Psychological Reasons Why You Make Poor Decisions

Good decisions, poor decisions, all kinds of decisions.

Every day we are presented with thousands of decisions.

An article from PBS North Carolina states that “Researchers at Cornell University estimate we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone”

That’s a lot of decisions.

As you add home and work responsibilities, this number rises nearly exponentially. In fact, according to Dr. Joel Hoomans, “various internet sources estimate that an adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.”

The Consequences of Poor Decisions

Every decision you make can make an impact on your life.

Some decisions, like where you live, the profession you choose, or the person you marry, can be critical and may result in long-term repercussions.

Other decisions, like choosing coffee or cocoa, chocolate or strawberry ice cream, watching one TV show over another, or going to a sporting event or a National Park are more trivial.

As a result, their impact will probably not be felt as much.

The Psychology of Decision Making

From a psychological perspective, your decisions are formed through mental processes that take into account your past actions and the opinions you developed from the results you received.

These are further influenced by your reasons or motivation behind your choice, as well as your biases, emotions, and memories.

While there are many ways to go about it, the only method that works consistently for making excellent decisions is keeping an open mind while you think critically and look for all potential sources of information.

You want facts to influence your decisions. If you rely simply on intuition, there’s a very good chance you won’t like what you end up with.

Why People Make Poor Decisions

From excessive alcohol consumption, to not wearing a seatbelt or even engaging in a fight, everyone has made bad decisions.

Like these examples, sometimes we make them even when we know deep down what we’re doing is a bad idea but still decide to do it anyway.

Psychologists are beginning to understand that there are certain psychological causes behind poor decision-making. What’s interesting is they’re not always what we’d expect.

Let’s explore some of the psychological reasons humans make poor decisions.

1.    Being overly optimistic.

In her Ted Talk, “The Optimism Bias”, Tali Sharot explains we all have a natural tendency to be overly optimistic about our decisions.

She says, we have an “optimism bias, or tendency to overestimate the likelihood of experiencing good events while underestimating the likelihood of experiencing terrible events.”

For example, she tells us that while statistics tell us that over 40 percent of new marriages will end in divorce, we believe that ours won’t.

This may be because of our inherent belief that while bad things can happen to others, they certainly won’t happen to us.

When misfortunes or something unpleasant happens to someone else, how easy is it to find faults from their actions or inactions?

Unfortunately for many of us, it’s quite easy, even though deep down we know it could happen to any of us.

The key takeaway here is when deciding, check if you’re being overly optimistic. If you are, then there’s a good chance you’re making a poor decision.  

2.    Analysis paralysis.

Taking too much time to analyze the situation can lead to poor decisions. 

While it’s important to think critically and look for all potential sources of information, there will be times when you go beyond thoughtful deciding and move to a state of confusion and overwhelm.

This state is referred to as analysis paralysis.

Simply put, analysis paralysis is an inability to decide because you’re overthinking a problem.

Instead of coming up with alternatives and then moving on with a decision, you keep asking yourself, “what if”, As a result, you get stuck in the analysis loop.

The problem with this is this state will cause you to miss relevant opportunities.

In fact, it might cause you to miss ALL your opportunities.

For example, some financial decisions, like life insurance packages, are best made at the youngest age possible. Analysis paralysis can affect your ability to decide on which insurance package to opt for.

Wait too long and the cost of the insurance goes up.

The same can be said for investing in a particular stock or committing to a relationship.

You snooze, you lose.

Keep in mind that not deciding is actually deciding not to take action.

Remember, analysis paralysis occurs when there are several alternatives to consider.

In these situations, figure out your top three options or bring in someone you trust to help you narrow them down. Then make your decision.

3.    Driven by emotion.

Your mood or emotions strongly influence the type of decisions you make.

This is why it is so important for you to be able to step back and take a few moments to try to interpret and understand what they are doing to you before making a decision.

Your body’s senses (sight, hearing, sound, taste, and touch) are at the very heart of your decision making. They send information to your brain to make sense of what’s going on around you.

This information helps you quickly decide what action to take.  

This is a great decision-making process to keep you safe if you are on the savannah and see a large predator.

It isn’t very useful if you are triggered by a memory of someone who took advantage of you in the past and, as a result, become anxious or angry in a business meeting.

This false alarm can cause you to make poor decisions.    

Instead of reacting, you need to take a moment to evaluate your response so you can determine if it is appropriate.

If you find that you are angry or emotionally keyed up, resist the temptation of making key decisions.

The same goes for when you’re extremely happy, sad, anxious, or intimidated.

If you don’t take a moment to step back and evaluate them, these emotions can drive you to make a poor decision.

4.    Decision fatigue.

If you exercise or do too much manual labor, your body will become fatigued.

The same goes for your brain. If you are bombarded with choices, your ability to choose wisely can run out due to decision fatigue.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “decision fatigue, describes the impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making”.

Psychologists have noticed that decision fatigue can lead to an inability to make further decisions, make wrong decisions, impulse buying, and more.

What this tells us is one reason you may make poor decisions could be because of repeated exertion of your brain.

To avoid over taxing your decision-making ability and making poor decisions:

  • Create your schedule of events and tasks at the beginning of the week.
  • Plan meetings in the morning when you’re fresh.
  • Check your weekly progress at the end of each day to develop your next day’s calendar.
  • Decide on and then put the clothes you’re going to wear the night before in a place designated as “tomorrow’s wardrobe”.
  • Eat healthy (not sugary) snacks to keep your brain energized.

Ensure that you make most of the important decisions of your life when you have higher energy levels. This will help prevent you from making bad ones.

You Can Stop Making Poor Decisions

Maisie Williams once said, “People go down dangerous paths and they make poor decisions, but it’s always justified in their head.”

As you can see, what Maisie said is absolutely true. If you let yourself become over optimistic, or over analyze, or let your emotions guide you, there’s a good chance you’ll make a poor decision.

The same goes if your try to do too much.

For every decision you make, there will be a consequence that can be beneficial or detrimental.

If you use the tips you’ve found here, you just might find that you are habitually making decisions that move you in the direction you prefer to go in life.

The choice is up to you.

Stop second-guessing yourself – make decisions with confidence! With Secrets of the Black Belt Mindset, you can learn how to make smarter decisions in any situation and feel good about it. Get your copy on Amazon today and start making better decisions!

author avatar
Wil Dieck
Wil Dieck is a teacher, coach, mentor, martial arts master instructor, Neuro Linguistic Programming master trainer, and master hypnotist. He is the founder of Black Belt Breakthroughs, a community dedicated to helping people use Mindful Mind Hacking to achieve clarity and focus and feel more connected to themselves and the world around them. Through his work as an author, college professor, and martial arts instructor, he has helped thousands of people from various types of backgrounds unlock their true potential. Wil combines physical training techniques from Qigong, Taichi and Yoga, neuroscience insights from over four decades of research, mindfulness meditation and his background in NLP and hypnosis to help people access their inner power so they can gain greater feelings of joy and purpose. His passion is helping others find ultimate fulfillment in life through developing mental strength and emotional resilience.
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