Three Steps to Better Decision-Making

I like coffee. I drink it every day.

But I can’t stand places like Starbucks.

My rationale for that sentiment borders on childish. But hear me out. It makes a lot of sense. And it just may lead to good things.

You see, unless I’m in an utter pinch, the only time I find myself in a coffee shop is when my wife pulls me into one. It’s not that I don’t like the final product. In fact, I’m usually surprised by what I get… and how good it tastes.

No, my problem with coffee shops is that I have no idea how to order.

Latte… mocha… espresso… iced… cold brew…

Short… tall… venti… grande… did I see a Big Gulp?

That’s the reason I don’t go to Starbucks. There are too many choices.

Instead of educating myself, I simply stick with what’s easy.

It sounds dumb… but there’s recent research on the idea that proves the phenomenon stretches far beyond the coffee shop.

Understanding it – and, more importantly, avoiding it – is the key to keeping us out of the jaws of the mediocrity trap.

In a Jam

Get this. Several years ago, a couple of psychologists told us what we already know but are too scared to admit. They proved that having more choices doesn’t make our lives any better… they make it too complex.

Here’s the study according to the Harvard Business Review:

On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam.

On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display.

Starbucks should take note. (I just want a small black coffee.)

The researchers – Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper – called it “choice paralysis.”

It’s a harmful idea we’ve covered here before…

This inability to act keeps us from doing far more than just ordering a simple coffee. It keeps us from making tough – but necessary – decisions.

It’s the sort of thing that keeps men from buying life insurance.

It keeps folks out of the stock market.

It even keeps them from making wise career or even family decisions.

There are too many choices… so most folks simply do nothing.

I joke about my disdain for coffee shops, but this is serious stuff. It’s vital we don’t suffer from choice paralysis.

It will keep you from living the life you want to live.

Three Steps to Better Decision-Making

Fortunately, the same science that proves the notion is real shows us exactly how to overcome its debilitating effects.

There are just three steps.

First, know your endgame. What’s the ideal outcome?

If you’re thinking of investing, ask yourself what success would look like. Are you aiming for returns of 3% each year, or are you aiming more for 20%?

Write it down.

Cut out any choices that don’t lead to that number.

It works for any big decisions. Know what you want, and eliminate anything that won’t get you there.

From there, plan for failure. It will happen.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen countless folks get stuck on the unknowns. “What if this stock doesn’t continue to do well?” they ask. “What if the transmission goes bad?” they worry. Or, here’s a common one… “What if they don’t like me?”

Failure happens. In fact, it’s the notion that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

Folks who plan to fail always do better.

Hell, even buying my coffee, I’ve got a backup plan. If my tall mocha latte iced brew doesn’t come out right… there’s always a McDonald’s nearby.

Finally, set time limits to make your decision. It’s far too easy to continue “researching” a topic before making a decision. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ll make our choice after just a bit more digging.

But the final move never comes.

Set a deadline to act… and stick to it.

Remember, choice paralysis comes from having too many choices – there are too many jams on the table, so we walk away.

Know what you want… eliminate everything that doesn’t match… and force yourself to act.

The inability to react will disappear.

You’ll be happier, healthier and wealthier. Plus, you may even get the simple black coffee you ordered.

P.S. When it comes to our nation’s unhealthy obsession with having more options – now! – it would be easy to point the blame at smartphones. These seemingly innocent devices have made it easy for folks to get the instant gratification they so desperately crave. Unfortunately, it may be coming at a deadly cost…

If you haven’t seen our presentation on the growing dangers of smartphone use, I urge you to watch it now.

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