How many decisions have you made today? It could be a whopping 10,000. Cutting through the clutter to make decisions that are right for ourselves and our organisations is a key life skill. So how do we sharpen this talent and simplify our lives by taking the right decisions, at the right time? Our bodies are literally teeming with decision-making information. You’re probably making decisions right nowbased on information you don’t even know you have.
Recent neuroscience has uncovered that we have complex and functional neural networks – or ‘brains’ – in our heart and gut, as well as our head. And these are just as critical to effective decision-making as our minds. The art is in gathering awareness from all three brains, and integrating them often.
Let’s start with the noisiest brain – our head brain. The linear mind operates best with structure. For decisions to be taken with speed in business, we need to be crystal clear on who does what and when.
Tip 1: Build a decision-making framework
Every organisation needs a decision-making framework. If you don’t have one, you need to google RAPID. A decision-making framework clearly calls out who the decision maker is on every business task. Collaboration is great, but effective work practices deem that everyone knows who has the final say. It’s an often a forgotten part of assigning clear roles and responsibilities.
Now, consider all the times you have noticed ‘butterflies’ in your belly, what you are sensing is your gut brain. This brain is our best friend for decisions related to courage, motivation and action. Our head brain will try to keep us safe every time our gut wants to stretch us – so watch out for head brain override here.
Ten years ago, in the prestigious journal Science1, a paper was published showing that contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing. That is, we make better choices with our gut brain than our head when it comes to complex matters.
The researchers found that making simple choices (such as choosing between towels) indeed produced better results after conscious thought. However, when it came to complex matters (such as finalising a proposal or strategy) this is best left to unconscious thought right after sleeping on it.
Tip 2: Sleep on it
For complex decisions, deliberation without attention is an important decision-making strategy. ‘Sleeping on it’ is a scientifically proven method for supporting effective decision-making for complex decisions. Once your gut feeling knows, your need to trust and go with it.
Knowing how you feel about something is the specialty of the heart brain. No amount of thinking can help you know what you feel. Relative to our other brains, the heart speaks in whispers, so to listen we need to quieten our thoughts and those of others. Reflection and meditation are brilliant ways to tune into this intelligence center.
Tip 3: Reflect on past decisions
Slow down, step back and reflect on the times you have made great decisions. You could understand what you did differently back then. What process did you undertake? There are always great learnings in the not so great decisions too.
Tip 4: Take time to un-think
Know what stillness practice is for you – meditation, walking, running, cooking – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do things that help you pause your thoughts long enough to hear the whispers from within. To help you know how you feel and think.
What a long way science has come to be able to read a peer-reviewed journal measuring intuition2! In a recent study, researchers found that the emotions we are not consciously aware of affect the choices we make. When we actively tune into those emotions, it helps us make more accurate decisions and faster too. So, to make effective choices, we need to be able to tune into our emotions.
If you struggle to hear your heart’s intuitive guidance or emotions over your thoughts, here’s a final tip.
Tip 5: Use your imagination
Trick your mind into believing you have made a choice and imagine what that feels like for 24 hours. Really try a decision on for size by embodying it your imagination for a day. The next day try on another choice and see how they compare. Imaginary choices can bring lots of clarity, and they will help you get out of your head and into your body’s intelligence.
The bottom line
In the information age, cutting through the clutter to get to decision clarity is not going to get any easier. Cutting edge research tells us that the new art and science of decision-making involves moving beyond the mind brain and tuning into both the heart and gut brain. It’s a holistic model for living life.
When our 3 intelligence centres are all humming together we operate at our best. When they are out of alignment, that’s when decision-making becomes impaired. We need to learn how to mindfully combine heart wisdom, gut instinct and mental intelligence for effective decision-making. It’s the route for us to be more creative, more compassionate and more courageous – at work, at home and in life.
Be a mindful decision maker. The more you practice, the more you’ll find you get into a rhythm where, over time, holistic decisions will truly lead to faster and more exciting results.
- Dijksterhuis, A, Bos M, Nordgren L, Baaren R. On making the right choice: the deliberation without attention effect. Science 2006 Feb 311(5763): 1005-1007.
- Lufityanto G, Donkin C, Pearson J. Measuring Intuition. Nonconscious emotional information boosts decision accuracy and confidence. Psychol Science 2016 May 27(5):622-34.