6 Ways to Make Good Decisions in Bad Times

Studies show that faced with stress, our ability to make balanced decisions is compromised. Here are six factors that help you eliminate anxiety and fear.

By Amy Kan

(First published in Fast Company and reprinted here with permission from the author. Amy Kan will present Leadership Strategies for Women in our June 23 webinar. Register now)

The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting every part of our lives—health and well-being, finances and job security, family, and community—in every part of the world. When we are living in a period of deep uncertainty, without context or precedent, it can be easy to make bad decisions. In fact, studies show that faced with stress, our ability to make balanced decisions is compromised. Instead, we make decisions primarily based on positive rewards, while overlooking negative consequences. Given that we make decisions all the time, how can we ensure, even during this time of crisis, that the decisions we make are good ones?
Here are some things to keep in mind.

The more we train ourselves to stay in the moment, the more able we are to make decisions based on the information at hand. Many decisions we make are based on past experiences. You know the saying “Once bitten, twice shy.” While the past can be a useful teacher, it can also cloud our thinking and lead us to make invalid assumptions. Just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean it will happen again. Being present allows us to focus on what is important for the decision we have to make and block out the noise that often gets in the way.

When we make decisions based on the reward, as we are more likely to do under stress, we risk compromising our beliefs, which can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. For example, if you are unemployed and offered a position with a high salary, but with long hours and a long commute, you are more likely to focus on the salary than the long hours. If work-life balance is one of your core values, this is probably not going to be a good choice for you. Whether it is a company’s values or your own personal values, ensure you use them to guide the decisions that you make. If you are unclear as to what your values are, now is a good time to think about them. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable to them.

A fear-based decision will often begin with “I have to…” and end with some negative consequence. Fear-based decisions are disempowering and drain you of energy. Instead, try to make decisions from a positive perspective. Instead of feeling that you have to take on an extra assignment or else they might think you don’t work hard enough, choose to take on the assignment because it will be a growth opportunity. Or, choose not to because your time would better be spent focused on your current projects. When you think “I have to,” you take away your own power to make the decision.

Stress diminishes our ability to see possibilities, limits our decision set, and hinders the likelihood of making the best choices. For a big decision, with potentially high risks, give yourself some time and space to think it through. Even better, wait to make your decision until the next day. Sleep helps you process information, and according to research from UC Berkeley, a good night’s sleep improves your ability to take in new information.

Try to remove emotion from your decision and think about the facts. List the pros and cons. This type of rational thinking is often minimized in stressful situations, but it is a key component to making good decisions. Remember to consider different scenarios, determine what the best outcome might look like, and also the worst that might happen. In the end, ask yourself if your decision makes sense based on what you know.

We often hear people say, “Trust your gut.” Another way to put it is that you know more than you think you do. When we overthink our decisions, it’s usually because we lack confidence in ourselves and our ability to make the right choices. Once you’ve thought things through, weighed the pros and cons, it may be time to trust your feeling. You probably know the right answer deep down.

The future may seem very uncertain right now. It is difficult to make plans when we don’t know what will be open, when. It is important to remember, however, that while we can’t control these circumstances, we have control over the choices and decisions we make. Our best decisions will combine logic and intuition, weighing the pros and cons within the context of the facts and our beliefs.

No, you can’t control when things will be back to normal, but you can focus on making the best possible decisions for yourself today.
About the author
Amy Kan is a certified leadership coach who specializes in helping women leverage their strengths, develop their confidence and embrace their authentic leadership styles so they can be powerful, successful leaders. She works with companies to develop their high potentials, and individuals who feel stuck in their professional development.

Amy launched her coaching business in 2018, with a mission to help companies achieve gender equity at the leadership level, and in so doing, improve their culture and bottom line. Amy's articles have appeared in Fast Company, All Thrive Global and CEOWorld Magazine, where she is an opinions columnist.

She received her MBA from the London Business School, BA from the University of Michigan, and her coach training through IPEC. She holds an ACC certification, and upholds the standards and ethics, of the International Coaching Federation (ICF.)

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