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According to University of North Carolina TV Science, “It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.” Some decisions, like deciding which shoes to wear, may have negligible consequences, so it probably matters less what strategy you use to approach a low-stakes decision.

…the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.

—UNC TV Science

But some decisions have higher stakes, such as whether it makes sense to switch jobs, if you should take professional development courses to open up opportunities for career advancement, or if you should take on a larger mortgage to buy a house that allows you to walk to work. High-stakes personal and professional decisions may require a different approach to decision making.

 

Perspective-taking decision making

In her book Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction, University of Columbia Business School professor Cheryl Einhorn introduces and describes the AREA process for making complex decisions. Essentially, AREA inverts decision making by helping you to focus on outcomes rather than problems. Einhorn touches on the high points of this process in the following video.

 

Journal your process

To make complex decisions effectively, Einhorn encourages decision makers to envision what success would look like, while paying attention to the incentives, emotions, and biases that could impact the outcome. She then recommends capturing every aspect of your decision-making process in a journal instead of “carrying the information in your head.” Our memory tends to be less reliable than we think, so writing down thoughts, questions, and decisions captures them accurately and fixes them in time. You can then review your decisions over time to see where you made pivots and how your decisions impacted the outcome.

…the method called AREA breaks down the process of making a decision, teaching you how to avoid bias and preconception which may be misconception…

—Tony Blair in Einhorn, 2017

 

Identify emotions

Einhorn recommends that decision makers acknowledge the potential impact of emotions in decision making. This recommendation is consistent with Lerner, Li, Valdesolo, and Kassam’s (2014) review of the literature on emotion, judgment and decision making: “Emotions powerfully, predictably, and pervasively influence decision making…” and “…many psychological scientists now assume that emotions are, for better or worse, the dominant driver of most meaningful decisions in life” (Lerner et al., 2014). Instead of ignoring emotions in the decision-making process, the key is to flush out the emotions that could potentially impact outcomes.

…emotions are, for better or worse, the dominant driver of most meaningful decisions in life.

— Lerner et al.

Lerner et al. offer an example of how emotions can play a part in decision making. They explain that “… a person who feels anxious about the potential outcome of a risky choice may choose a safer option rather than a potentially more lucrative option.” Compare this outcome with a family business that used the AREA method to make a complex decision involving the emotions of family members. Emotions are always present where decisions are made. The key is to identify them and find ways to counterbalance them.

What personal and professional decisions are you making? Have you identified the emotions that could impact your desired outcomes?

 

References

Einhorn, Cheryl Strauss. 2017. Problem solved: a powerful system for making complex decisions with confidence and conviction.

Lerner, Jennifer S., Ye Li, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Karim S. Kassam. 2015. Emotion and decision making. Annual Review of Psychology 66 (1): 799–823.