In the previous two articles in this series, I discussed a decision my colleague was facing, how the lack of an appropriate decision-making process might lead her to a less than optimal decision and how the classical pros-and-cons list might not be the best option, given these 4 Villains of decision making:
- My colleague was succumbing to narrow framing by thinking that she needed to either close her practice or become an employed physician.
- She was at risk of suffering from confirmation bias by gathering information that only supported the decision that she was leaning towards.
- Short term emotions, responses to perceived scenarios, such as greater financial benefits or fewer political hassles (I tell my residents the grass always seems greener, but seldom ever really is) can tempt you to make the wrong decision.
- Overconfidence about the future can make you think that a good outcome is certain and your process is reasoned.
So, how might we slay these villains and make a better decision that leaves us healthy, wealthy, and wise? While I wish I could say, “Follow this process and you will never make a bad decision again,” that is far from the truth. I still make bad decisions, despite having implemented the process that the Heath brothers recommend in “Decisive.” Hopefully, implementing a decision-making process will not only help you make incrementally better decisions, but also become a better mentor and better able to identify when your colleagues are succumbing to the four villains.
4 Step Process To Make Better Decisions In Life and Work
In order to make better decisions, we need to avoid the four villains, or the most common decision-making biases that lead to less informed, non-scientific, and unreasoned decisions. A process that you can pull off the shelf and apply is essential, because being aware of decision-making biases and our tendency to use them is not enough to avoid them.
Just think about all of our patients’ unhealthy habits, as well as our own. It is truly a rarity to encounter a patient that does not already know that smoking is bad, that they drink too much, or that health would be improved by exercising more. However, despite this knowledge, our patients do not alter their behavior.
Why would our decision-making process be any different?
The WRAP Framework
In “Decisive,’ the Heath brothers argue that a four-step process can help us make better decisions, and that using it habitually engrains the process, so that it will become second nature. The value in this process is that using it reliably forces us to consider options we might have overlooked, or information that we might have ignored or neglected.
I will provide a brief overview of the framework here and the remaining articles in this series will dive into each in more detail. The WRAP framework includes:
- Widen Your Options. If you learn nothing else from this series, be wary of any decision that involves picking A versus B, whether it is your adolescent dealing with a love interest or your consideration of a career move. Narrow framing results in you not identifying enough options and overlooking other possibilities. In the example of my colleague, one way she could avoid narrow framing is to assume that she must keep her practice open. This takes away the possibility of her leaving, and helps identify solutions that would improve her practice.
- Reality Test Your Assumptions. The confirmation bias will skew your assessment, but can be overcome by asking dis-confirming questions. You can essentially ask someone close to you to become the devil’s advocate. For example, my colleague might have asked me to come up with all the reasons why she should not become an employed physician. Or she could have asked her spouse to argue for staying in her practice. (This option assumes that you and your spouse have the sort of relationship in which formal disagreement will not create other issues.)
- Attain Distance Before Deciding. If you are agonizing over a decision, it is likely there is some emotional component. If you look back in your life over decisions you agonized over, it is unlikely that new information coming at you was the reason for the delay. Often the worst decisions I have ever made are those where short-term emotion drove them (e.g., took a job for more money but ended up with a horrible boss and left within 18 months). Consider asking yourself “What would I tell my best friend to do?” Give it a try and you may see your dilemma in a totally different light.
- Prepare To Be Wrong. Our overconfidence makes us think that we know what our future holds, when we really don’t have a clue. Consider performing a “pre-mortem.” In this process, you assume that your decision led to the worst possible outcome (e.g., my colleague gave up her practice and is in no better place 12 months in the future than she is today). By going through a process of writing down everything that might go wrong and the steps you could take to avoid ending up in that position, you might be able to make a better decision.
Hopefully you clearly see how the process I am outlining is significantly better than the pros-and-cons list, and that you might be able to easily incorporate these strategies into your daily decision-making processes. In the remaining articles in this series, I will go through each step on the WRAP process in more detail.
Previous articles in the Being More Decisive series: