Sunél’s Blog | How we decide

Sunél Veldtman, | 25 October 2019

Have you ever paid attention to how you decide? What is your process when you make an important life decision and what information do you consider? Do you process data, or do you just go with your gut? What happens when you must decide as a team or a family or a couple?

This year our family made the enormous decision to move to Cape Town. It was a difficult and drawn out decision. How do you decide to leave a place – where you’ve lived happily for 26 years – for the uncertain promise of a better life and expanding opportunities? It put the spotlight on how we make decisions as a couple and as a family. It confirmed for me that so much of how we decide happens without awareness.  Our brain makes countless decisions every day, without us even realising it. It decides for example, in a split second, whether we trust someone we meet for the first time.  

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate for his work on human decisions, has honed in on that process.  He stresses that human decision-making is mostly flawed and extremely complex He stresses that there are valuable lessons to learn from looking at failure stories, and not just success stories.  The most important learning is to be aware of the flaws in our decision-making. Common flaws, as identified by the work of scientists like Kahneman, include, deciding based on facts from the recent past or the universal aversion to making losses. Then there is also the impact of your personality. Some people will not decide until they have all the facts on a spreadsheet. Others are driven by how they feel about the matter. Others trust their gut or intuition.

All these methods have flaws. You can look at the wrong data or make the wrong conclusions when making your decision, tomorrow you may feel differently, or the data may disprove your gut feeling. A common error is to manipulate or filter the data until it fits our intuition or feelings. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to avoid that mistake because it goes against the wiring of the brain.

So how do we make better decisions then? By employing all these energy centres when we’re deciding. We make better decisions if we appreciate that in teams and couples, the opinions of others may be informed by their personalities and is therefore valuable to the process. Kahneman says that as individuals we can seldom see the mistakes we make in our decision-making, but in groups or as couples, we have the chance of a better outcome if we value the differences.

Decisions, like moving cities, can seldom be made based purely on numbers. We must involve all our intelligence centres including our emotions and intuition. It’s not just about surviving on the other side but thriving.

How did you make your last big decision? Think about it.

Ps. I’d love to know.