5 Symptoms of a Bad Decision-maker

Our world is full of bad decision-makers. It's almost so true, so well known, and so commonly accepted that we've nearly given up talking about decisions. But the truth is, it should be something we talk about openly literally every day of our lives.

And if talking about the decisions you make isn't your single greatest habit, well then you've already got the disease, my friend. That's symptom #1.

PREVIEW: The goal of any decision process is not to look back and see what seemed good about it but to instead not feel the need to look back on it at all.

Listen, it's whether or not we should do something that forms the logic behind absolutely everything we do. Just because something's good doesn't mean it's something you should do. And just because something doesn't seem good doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. What most of us end up doing is, rather than taking the right steps to answer the "should" question, we stop short and just answer the "is it good or bad" question.

That's simply not good enough. Not for you. Not for anyone.

Now, if you're like me and want to avoid being a bad person, then you'll have to learn how to avoid being a bad decision-maker. And one of the first steps to building a barrier to bad decisions in your life is first being willing to recognize the things you do that show signs of bad decisions.

Let's start by looking deeper at #1, mentioned moments ago.


Not Talking with Others About Your Decisions

Merely thinking about decisions doesn't get you anywhere. You have to talk about them.

Talking about the decisions you make (actually, before and after you make them) goes further than just thinking about them in a really important way: the act of talking about them implies that someone's listening, which means that you have an opportunity to get told you shouldn't do something. Talking about the decisions you make, until you reach one of the first thresholds of wisdom and maturity, will give you lots of opportunities to be wrong before you learn the hard way.

Let people tell you what they think you should do. Not too many people, but enough to at least get a sense of trend and to see if you missed anything in your own preparation.

The people around you may not live the same life you live, but they do live in the same world with the same general problems. They may not be experts, but they are potential sounding boards and supporters. Why not get others involved who can potentially help you make sure you don't do something you shouldn't?

These are all related tips for avoiding the decision-failure of staying silent and not listening to what others might have to say before you do that potentially stupid thing.

So, now that you know how important it is to discuss the decisions you make with people around you, let me give you four other tip-offs that will help you identify just how bad a decision-maker you really are.


Overlooking the Hard Facts

If you've said "let's do it anyway" before or feel inclined to say it at all, you're simply destined for failure. It implies that you've acknowledged at least some of the hard facts, which is good, but also decided to completely disregard them. Most of the time when this phrase pops out, it's a sign you've overlooked some important details.

This isn't always true, of course. Sometimes you have to be a leader and a pioneer, being willing to say you'll "do it anyway" even when the facts don't make perfect sense or there's no clear best choice after a thorough analysis and thought process. But the fact remains, "let's do it anyway" shows a deeper problem at play: attitude.

Suppose your financial advisor tells you, "It's not time to buy a new vehicle. You've got some other goals you should achieve first." And let's also suppose that you're not in dire financial straits, don't have any debt, and have a fairly stable job. Not bad, right? Well, if it's tempting to acknowledge how well you're doing relative to what's not bad about the situation, then it'll probably be equally tempting to choose the easy route and say, "Honey, let's just buy that BMW anyway. I mean, we really like it."

Houses. Cars. Clothes. Golf clubs. Vacations. I'm sure by now you've thought of something you've wanted and bought with this kind of thinking at the root of the purchase. This is an overall attitude problem that needs to simply go away. Replace it with an attitude that explores options and is willing to, in most cases, go the standard, typical route.

If done only once or twice on a blue moon, going rogue isn't a clear indication of a bad-decision maker. But if you're inclined to do it often, then you're either being unnecessarily risky or you're just being plain stupid.

Now, if in a particular instance you decide to use that phrase and want to feel justified in doing so, here's a tip: make sure you're right first. And make sure you accept the likely consequences that come along with going against the grain of opinion and reason.


Giving Power to Ignorance

Truly, ignorance is never bliss. No boss ever thought, "It's OK they didn't know that, I'm sure they tried their best. That's what counts."

Um, no. Not in a world with money, politics, and, well, people.

