better decisions moving forward.

Neuroscientist and USC professor Dr. Antonio Damasio even went as far as to develop a somatic marker hypothesis that helps describe how our most basic emotions can determine our decisions. Dr. Damasio's theory is that the amygdala (the part in our brain that holds our most visceral emotions) and the orbitofrontal cortex (the decision-making factory in our brains) are crucial to the neural circuit that helps us create judgments and decisions.

In his book Descarte's Error, Dr. Damasio wrote: “nature appears to have built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it." He believes our feelings are intrinsically connected to our rational (or, occasionally, irrational) functions. Ultimately, making decisions would be impossible without emotions according to his hypothesis, as we'd lack any motivation to make them.

Of course, our feelings aren't the only factors that can affect our judgments. Another is the fact that decisions have real consequences and, in a sense, can cost us. A study undertaken by the University of Minnesota found that making decisions can result in reduced “self-regulation".

That can encapsulate less stamina, less motivation following failure, increased procrastination, and overall, just putting less effort into life to ensure we don't lose out.

This is closely linked with the inevitable expectations that can affect the decisions we make.

If we have very low expectations, which is usually caused by the core beliefs we hold about ourselves and society as a whole, and these expectations are met, we're more likely to make more decisions. However, if a decision we make goes unrewarded in our eyes, it can really put us off making similar choices in the future.

Why Do We Make Bad Decisions?

For many of us, bad decisions are simply written off as mistakes. Unfortunately, this changes once we begin to realize that our bad choices are happening far more often than good choices, that the balance is out of alignment and mistakes are far too common. Since emotions have such a big impact on our decisions and choices, surely they must have something to do with the bad decisions we make?

Everyone knows that bad decisions are made when we have to rush or if we are stressed, but could there be something more? For one of the best answers, we must return to the work of Dr. Damasio and consider one of the most decision-heavy games in existence, one where your victory is based entirely upon your choices: poker. According to an 888poker article that delves into the world of poker psychology, even the best poker players in the world can't stop themselves from making bad decisions every so often.

Dr. Damasio conducted an experiment to see how a card player's emotions affected their skills, finding that emotional intuition often kicked in long before a player could possibly know if their cards were good or bad. It was after this experiment that he concluded that stored emotional memories could impact decision making on an unconscious level. So, not only can bad decisions be caused if you're flustered at the moment, but it's also possible if you have negative emotional memories stored in your mind.

It's clear that emotions play massively important roles in how we make decisions. Despite these being deeply personal factors, external influences can also cause us to make bad decisions.

Decisions often require more than a yes or no answer.

Many of us rely heavily on social information collected from our family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others on social media. Over time, this can lessen our innate instinct to rely on our own thoughts and feelings about a situation and cause us to go with the group mentality.

Poker requires many decisions, but even the most experienced poker players can make mistakes.

If we're members of a well-functioning group with great information, positive social dynamics, and reasonable opinions, then bad decisions may remain few and far between. However, if we find ourselves in a group where there's a lot of negativity and, let's be real here, idiots, then we're more likely to make bad decisions. Ultimately, bad choices are formed from bad information. This could be from a bad situation you find yourself in, bad memories, or a bad social circle. If you find yourself making bad decisions far too often, then it's time to make some changes in your life.

How Can We Make Better Decisions?

To put it simply, in order to make better decisions moving forward, you have to get better information: good information that can inform your choices. You should rarely base your personal or business decisions off of what others are doing, but it always helps to start by surrounding yourself with positive, emotionally intelligent people. Think of your decision-making processes as a computer – if you have only negative data going in from unreliable sources, chances are, you're not going to function very well.

Next, you must begin to work on your own internal struggles. Figure out why it is that you make certain poor judgments. Is there an emotional memory stored away that either stops you from making the right decision or causes you to make the same bad choices repeatedly in the hopes of a different outcome? Perhaps you are more preoccupied with the cost that making a decision could leave you with, so you simply make the choice that best suits your low expectations?

By asking yourself these questions and really getting to the heart of your decision-making abilities you may be able to rebuild your whole decision-processing facilities. In time, you'll be making good decisions as if there were never any negative choices to make at all.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.