When it comes to making good decisions, the self-help gurus (whoever they are…) usually line up to tell you that just need to get enough information, and apply your willpower and brain power, and voila: you’ll get the perfect decision.
There’s just one problem with this advice: it’s baloney. Once you start to dig a little deeper, you discover that there’s a whole bunch of things that you need to factor in to your decision-making process. So to help you sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to figuring out whether that piece of self-help advice is actually really going to help you, I’ve put together a list of the 6 myths about making a decision that everyone thinks are true.
Myth 1: The more information you have, the better your decision will be
As anyone who’s ever sat on the internet for hours trying to choose the right shade of paint for their guest room can tell you, information overload is actually really unhelpful, when it comes to making a decision.
Researcher Angelika Dimoka, head of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, did an experiment where she kept piling more information onto a group of volunteers, who were expected to make a decision based on what they were learning. Past a certain point, the ‘information overload’ actually caused the part of the brain responsible for making decisions (called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) to shut down.
Dimoka said: “[The volunteers] reached cognitive and information overload. They started making stupid mistakes and bad choices because the brain region responsible for smart decision-making had essentially left the building.”
So if you want to make a smart decision, gather the bare minimum of information and research you need to make an informed choice.
Myth 2: The more you know before making your decision, the happier you will be with it
This is another one of those myths that sounds like it should be true, logically, but experiments have repeatedly shown that it isn’t. In one such study, done in 2006, researchers analyzed college grads who were looking for their first job. They found that the more time and effort the grads had put into researching their company, industry, location, pay and benefits, the less satisfied they were with their decision to join a particular firm.
Sheena Iyengar, the main researcher, noted: “They knew so much, consciously or unconsciously, they could easily imagine why a job not taken would have been better…Even if they’d made an objectively better choice, they tended to be less satisfied with it.”
So when it comes to feeling like you just made a good decision, ignorance really often is bliss.
Myth 3: You shouldn’t rely on your gut reaction, when making a decision
This is one of those myths that has a speck of truth in it, inasmuch as gut reactions can often lead to impulsive decisions, which aren’t always realistic or very likely to work out. BUT, a study done by the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands found that volunteers who made a choice about which apartment to rent unconsciously did better than their peers, who spent a lot of time consciously trying to figure it out.
One of the reasons this happens is because it’s all too easy to fall into ‘information overload’, where the conscious decision-making part of your brain goes AWOL (except you don’t know that happened, and you’re still relying on your brainpower to come up with the right answer).
But the subconscious has an ability to kind of ignore a lot of the irrelevant stuff, and zoom-in on the really important aspects of a decision – if you let it.
Myth 4: Unemotional people make better decisions
This is another one of those common canards associated with decision making, but let’s go back to Angelika Dimoka, decision-making researcher extraordinaire, to find out if it’s actually true:
“If emotions are shut out of the decision-making process, we’re likely to overthink a decision, and that’s been shown to produce worse outcomes on even the simplest tasks,” she says.
So there you have it: if your emotions are included in the process, and if your gut reaction is also factored in, then you’ll have the best possible chance of coming up with the right decision, even when it’s something simple like what brand of detergent to buy.
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