How To Make Effective Decisions In Uncertain Times

The world is now on standby. But even in these conditions, it is necessary to make decisions and make plans — both personal and larger. How to do this in order to minimize the risk of error? Here are the rules to follow.

You are not objective, so keep this in mind

The first rule of thumb when assessing a situation under uncertainty is to eliminate the uncertainty that your own brain introduces into your decision.

American psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes in his book “Think Slowly… Decide Fast” that our behavior is regulated by two systems: conscious and automatic. With a lack of information, the brain switches to automatic mode, modeling a picture of reality based on experience. Sometimes this works, but often it turns into errors that distort the perspective. Here are five mental distortions that can influence decision-making.

  • Confirmation bias — You unconsciously seek and remember only the information that confirms your opinion or desire.
  • The availability heuristic — A certain scenario of the development of events seems more likely to you only because now you remember several similar cases from your life.
  • False binding — You look at the problem through the prism of any fresh impressions, even if they have nothing to do with the problem: you read the disturbing news about the environment — your economic forecast has become more pessimistic.
  • The illusion of zero risk — Too much focus on the main threat prevents you from seeing other risks that may be more serious.
  • Blind spot effect — The basic cognitive distortion is that we find it difficult to notice that we are distorting reality in perception. For this, “obvious facts” are not enough. Conscious efforts are needed.

It is unlikely that you will be able to realize all your own cognitive distortions, but at least keep in mind that they are already useful.

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Keep calm in any situation

Anxiety only exacerbates our cognitive distortions. Most likely, it will not be possible to get rid of it in conditions of uncertainty, and its suppression can cause even more harm (this is not necessary). However, you can change your attitude towards it.

In 2010, researchers at Harvard University found that if you tell students that their excitement is actually helpful and motivating, they do better on a test. It is through this mechanism, positive reframing, that cognitive behavioral therapy works.

The work techniques are described in detail in the book by psychotherapist David Burns “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”Here is a short guide.

  • Write down the situation or problem. You can add information about the emotions you are experiencing.
  • Write down the automatic thoughts that this problem causes. Most likely, they will have cognitive distortions that increase anxiety. For example, this thinking is “all or nothing” (a typical example is a phrase “this is a complete failure”), overgeneralization (“I am always wrong”), devaluation of the positive (“the compliment was out of politeness”), hasty conclusions, a negative filter, and so on.
  • Write down a rational response to automatic thoughts. The list of distortions that CBT combats is quite long, but they are similar: they make you think the worst and seem logical only at first glance. It is not necessary to know them all (although this will speed up introspection), common sense will help to recognize unconstructive thoughts anyway.

Gather as much information as you can

Try to collect as much information about the problem or task as possible. It is worth using the tactics of modern companies to solve personal issues: the development of a new product always involves making decisions in the face of uncertainty.

Originally posted on Medium