3 Steps To Smarter Decision-Making

We all make countless decisions throughout the day; but some of these decisions demand more thought than the automatic decisions we make like whether to turn left or right out of the driveway.

Often with these important decisions we are unaware of the thinking processes we go through to reach our conclusions. With greater self-awareness in this respect we can exert more control over the decision.

Below we look at three ways to improve decision-making, based on neuroscience.

Understand the huge impact of cognitive bias

Cognitive biases are at play all the time – yet most of us are not aware of them. These often account for making rash judgments of others, becoming angry when contrary views are expressed, and for conveniently ignoring facts and figures that don’t back up our own arguments.

In a 2013 study at Yale University volunteers were asked to interpret a fake scientific study on the effectiveness of a new cream for treating skin rashes. When asked to apply the study to a maths problem, 59 percent of participants got the answer wrong. The same group was asked about another fake scientific study about a recent gun ban; even more students got the same maths problem wrong.

Because the gun ban issue was a partisan issue, cognitive biases kicked in and clouded accuracy and decision-making: a perfect demonstration.

Being aware of this puts us more in control and on the look-out for being misled by them as they tick over in the background; we can recognise and acknowledge the influence that they may have; we are then more likely to consider the other side of the coin rather than just to go with what we initially feel.

Some decisions – especially in leadership – require this more balanced approach.

Understand that different situations demand different thinking

The brain operates with two separate, but connected thinking systems: an analytical system and an intuitive system.

All of us possess both, of course, but some of us tend to spend more time in the analytical state than others; the intuitive system is almost always ‘on’ and it takes effort to overcome its influence.

In a 2015 Israeli study it was found that people who describe themselves as ‘analytical thinkers’ were more accurate in analytical tasks, while those describing themselves as ‘intuitive thinkers’ were better on tasks like face recognition. However, those describing themselves as adept at both scored above average on both kinds of tasks.

So it’s not the case that if you consider yourself an ‘analytical thinker’, you are automatically better at analytical tasks. And it’s not a case of completely disregarding the intuitive thinking system to become a better decision maker; or in fact, vice versa.

The best thinkers are able to actively switch between the two thinking modes to achieve the best results, depending on the situation.

Recognise the role of emotions

Removing emotion from the decision-making process sounds ideal; we take away our feelings and we are left with a clean slate on which to weigh up the pros and cons.

Neuroscientists have shown that people unable to feel emotions are actually unable to make even the simplest of decisions; our feelings and emotions act like a compass for our decisions.

So leaders expecting team members to make cold, rational decisions all the time have unrealistic expectations. Removing emotion from the process sound simple, but it is not necessarily the answer.


The team at NeuroPower is at the forefront of introducing new approaches to organisational development through the findings of neuroscience. We apply them to all types of businesses, developing high performing teams and enhancing leadership. Find out more at our website: http://www.neuropowergroup.com.


Categories: Managing & Leading


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