PPsychology professor Lawrence Ellison is an expert on decision-making, but early in his career, it was all theoretical. Then one day he took a call from “somebody very senior”, who described a worrying trend: police chiefs showing themselves to be unable to make important choices, in critical situations. “He asked, ‘Can you do anything to help?'”
There. Alison—a straight-talker, no-nonsense person—began translating what she knew from textbooks and turning it into practical advice. “Academic work on decision-making was focused on studying how decisions are made in theoretical settings,” he says. “But I realized we needed to move this to real-time, life-on-line situations: tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, where there was a possibility, someone was being presented with a situation where almost every option was serious. I knew I had something to offer that would make a difference.”
Now he and his colleague, Neil Shortland, with whom they run training courses for military, law enforcement and political leaders around the world, have written a book that translates the knowledge they still honed, to which it pertains to a wider audience. “The people we work with regularly face turbulent decisions,” says Ellison. “In normal life, maybe 1% of the decisions we make are actually life-changing. It’s things like whether or not to commit to our partner; whether changing careers would be better; whether it would be a good idea to have a baby. Is the time right? The problem is that many people fear these decisions. They believe they are bad at making important choices. You hear them say things like, ‘I wish someone would tell me what should do.'”
In fact, the gem at the heart of the book is that there is almost always one decision that is uniquely right for you – so it’s usually best to make your own decisions. It is a question of harnessing your personal values and focusing on the end goal, not the process. “I would say that the biggest mistake people make when it comes to decision making is failing to focus on the outcome,” Alison says. “They fret about making decisions when all they should be doing is throwing things ahead and asking themselves, ‘What do I really want to achieve here? Shortland agrees: “People fail to focus clearly on what matters to them. They see an option as attractive in a sense, but they don’t think about what they have to give up to get it.” .
For Alison, who teaches at the University of Liverpool, and Shortland, who is based at the University of Massachusetts, accepting a place of regret is fundamental to effective decision-making. The fear of regretting a decision later is crippling for some people – and that’s why they believe the biggest danger around decisions isn’t doing the wrong thing, it’s doing nothing. “In many ways we want to keep the status quo, play safe,” says Ellison. “These big life decisions are unusual events in our lives. We don’t have much to compare them to, so we lack expertise – and the easy thing is to risk aversion and stick with what we have.” He calls this “decision inertia” and Says this is common in many knife-edge situations—increasing a rescue operation, for example, or choosing to launch a military offensive—where there is no perfect outcome, just “worse” or “worse.” It’s the same with the “ordinary life” decisions—and in those cases, what’s necessary is the least of what’s bad—but it’s always going to be an unpleasant decision.
So then, what’s the secret to being able to make the toughest decisions? Alison and Shortland have created a formula with the guiding acronym “star”. S is for situational awareness, it is about working out what is happening, why it happened and what do you think is going to happen next. In their book, they tell the story of Jenny, who discovers her husband of 11 years, Rob, had an affair with a co-worker. This discovery clearly left Jenny making a big decision about whether to stay with Rob or leave him; But first, she had to find out what was going on in their marriage and other relationships. Leaving Rob clearly seemed like a move on, but in the end Jenny stayed. When she opened up on the situation, she could see what had gone wrong with her marriage, but more importantly, she thought it was possible to repair the damage. When you’re up against it, says Shortland, your mind is like a glass that’s already filled with water. You need to take some of this out before you even think about what’s going on. Before you can figure out what’s going on, you need to find some space for yourself, some time.
But timing—the abbreviation T—is extremely important here, too. Because before you make a decision, you need to calculate how much time is available to do it, and if there is no deadline, and it is open-ended (should I look for a new job) ? Do I want to move to another country) ?), you need to see that you don’t go down the road of doing nothing, because you’ve got to go forever You really don’t have to last forever, Alison and Shortland warn: Life is short, and sometimes if you choose to stop rather than make a choice, you’re effectively making a choice anyway.
A in Star stands for Adaptation. Good decision-makers are open-minded and courageous in their minds, and are not afraid to explore new possibilities. “Take the example of someone who gets a call out of nowhere offering them a new job,” says Shortland. “The danger in this case is that you’ll be flattered to take it, thinking you won’t have to struggle for it, it’s in your lap, so why not take it? What you should do, though, test it out.” : Instead of rehearsing all the reasons why it makes sense to take it, check yourself with arguments to see how it’s not right. We’re wired, he explains, to see validation (hello, social media). But if you assure yourself that something is right and then it turns out to be wrong, you will have to pay the price.
Finally, R stands for revision, because making a decision once doesn’t mean you can’t look at it again. “The star model is based on the assumption that people struggle to make decisions,” says Shortland. “We like to share the pitfalls, the dangers to describe how your mind wants to go, so you can override it if it’s in your own interest. We try to see decision-making as a biological process.” and not as an end in itself. Our approach is a holistic approach, and it depends on what matters most to you.”
Ellison and Shortland agree that some personality types find it easier than others to make judgments: they tend to be satisfied with a lot of so-called maximizers (those who strive for perfection) versus those who prefer something. which is “good enough”. The problem for maximizers is that hanging on waiting for everything to line up can mean missing an opportunity, and also, real life is rarely perfect. At the core of making good decisions is the knowledge that one option will require you to give up other possibilities. The colder you are about letting them go, the more streamlined your decision-making will be.
So how good are Alison and Shortland at making their decisions? Shortland says she was recently offered a new job and had to decide whether to go for it. “It was a challenge, because I had to think very deeply about what I really needed,” he says. “And it took me five days to make my choice, even after writing an entire book about it: Self-awareness and honesty is what it’s all about and it takes time.” Alison says she still has to chew through the decisions, and some are definitely more difficult than others. “My stumbling block is sometimes reacting too quickly—not heeding my own advice as to whether I need to act at this exact moment, or if I can wait a little longer.”
In the meantime, they are considering the use of artificial intelligence. “AI can play chess, it can guide fighters, it can see patterns and warn us about things,” says Shortland. “But can it tell us what decisions are yet to be made? Can AI handle the next pandemic? We are starting to see the pros and cons. As with police chiefs, the real world calls: This is the hottest topic right now, and we’re thinking about it.
Decision Time: How to Make the Choice Your Life Depends on by Lawrence Ellison and Neil Shortland is published by Vermillion for £14.99. £13.04 . Buy a copy from Guardianbookshop.com for