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How to make better choices in your life

goals values wellbeing Oct 24, 2021

When I was thinking about what to write this week it struck me that many of us have decisions to make as we move forwards with our lives following nearly 20 months of lockdowns and restrictions.  Maybe you want to make a change with your job, where you live, your relationship, health and so on.  With so much uncertainty surrounding us, we can often allow ourselves to make a decision too quickly or not all all and stay stuck. The work of Daniel Kahneman is very useful to help us become more aware of how we make decisions and how we can improve our decision making.  It links well with the concepts from NLP about the conscious and unconscious minds. 

On average we all have about 35,000 decisions to make each day. These differ in difficulty and importance. It could be you taking a step to your left or right when walking. Or deciding to take the stairs or lift. If you had to consciously process all these decisions your brain would crash.  The research of Daniel Kahneman showed that our brain has two operating systems. Which he called system 1 and system 2. These are the differences between the two systems of our brain:

System 1

  • FAST
  • DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: unconscious, automatic, effortless
  • WITHOUT self-awareness or control “What you see is all there is.”
  • ROLE: Assesses the situation, delivers updates
  • Makes 98% of all our thinking

System 2

  • SLOW
  • DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: deliberate and conscious, effortful, controlled mental process, rational thinking
  • WITH self-awareness or control, logical and skeptical
  • ROLE: seeks new/missing information, makes decisions
  • Makes 2% if all our thinking

Your automatic or unconscious system’s primary task is to protect your deliberate, system 2 thinking. It helps you prevent cognitive overload. There are a few ways that our automatic system lightens the load on our deliberate system. First of all, it takes care of our more familiar tasks. By turning them into autopilot routines. Also known as habits. But what your system 1 is primarily doing, is rapidly sifting through information and ideas, without you even noticing it and prioritising whatever seems relevant. And filtering out the rest by taking shortcuts. These shortcuts are also called heuristics. 

His discovery of  the bandwidth of each system was what made this research so significant. It was a breakthrough insight into the lack of reasoning in human decision-making. He showed how the two thought systems arrive at different results even given the same inputs. And foremost he revealed the power of the unconscious mind. Where we all tend to think we’re rational human beings. Who think about our decisions. And about things we do. Kahneman showed we’re (almost) completely irrational. 

We often refer to 'heuristics' as our gut feeling or our our intuition. We use heuristics for problem-solving that isn’t a routine or a habit. The way we ‘build’ heuristics is by reviewing the information at hand. And connecting that information to our experience. Heuristics are strategies derived from previous experiences with similar problems. The most common heuristic is the trial and error heuristic. It is trying to solve a problem based on experience instead of theory.  The problem with heuristics is that sometimes they are wrong. They are nothing more than mental shortcuts. That usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem, and, ignoring others. 

So what can we do to make better decisions? 

1. Take more time with important decisions to invoke system 2 thinking.

2. Ask yourself what is most important to me about this decision?  For example, what is most important to me about the area I wish to move to?  Draw up a list of personal priorities.  

3. List your options - and ask yourself 'which options best meets what is most important to me? Ensure the pros and cons of each option are clear.  

4. Consider the timeline for the decision - beware of being rushed.

5. Now that your gut has more information about what you should do, choose the option you are leaning toward most. If you suspect your decision was more emotional than rational (i.e., one made by your gut) proceed to the next step. If not—you have made your decision.

6. Sleep on it. If you think your decision was motivated by emotion get a good night’s sleep and go over the pros and cons again the next day to make sure you’re not succumbing to impulse.

If you want to learn more about how NLP can help you to make better choices in your life take our free Introduction to NLP course.

Warm wishes

Lindsey and all at Team NLP


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