Deciding to decide...

I was out for a lunch with a friend recently, and we were talking about how 2013 had started for both of us. Inevitably the chat turned to our New Year Resolutions.

Thursday, 14 February 2013
  • Business

My friend told me they were going to make more decisions about their life, effectively deciding to decide.

It got me thinking about the decision making process in business. Is making a good decision an innate talent, is it something that comes with experience, or is there a way to learn to make better choices?

So, I decided to do some research and came across a book called Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret of Success by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

Some people believe we have a "decision making reservoir" meaning that we can only make a certain number of decisions in one day, after which our ability to reason efficiently is compromised.

There's a study examining a parole board in an Israeli prison over the course of a year. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70% per cent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day received it less than 10% of the time.

Analysing the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that the process of looking at case after case mentally exhausted the parole board. Essentially the more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain.

So a tired person on a parole board takes the easier way out, and keeps the inmate incarcerated rather than risking releasing them in case they re-offend.

So how can you ensure that you're in optimal shape to come to the best conclusion?

This comes to another of my bug-bears, lunch, or more specifically making time to eat when you're at work.

A separate study found a link between glucose and the ability to make better choices.

After a hit of the simple sugar, participants in the research were less likely to take the easiest course of action and think about long term strategy when faced with choices.

Baumeister recommends some strategies to ensure we make good decisions. (Apparently even deciding what to have for breakfast can start to take it out of us! ) The basic thrust is to have a routine and habits that take away the mental effort of making choices, so you save your energy for the bigger decisions.

I did read on-line that apparently Barack Obama is a believer in this school of thought, that he never picks his own clothes (someone else leaves them out for him) and that the Whitehouse staff know what he likes to eat. He never has to decide what to have for dinner it's just presented to him.

Sadly I have no way to substantiate those claims, as my hot-line to the Oval office is currently out of service.

Though I do think it makes sense never to make big decisions late at night or on an empty stomach.

Or after a few drinks!