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5 Decision Traps To Avoid And How To Be Happy With Your Decisions

Written by: Mila Trezza, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Mila Trezza

How do we make decisions that are not just “good” but that we also feel happy with?

man wearing eyeglasses in gray scale photo

Think about difficult choices: Have I been at my current job for too long? Shall I postpone this project until next year? Shall I cancel my holiday for an important event at work?

This article examines five common traps that are easy to fall into when we are faced with making difficult decisions. For each of these traps, you will be presented with a possible alternative to help you not just make better decisions but also to make decisions you are happy with.

Trap No1. I need to weigh all the pros and cons

Decision trees and decision-making tools are helpful, but when the problem you are facing is multi-layered and the factors are uncertain, pros and cons comparisons have their limits.

Difficult decisions are difficult because require forecasting possible future gains against possible future losses. For example: Shall I leave the job and workplace I know but no longer satisfy me for a job that looks more promising but requires me to sacrifice my work/life balance?

What’s helpful in these circumstances? Gaining as much data as possible helps. Spelling out the details of all the pros and cons also helps IF the principal aim of doing so is to figure out what matters most to you.

It is often by articulating each of the pros and each of the cons of two or more alternatives that we start unravelling advantages on paper from advantages that are truly meaningful to us.

So, instead try to use your pros and cons exercise to help you work out your real drivers and connect emotionally with what matters most to you. When you see it, you know it.

Trap No 2. I really don’t know what to do, so let me ask

Delegating difficult decisions to people we trust or relying on external events to resolve our dilemmas (if they don’t reply by tomorrow, that’s the end of it) may seem liberating at first. But over time, this approach not only limits us from experiencing a real sense of accomplishment, but can also lead us to believe that we are incapable of deciding on our own.

This sort of delegation process is, of course, very different from a process that involves engaging with trusted advisers or drawing and listening to the experience of others to broaden our perspectives.

A delegated decision takes place when we ask various people what they think. De facto, we don’t decide, but delegate our vote to the majority.

Yet, sometimes, good decisions are unpopular and may only reveal their greatness over time. Hence, gearing ourselves up to reach a consensus or majority may not serve us well. If it is our own decision, we must know best about what needs to be done.

So, instead try to own your decisions, even when they are unpopular. There is always a reward in making your own decisions, regardless of the outcome: growing your confidence.

Trap No 3. I need to make a rational decision

A rational decision is usually portrayed as one that is well-informed and utilises both analysis and logic to break down a problem and identify possible solutions.

An emotional decision is, on the other hand, made at the spur of the moment and without much consideration of, for instance, the ramifications of the problem. For example, I had another frustrating confrontation with my boss—I had enough and quit.

However, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that so-called rational decisions, which tend to be seen as the way to go in the workplace, also have their (proven) limits.

We know a lot nowadays about our selective memories, overconfidence, unconscious biases, and how, for instance, we unconsciously long to follow familiar patterns. Framing the problem we need to solve in specific ways (framing traps) and over-relying on the first piece of information we receive (anchoring) are hidden traps in our (apparently rational) decision-making process.

Aligning one’s mind, heart, and instinct is, in reality, a pretty messy exercise.

So, instead try to recognise that your decisions will, more realistically, involve a component that is partly non-logical, partly emotional, partly intuitive, and only somewhat rational.

Trap No 4. I need to decide by Monday

Deadlines are real—and often important. And yet, when our focus is on the deadline (especially one that is self-imposed) rather than the problem that needs to be solved, pressure to meet a deadline may turn against us. This is particularly true in two scenarios:

  • A complex problem that requires a creative or innovative solution

By releasing the pressure to decide, we can allow our creative mind to be free to make connections and generate creative solutions. This includes detaching from the problem for some time and allowing the unconscious mind to do its part, so that new starting points, new motivations, and new perspectives can emerge.

  • The self-imposed deadline is there to resolve an uncertainty we can no longer tolerate

Say, for example, that we received new information that prompts us to have a difficult (and overdue) conversation. We may decide that it’s time to call a meeting and resolve the matter by the end of the day.

This self-imposed deadline is more likely dictated by the urge to leave uncomfortable feelings behind rather than seeking the best way forward. In fact, it may sabotage the best way forward!

So, instead try to tolerate ambiguity for longer than you wish, as this sometimes helps us make better decisions. When you “feel the pressure” to make a decision, ask yourself: Am I driven by wanting to resolve ambiguity OR by the understanding of what real progress may look like?

Trap No 5. Not making a decision is not good enough

When circumstances are premature, resolving that it is not the right time to make up our minds can be a grand decision.

After all, not to decide is a decision.

To leave a tempting resolution mode, ask yourself: Why do I need to make a decision now? What is the problem my decision will solve?

Deciding not to fix something that is not broken may save you from overcomplicating the path ahead. Our biggest trap here may be to avoid feeling indecisive. And this may have nothing to do with the best way to achieve progress.

Another example is deciding not to make up our minds when we experience decision fatigue (i.e., a state of overload whereby every additional decision, including what we have for dinner, becomes engulfing).

So, instead try to challenge what you think is not “good enough” in your decision. If decision fatigue is involved, try not to make big decisions for a day or two and give yourself a break, in the same way you would if you were experiencing physical fatigue.

In conclusion, independently from the outcome, how can we make decisions we feel happy with?

Owning our decisions and grounding them in our real priorities is essential. Accepting that the unconscious mind plays its part, even when we wish to be as rational as possible. Allowing our decision-making process to take the time it needs, as unnecessary deadlines limit our capacity to see beyond immediate solutions and understand the full range of possibilities available to us, including that, from time to time, we may not need to make any decision.

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Mila Trezza Brainz Magazine

Mila Trezza, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Mila Trezza is a former General Counsel of a Fortune Global 500 energy company and an award-winning executive and leadership coach. Her company was named one of the Top 5 Executive Coaching Companies in the UK for 2023.

After more than 20 years of international experience, having served as Director of over 30 companies, and lived in six countries, Mila developed her approach to coaching with the sensibilities of a lawyer in mind.

Her mission is to cultivate a coaching culture for the legal industry that is bespoke to, and has an inside-out understanding of, the challenges that lawyers and legal teams face on a daily basis.

Legal professionals play a central role for the organisations they serve. Yet, little of their training prepares them for building the confidence, relational skills, and emotional agility needed to persevere and succeed. Through her coaching, Mila helps lawyers go from lacking confidence and feeling overwhelmed to having a clear path forward, feeling resourceful, and enjoying their roles.

In addition to running her own business Coaching Lawyers by Mila Trezza”, Mila acts as expert advisor and consultant for leading global companies.



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