Whether you are a tertiary student or university grad about to enter the working work for the first time, the ability to make good decisions is a precious skill to own. It's a skill that inspires confidence in your abilities, and as you grow older, will result in you being more self-aware and efficient. Here are 4 tips to help you kick-start the process of making smarter decisions:
1. Intuition is part of your decision making
Singaporeans in general love to do things "by the books". We like to honour thinking, while pushing emotions to the side. But studies in neuroscience have shown that intuition is an essential part of thinking. You have probably seen it a thousand times in movies where the protagonist has to choose the best course of action to get out of a tricky situation before the bomb goes off or the pretty woman dies. The solution just comes to them from somewhere in their subconscious mind.
The truth is pretty similar to that. Your brain stores bits of your life experience in folders, and the ones you rarely use are in folders covered with cobwebs stored in the back. When you get a nagging gut feeling, it's your intuition trying to recover information from those dusty folders and letting you know. We have to learn to let that information in by quieting the loud, logical voice in our mind, and allowing the quiet whisper of what you feel do the speaking.
2. Gather information, then take a break
It's not a coincidence that the best ideas usually pop up at the most inconvenient times, such as when you are drifting off to sleep or in the shower. When our days are crammed with activity, the brain gets exhausted. It's only when we're in a situation that doesn't require much brain power (i.e. shampooing our hair) that our brain can actually wander.
Next time you're faced with making a complex decision, review the information and gather input from the right people; then take a brain break. Do something that will distract your mind. If you're struggling with a particular essay topic for example, read up on the information and talk to your course mates or even the professor; and then take a walk to the canteen to get a snack. Your brain will continue to work on the problem during this downtime, allowing it to come up with incredible thoughts. Which can lead to incredible results.
3. Be wary of over thinking things
Ever had a group project discussion with your classmates and these phrases seem to pop up: "This is taking up way too much time", "We've covered this point already" and "We're making things harder than they should be". If so, they are clear indicators that you guys are overthinking the problem.
When this happens, take a step back and re-evaluate. Being aware that overthinking is happening is the first step in putting an end to it. Start over, and if it still seems like the discussion is getting nowhere, reschedule the session for a later time or another day. Stewing on a problem without solutions for long periods of time isn't productive anyway.
4. Start exploring your gut feeling
Gut feeling is similar to intuition, except where intuition is helping you to dig up old forgotten information stored somewhere in your brain, gut feeling usually helps you identify whether you are feeling fear. They also usually occur when a split second decision needs to be made.
Once I was about to try bungee jumping in Thailand. As I was contemplating doing it, I kept asking myself “What’s bothering me?” and “What’s doesn't feel right?”. These questions were helping to coax my brain to identify whether I was feeling fearful about the idea of jumping off a cliff with nothing but a cord attached to my legs, or because of some other underlying reason. My friends kept encouraging me to go for it, but I somehow felt uneasy about it and I decided against going for the jump. A little later, we found out from another group after us that one of the cords had snapped. It may not have been the exact cord that I would have used but I was glad I made that decision.
There will be times when you are feeling uncomfortable about making a decision and you can't think of a rational reason. During those moments, just follow your gut.