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Tuning In: 5 Simple Ways You Can Make Better Decisions

Tune into your decision-making process with these five straightforward strategies. Nuala Walsh shares practical tips to help you make better choices and navigate life’s challenges with confidence and clarity.

Think you’ve got it figured out? Join the club. We all tend to overestimate our abilities. In reality, most of us think we’re above average dancers, drivers and even decision-makers. The truth is, we’re not as infallible as we think as history suggests we might be wrong.

Everyone messes up. But in today’s world of digital distraction and data overload, we’re prone to hear less and misjudge more. This risk affects likelihood of promotion and others’ lives and livelihoods. Often, we realize it too late.

This hyper-connected lifestyle leads to a higher risk of misjudgement. A single misjudgement can impact not only our own lives but those of others too. It’s essential to understand why we make mistakes and how to avoid judgement killers. You’ll not only avoid regret but fast-track your influence. Becoming a Decision Ninja starts with understanding why we make mistakes.

Tuned Out? Why We Make Mistakes.

Who do you listen to? People you like or people you don’t like? Do trust your gut or research? Too often, the disliked colleague or maverick makes us tune out red flags.  

Who do you believe? Do you always say what you mean or accept what you hear?Your friends or colleagues don’t say what they mean – or mean what they say. Yet we take much at face value especially when we trust others. Learning how to interpret behavior can serve as an insurance policy in your 20s, 30s, or later years. 

Tune In Cover

These are just some of the questions in my book, “Tune In: How to Make Smarter Decisions in a Noisy World”. I explore the rising threat of misjudgement and explain why we tune out who and what really matters when we should tune in. While many people appreciate bias blind spots, few recognize the destructive power of deaf spots. 

Mastering judgement begins with appreciating how decisions are shaped by what’s around us and the company we keep. I identify ten categories of sneaky traps that can mess up decisions.

These are summarized in the mnemonic – the PERIMETERS™ traps. Let’s explore:

  • Power: Ever felt like you want to lead others or were scared of losing control? 
  • Ego: Sometimes we think we’re the best at everything, and that can lead us down the ego trap.
  • Risk: Taking risks can be fun, but also be tricky. 
  • Identity: Who we are, how others see us and how we see ourselves affects decisions. 
  • Memory: Our brains sometimes play tricks on us, making us remember things differently. 
  • Emotion: Feelings like happiness, sadness, or anger can destroy decisions. 
  • Time: Whether we’re in a hurry or thinking of the past, time can mess with our choices. 
  • Ethics: Knowing what’s right and what’s wrong can be tough. 
  • Relationships: The crowd noise can influence what we decide. 
  • Stories: We believe things because we’ve heard them a lot. 

Don’t worry! If we know about these, we can make better decisions, prevent errors, and improve careers.

5 Ways to Tune In to Better Decisions 

Psychologists suggest that irrational responses can be amplified under doubt, stress or uncertainty. It makes sense.

As a behavioral scientist with three decades in business, I’ve found five simple ways that can help you build your reputation and influence, whether the decision is to change jobs, houses or partners.

1. Respect the Crowd.  

Our tendency to follow others is well-known yet ignored. Others’ choices provide a useful source of information, and lowers need for cognitive effort. We tend to believe that ‘others know more than we do.’

Equally, your buy or sell, speak up or break up decision can be reinforced by the belief that others think like me and agree with me’. This False Consensus Effect can propel us to tune into the herd and out of common sense. This contributes to the fear of missing out (FOMO).

2. Contain FOMO.

There’s nothing worse than FOMO. To avoid the sense of loss from missing out on a social invitation, romantic opportunity or financial deal, solicit novel viewpoints. This is the equivalent of phone a friend – but not a friend who looks or thinks like you. Consult a divergent thinker. If necessary, seek input from relevant experts but don’t depend on them. Experts can get it wrong. Reinterpret what you hear without jumping to conclusions.

3. Avoid Overconfidence.

As one of the most pervasive biases, overconfidence is the unjustified belief in the supremacy of ideas and opinions. It occurs where people believe in certain outcomes and underweigh risk.

Many skydivers, racing drivers, tanning bed users, and entrepreneurs are more overconfident than self-confident. Adjust your thinking and estimate the likelihood of failure in advance. 

4. Recalculate Risk.

How often do you double-check sources when making a critical decision?  We mentally disregard the probability of being fired or dumped.

This error is amplified in uncertainty, emotion or stress as we oscillate between overreactions to low-probability (e.g. shark attack) and underreactions to high-probability events (e.g. criticism). Avoid familiarity of what and who you know. If indecisive, check out the techniques in my TEDx talk

5. Control Short-Termism.

Do you save or spend more? Value today or tomorrow? Most of us focus on the next vacation, Tinder date or job interview. Yet I’ve found preferences change over time – sometimes by the minute!  Find the equilibrium between immediate gains and long-term benefit. Free your brain from the idea you’re losing rather than gaining.

When you apply these strategies, you’re counteracting traps in a process I call ‘decision friction.’ You’ll slow down judgement and prevent a rush to misjudgement.

5 simple ways you can make better decisions

Broadening Your Perspective   

Mental traps are predictable and controllable.  Accept you’ll get some wrong but remember how many you get right. The average person makes 35,000 decisions daily, 95% unconsciously. By tuning in to verifiable sources and the right voices in high-stakes situations, we can better navigate a noisy world. 

Tuning in isn’t just essential as a real-time reputation and performance accelerator but it’s a moral responsibility. It’s time to tune in.

Nuala Walsh

By Nuala Walsh

Nuala Walsh, author of TUNE IN: How To Make Smarter Decisions In A Noisy World, is a Non-executive Director, behavioral scientist, and award-winning marketeer with three decades in investment management. Her roles included CMO of Standard Life Aberdeen, and senior positions at Blackrock, Merrill Lynch, and PA Consulting Group. Today, as MindEquity CEO, she advises Fortune 500 leaders globally, among others.

Holding multiple first-class Masters’ Degrees, she is a visiting speaker at the Harvard Kennedy School, INSEAD, and the London School of Economics.

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