In truth, you give power to ignorance when you flippantly disregard something you overlooked in a decision process. A rather stupid but valid example: when you buy a Range Rover from the early 2000s and enjoy the ride but don't enjoy how much time it spends in the shop, you're foolish to say you had no idea that the matter of choosing a good ol' Rover had nothing to do with avoiding lemons but was actually all about finding the less rotten lemon in the bunch. "I didn't know it wasn't a reliable car" doesn't hold up when you explain to your spouse why this year's vacation isn't happening.

If knowledge is power, then ignorance is fragility. You quite literally have nothing to gain from relying on the excuse; in fact, the weakness of "I didn't know that" reflects a complete unwillingness to pursue the power of knowledge in the first place.

What do you have to gain from that? What do others? Nothing. When you even say the phrase, it implies you're not willing to take steps to make up for what you lost or failed to accomplish on account of not thinking ahead.

Consequences, by they way, do not necessarily reflect bad decision-making on their own merit. Consequences are merely effects, whether any particular effect appears afterward good or bad. In almost all cases, you shouldn't need to look at the results to determine whether or not they were the effect of a good or bad decision. Many times, you can't actually evaluate a decision based on the results anyway.

This is so because it's clear and evident that many great results stem from lucky or undeserving circumstances; also, many poor results come from hard-working and totally-deserving folks. These mysteries mud-up the water.

To properly trample the mud without dousing the socks, you have to put on the boots of an entirely different analysis. Instead of looking at decision results to determine the quality of a decision-maker, you need to look at the process by which decisions are made. After all, whenever you face a decision, the goal is to make it most likely that you choose the right path or do the right thing. Where or what any particular choice leads to is simply too far out, too unknown, and too susceptible to that which is imperceptible to pin down perfect, exacting results.

That's all to say, blowing off the process of learning what will make any given decision lead to a successful result never came from a position of ignorance. And it never will.


My Way or the Highway

If your way is actually the best way, then I've got no problem with "my way or the highway." But it's almost always a sign of a lone-ranger who's alone for a reason.

Most of the time, when people make decisions out of a strong personal impulse, it's done without taking time to give alternative options a true chance. What that means is, you have to not just look at other options. You have to assume until proven otherwise that one of the alternatives, often a standard or typical choice, is actually the best choice.

If you replace the word "innocent" with "right" and "guilty" with "wrong," your new underlying principle is this: the standard choice is usually right until proven wrong. It's almost always best to assume that what other people have done, that lead to good or desirable results is the best way to go. Only after you've found significant and tested reasons to be counter-cultural and do things your way should you even consider it; especially for the most significant decisions you face in life, since they usually carry the weightiest consequences.

When I think about this symptom, I think of aspiring authors as opposed to burly old men. I've read thousands of books. Only a few, and I mean literally 3, would I say led me to actually do something. A few more told me something new to know. And the rest didn't do that much for me at all besides give exercise to the brain.

If I were to have been there when those sporty authors were coming up with lofty exercises, I'd have asked them one question: are you just trying to go rogue or are you trying to make a different world doing different things?

Every aspiring author I've asked recently failed to live up to that challenge.

Here's what I say: live up to it in your own life by first evaluating your desire to do things your way versus what might be the right and best way.


Failure to Think Strategically

And last, there's failing to see the big picture. If you've caught yourself using "it seemed good at the time," then you're probably the truest of amateurs when it comes to decision-making.

The goal of any decision isn't to get to the end and remark this phrase or anything like it. Quite to the contrary, the goal of any decision process is not to look back and see what seemed good about it but to instead not feel the need to look back on it at all. If you've done a good enough job thinking about the context of a decision, analyzing the merits of alternatives, imagining what it would look like if you did it one way or the other, or cataloging the opinions of those around you, then you shouldn't ever need to look back on your decision.

Truly, there's a much better phrase that I'd like to hear you say instead: "I made the best decision at the time. Period. And I wouldn't do it any different."

That's the sign of a great decision-maker, even if success never really results. Success is a totally separate matter. Perhaps, I'll talk about that sometime...


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