Introduction: The Importance of Decision Making
Before I go any further, I’m going to ask you this: when was the last time you didn’t know what to do? Because it’s worrying that most of us believe we know what to do most of the time because we often go about our daily lives making our decisions in ‘automatic pilot mode’, using the same critical thinking and decision-making pathways that we’ve always done.
The fact that we are employing one of our habitual patterns of thinking when we make a decision gives us a false sense of security, but have you ever thought that you could be making that decision with a faulty decision-making pathway, or you could perhaps be using the wrong decision-making pattern entirely?
Psychologists and sociologists emphasize that much of our behaviour is predictable, and only when we become aware of what lies beneath the surface of our thinking can we gain the insight needed to think more critically about the decisions we make in our lives.
Our lives are shaped by the good and bad decisions we make
Our lives are shaped by our past decisions, and the decisions we make now directly impact our future, so if we desire to change our lives, it logically follows that we need to invest time in learning how to understand and change our thinking, especially if we want to make better decisions that positively influence our future life, and this brings us on nicely to something called Dual Process Theory and a little bit of accepted scientific thinking about how we make decisions.
Dual Process Theory.
One of the most popular theories about our decision-making is called the Dual Process Theory, which suggests that we make decisions in two ways:
- Fast, unconscious (Type 1) decisions that are impulsive and automatic.
- Slow, conscious (Type 2) decisions that involve reasoned thinking.
Research also shows that if we examine all the decisions we make in a single day, research shows that up to 90% of our decisions are these fast, unconscious Type 1 decisions, these decisions are typically automatic and habitual responses that happen impulsively due to our ingrained thinking patterns, and since we are creatures of habit, we tend to repeat these same thinking patterns day in and day out.
Type 1 decisions originate from instinct, repetitive habits, and our innate survival responses; they mainly occur below our conscious awareness, are fast and impulsive, and are also very susceptible to cognitive biases—which are errors in our thinking that lead to poor decision-making.
On the other hand, Type 2 thinking involves conscious, reasoned thinking, and it’s a type of thinking that requires deliberate and stepwise analytical effort, but this also comes with drawbacks.
Mental Shortcuts: Heuristics and Cognitive Biases
The challenge with Type 2 thinking is that it is mentally exhausting and often too slow for what we are doing. We can’t solely rely on type 2 thinking to navigate our lives because it would literally overwhelm us with the mental effort we would need to use. Just consider if you had to analyze every task one step at a time and consider all of the alternatives one by one, what would happen is that we would likely never leave the house in the morning, it would be like learning everything we do automatically for the first time.
To cope with this, we mentally speed up our Type 2 thinking and make it less taxing, we do this through repetition and practice, and we learn mental shortcuts or “heuristics” that then resemble those if a fast automatic Type 1 thinking process. These heuristics and mental shortcuts we develop help us complete semi-complex tasks more easily and quickly, this process is encompassed by the popular saying, “he’s done it so many times he could do it in his sleep.”
We construct these cognitive shortcuts constantly. For example, if I ask you what seven multiplied by seven equals (providing you have learned your seven times table), you would hopefully and almost instantly say forty-nine. You likely didn’t add up each seven or engage in lengthy arithmetic. Instead, you consciously employed a learned mental shortcut to arrive at the answer. We rely on these heuristics every day to simplify and speed up many tasks while also reducing mental strain.
When our thinking goes wrong.
When our thinking goes awry, it’s often due to our Type 1 thinking being influenced by cognitive biases (common errors in our thinking patterns), or we have constructed poor or defective mental shortcuts to speed up our Type 2 decisions. The times when our thinking processes go wrong are the times we either get stuck in the problem we are facing or we make a poor decision based on a poor thinking pattern.
The worst thing is that often we don’t even realise we have made an error, as a lot of our thinking happens in the background under our conscious awareness, or we just feel stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed or stuck.
Cognitive Biases and Success Heuristics
There’s a pattern to a lot of the cognitive biases that cause us to make poor decisions; people commonly make the same errors in their thinking, and if you know what you are looking a trained eye can see a predictable irrationality in a person’s or their own decision-making.
Cognitive biases are sometimes also called a deviation away from what seems like common sense; we can all make or have already made stupid mistakes in our lives, yet with a coaching and counselling eye I also see cognitive biases affecting a person’s thinking particularly when they get stuck in a problem or when they feel stuck in life. Because cognitive biases can also blind you to the way out of that situation as well as at times to basic common sense.
I also see people use the wrong shortcuts and heuristics when they come to me with their problems, often their learned responses to life situations are just not good enough, or they haven’t the life experience. There are skills that we just can’t do without training, there are things and situations where we need to first learn what to do, or we just haven’t the mental conditioning needed to process that particular problem. When we need a particular way of thinking to get us through a particular problem I call these patterns for those specific problems Success Heuristics.
On a larger scale, you can think of Success Heuristics as the mental shortcuts and patterns of thinking that successful people consistently use to improve their lives.
Overriding Destructive Patterns of Thinking
Our courses introduce you to the cognitive biases that hold people back in life. By giving you real-life examples of how poor thinking leads people mentally astray, you can learn to consciously scan your thoughts so that you don’t fall into the same trap too.
More importantly, we can consciously override these distorted thinking patterns and make better-unbiased decisions instead. The courses also give you some examples of success heuristics i.e. the really good mental shortcuts that you can employ in difficult situations to get a better result.
We can always benefit from overriding and decoupling (this is another word psychologists use) some of our hard-wired and hard-learned patterns of thinking especially the ones that are causing destructive behaviour patterns.
The cognitive bias which is giving you the most problem depends on the individual, I’d say it’s almost always a combination of many that could be causing you an issue. It also depends on the problems you are facing, your stress levels, and the environment you are in at the time, and the same goes for mental shortcuts. The success heuristic that is going to help you the most is also dependent on the situation you are in and the problems you are facing.
Our articles and courses will give you some real-life examples of the biased thinking patterns that commonly hold people back when they get stuck in life, and also the examples of where better mental shortcuts and heuristics can make a real difference in your life.