Should you be signing a new lease if you’re uncertain about the economy? Is it smart to change jobs because you might get furloughed? One woman we spoke with is considering a separation from her spouse. Being quarantined together day in and day out has raised serious issues in their marriage.
Under normal circumstances, any of these decisions would be tough to tackle. During a pandemic, the stakes feel even higher.
The challenge of uncertainty
Making sound decisions isn’t simple or easy. It’s especially challenging when we don’t know what the coming weeks and months will bring. The “common sense” approach we typically rely on won’t necessarily apply to the unique circumstances we currently face. With no clear road map to follow, we’re more on our own. We have to think for ourselves and be more self-reliant.
A crisis demands our best quality thinking. It’s a time to actively seek out facts, uncover myths, dismiss untruths, and rely on science to guide us.
During a crisis—when emotions run high—it’s tempting to reflexively follow the herd. But now is the time to keep a check on groupthink and our own biases, those automatic thinking shortcuts we often use because they’re familiar and easy. Just as importantly, we must guard against the human tendency to embrace magical or wishful thinking.
When feeling overwhelmed or scared, many people regress to thinking like children. They give up control and choose to believe things that lower their anxiety and help them manage their feelings. But this doesn’t help you make important life decisions. You want to be thinking as maturely and as clearly as possible.
The good news? Most of us already have the logical thinking skills that will help us navigate through uncertainty. Yet this aptitude doesn’t automatically appear—it must be summoned. Turning to your objective thinking and reasoning skills will help you cut through noise and confusion, gather relevant facts and reliable information, and serve you well when it’s time to deliberate and then act on your decisions. Good quality decision-making is central to keeping you and your family healthy as the pandemic continues.
Tips from expert decision-makers
One of the most effective ways to tackle tough decisions is to use a decision-making framework, which includes checklists of behaviors and steps that help guide you before you take action. Judges, business leaders, physicians, police officers, and detectives all rely on frameworks to help them make complex decisions in the face of uncertainty.
Here are four simple tips we’ve learned from these expert decision-makers. Using them will help you make better quality life decisions during the stress and confusion of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Give yourself time. When making critical decisions, give yourself ample time. Consider asking for more time whenever possible, and enlist knowledgeable, experienced people to advise you. This is instrumental in making good choices.
- Have a backup plan. See if you can build contingencies into what you’re committing to; if a situation changes suddenly, it will give you an out. Remember, many decisions involve negotiating disparate interests. Clearly identify your needs and interests, advocate for them, and build in a backup.
- Plan out mid-course corrections. Even after you’ve made a decision and moved into action, you may still be able to make mid-course corrections. When contemplating a specific decision, ask yourself if making corrections will be possible. Most decisions don’t close off all future options (although some may). Consider the “opportunity cost” in every decision: what may be lost if you decide yes, or if you decide no.
- Clear your mind. Get yourself into a relaxed state while considering important decisions. Line up all the relevant facts. Keep your mind calm and see if any creative or intuitive ideas spring to the surface. Meditate, go on a long walk, or take a bike ride—anything that gives you a break from overthinking. Being relaxed will engage your intuition, which can provide additional insights for your decision-making process.
Written by Dr. Paul Napper, Psy.D. Have you read?
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