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08 Apr

How to Make Better Decisions According to the Brain

Hi! This is your brain talking. I am here to answer your hard-hitting questions. We recently discussed how we make decisions and the psychological phenomena that influence our behaviors and purchasing decisions. One question that I continuously receive is,

“How can I (is this me, the brain, or you? We?) make better decisions?”

It is inevitable that you will encounter decisions that make you frustrated or even anxious. What are some practices you can do to ease these discomforts? The following tips and tricks are not meant to help you choose which flavor of gum to buy, but will hopefully make complex decisions like buying a new car, moving to a new city, or deciding on a new marketing strategy easier.

  1. Make Your Decision in the Morning

    PLEASE! For the love of kittens and puppies, please make your hard decisions in the morning. Despite only accounting for 2% of your body weight, I use about 20% of your energy. That is an average of 400 calories a day. That is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself! I work hard to keep you alive, store memories, talk to your coworkers and on average make 35,000 decisions a day. I need to rest before expending the energy to make a big decision. You will make our lives easier by making these difficult decisions in the morning when I am refreshed. In addition, in the morning I am full of serotonin, which calms us both and allows us to feel less risk averse.

    If tough decisions have to be made later in the day, I recommend taking a break and having a rest period beforehand.

  2. Eat First

    Now, you know how I get when you are hungry. I get hangry. I not only take over your mood, but I have a larger desire for big rewards. Don’t get mad, it’s something I cannot control. I need energy (20%!) to do the tasks you ask of me, and when I don’t have it, my desire spills out into other areas. This is when you make impulsive decisions. Whenever you are going to make a big decision, satisfy my need for energy first.

  3. Drink Water

    Staying hydrated helps us make better decisions, however, this is not specifically what I am referring to in this case. Funny enough, when you have a full bladder, we make better decisions. Just like my feelings of desire can spill over and affect our decisions, so can my self control.

    A study conducted by Mirjam Tul at the University of Twente in the Netherlands shows that people who have to go to the bathroom are more likely to be able to hold out for a larger reward. When I am forced to control your bladder, that control affects other parts, so we are more likely to choose low-risk options and avoid impulse decisions.

  4. Use a Foreign Language

    In the first part of this series you briefly read about framing and loss aversion. Framing is when certain options are presented with negative or positive semantics (for example: loss or gain). Since people tend to avoid risk, options framed positively are more likely to be selected.

    When you learn a new language as an adult, the framing bias has less of an effect on me. As it turns out, your native language is laced with emotion that influences our decisions (another thing I can’t control, sorry!). If you learned a new language as an adult, try and explain your situation and options to me in this new language. It may take away some of the framing effects that bias me, allow you to process the information differently, and just maybe help you make better decisions.

  5. Set a Deadline

    It’s easy to delay big decisions, but that can make us even more frustrated and anxious. Setting attainable deadlines allows me to categorize what I need to focus on, freeing up space and energy for other tasks. This also can ease potential negative emotions we feel.

  6. Cut Down Your Choices

    As you now know, I use a lot of energy, and I processes a ton of information each day. Making decisions is a lot of work, which is why we often settle for default options or let other people choose (no, where do you want to eat?). The more options we have to choose from the harder it is for me to help you make a decision.

Now you are aware of ways to make better decisions. Start treating me and yourself better. Read more on The Science Behind Making Decisions.