Better Decision-Making… in Three Steps

We like coffee. We drink it every day.

But we can’t stand places like Starbucks.

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

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

No, our problem with coffee shops is that we have no idea how to order.

Latte… mocha… espresso… iced… cold brew…

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

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

Instead of educating ourselves, we 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. (We 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.

We joke about our 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 Smart Choices

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 our career, we’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 when buying our coffee, we’ve got a backup plan. If our 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.