Rational decision making is a critical skill that’s needed in every aspect of our lives. From a very young age, we know that making the right decision is rarely an easy thing to do. How do we balance what we want with what’s required of us? Why would we eat broccoli when we could eat pizza and chocolate ice cream for each and every meal? It’s an agonizing struggle that never completely ceases, no matter our age.
Let’s dig deeper into the importance of rational decision making. In this post, we’ll discuss how it can affect your mental health, what prevents people from thinking rationally, and how to become a better decision maker, including rational decision making examples.
The Importance of Rational Decision Making
Rational decision making is vital to our health and overall wellness. Making rational decisions helps in all areas of our work and personal life, helping us prioritize, reach our goals, and choose the best path. Without rational decision making, we are slaves to peer pressure and mob mentality as well as our own instant gratification and gluttonous impulses.
We must be able to objectively evaluate our decisions in order to be functioning members of society—and we can’t do that without rational decision making.
How Can Decision Making Skills Improve Your Health?
Indecision and anxiety go hand in hand. The more you delay making a decision, the more your stress builds until you panic and make a decision on a whim or don’t make a decision at all. Failure to make any decision can be just as bad as making the wrong decision, as when you don’t make a decision, control is taken out of your hands.
Poor decision making skills can contribute to a decline in your happiness, confidence, and mental wellbeing. In severe cases, poor decision making or fear of making a decision can lead to more serious health concerns, including anxiety, reclusiveness, and depression.
Decisiveness breeds confidence and vice versa. While some people are born naturally confident and decisive, that doesn’t mean those of us that weren’t are doomed to be indecisive for the rest of our lives. Rational decision making is a learned behavior and skill that takes years to hone. The more you can rely on making rational decisions, the better your mental health and wellbeing will become.
How Can Rational Decision Making Improve Your Relationships?
Making effective, rational decisions builds trust with others and inspires faith in your abilities. Over time, people will come to know that they can count on you to make rational decisions. Rational decision making is a highly sought-after skill in leaders, and people are more likely to follow and listen to people who consistently make rational decisions.
The effectiveness of your decision making determines how much faith and confidence your team has in you. If you can be counted on to make rational decisions, your relationships with people will improve because you will have earned the trust of your team members.
Enemies of Rational Decision Making
Instant Gratification Monkey
The Instant Gratification Monkey is a character created by Tim Urban to represent the urge we all have to procrastinate. He lives in our brain and seeks to distract the part of us that wants to make rational decisions—our own personal Rational Decision-Maker. Whenever you set out with the best intentions to accomplish a task but become distracted by social media, news sites, and so on, that’s the Instant Gratification Monkey taking the wheel out of the Rational Decision-Maker’s hands.
The Instant Gratification Monkey only thinks about the present without any consideration of the future or past mistakes—his single concern is finding pleasure in the moment, regardless of the consequences. The monkey doesn’t understand why we would work when we could have fun instead. If the Instant Gratification Monkey is allowed to steer the ship, he will, and there’s very little that can be done to stop him once he gets behind the wheel. The only thing that can stop the Instant Gratification Monkey is the Panic Monster.
The Panic Monster is the one thing that scares away the Instant Gratification Monkey. The Panic Monster is usually dormant, but they arrive on the scene whenever a deadline hits, and the procrastinator has to pull an all-nighter in order to finish whatever it is they were putting off. The Panic Monster isn’t a rational decision maker per se, as it’s difficult to make rational decisions when we’re panicking, but they do ensure that even procrastinators get something done.
Sleep Deprivation Dragon
Sleep deprivation is a serious enemy of rational decision making. The Sleep Deprivation Dragon is a mascot we came up with. He’s not concerned with procrastination, but he’s a major hindrance to rational decision making because “the effects of moderate sleep loss on performance are similar to moderate alcohol intoxication.”
Do you make rational decisions while being intoxicated? Making decisions while being sleep deprived has a similar effect. Extreme lack of sleep is the same as being legally drunk, so think twice about making important decisions while sleep deprived. In fact, sleep deprivation has a number of negative health effects, including reduced concentration, poor memory, irritability, and can lead to greater concerns, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
📚 Learn more about How Lack of Sleep Affects Work Performance and What You Can Do About It.
How to Become a Rational Decision Maker
Prioritize and Break Down Decisions
Some decisions are too big to tackle in one go. Just like large goals, it can help to break decisions down into smaller ones that are easier to tackle.
If you are faced with a problem, what’s the very first decision you need to make in order to proceed? Rational decision makers are able to organize and prioritize their decision making process.
For example, if you realize you lost your credit card, there are a number of quick decisions you need to make all at once. Do you double back to look for it? Do you call your bank and cancel the card immediately? Do you call the store where you may have left it?
Take a deep breath and think through what should be prioritized first. To begin solving the problem, you first need to find out if the card was found and returned. Calling the store will give you that answer. Next, if your card wasn’t found, and depending on how far you are from where you lost it, you can go back to look for it. If you still haven’t found your card after exhausting these options, you should call your bank to cancel the card.
Without breaking down and prioritizing these decisions, you may have called to cancel the card before finding out it was already safely returned.
Focus on Decisions Within Your Control
In our effort to become rational decision makers, it’s important to remember that we are not responsible for the decisions of others—even if we want to be. We also have no control over the weather or what’s on the news. We only have control over ourselves, our reactions, and our own choices, which is why it’s rational to focus exclusively on the decisions that are within our circle of control—and irrational to do anything else.
It is pointless to waste your energy on decisions that are outside your circle of control. When you’re faced with a difficult decision, consider which aspects of the decision you actually have influence over. If you find you can do something about it, do so, and if you find that you don’t have any power to change the situation, do what you can to accept what you can’t change.
📚 Learn more about the circle of control and how to combat a lack of control at work.
Envision Future Outcomes
Envision the outcomes of your decisions before you make them. When trying to discern what will be the best and most rational decision, consider how the future will play out. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, it’s important to envision the consequences of eating a tub of ice cream before doing so. Otherwise, your future self will suffer.
If you choose to complete your work project today, what will that mean for the rest of your day or week? If you choose to put it off until tomorrow, what will that mean for today, tomorrow, and the rest of the week? What are the benefits or consequences of not working on your project until next week?
Asking yourself these questions and envisioning the future will help you get out of that instant gratification mindset. You need to help yourself understand the consequences of your procrastination, which will only happen if you think things through. Use this exercise to help you understand how the decisions you make in the present will affect your future.
Test, Analyze, and Adjust
Gather feedback, assess, and learn from your mistakes. Your journey to becoming a more rational decision maker won’t happen overnight. It takes time, practice, and intentional personal growth.
You're going to make mistakes along the way, and that’s okay as long as you continually learn and adjust. Your own rational decision making model will grow and evolve as you learn what works best for you. If you fall into procrastination with a last-minute deadline, take the time to consider what decisions got you into that position. Why were you strapped for time and down to the wire? How can you avoid that next time?
If you make a poor decision that you’re really not happy about, think through what decision or decisions might have been better. As you examine more outcomes, you will begin to see patterns in your behavior that you can make a point of correcting through positive habit forming.
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