Science Says This Is the Secret to Making Better Decisions

Quickly and easily cull your choices down to a single option.

If you want to make better decisions in life (and, really, who doesn't?), you'll be glad to hear there's been a lot of research as of late on how to make better choices. One recent study found that people at higher elevations tend to make more financial risks, which could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your personality (and coffers).

Now, a new study published in the July 2018 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes claims that the secret to making a decision lies in distancing yourself from it and trying to see the bigger picture, an ability psychologists call "high-level constructual."

How you achieve that perspective is up to you. It can involve taking time out to create psychological distance, or it can be done by leaving a situation to create physical distance. Whichever way you do it, "high-level construal allows you to step back and see the consequences of your decision and to see more clearly the best way to allocate resources," lead author Paul Stillman said in a statement.

What was interesting about their study was that it showed that in many cases, the outcome that is better for you is also the one that is better for everyone else. We're often taught that "doing the right thing" requires sacrificing one's own needs for the benefit of others, but their findings indicate that may not necessarily be the case. As an example, if an engineer has a friend with a broken computer, it might seem selfish for him to create new productivity software instead of simply fixing his friend's laptop. But while creating new productivity software would be less of a solution in the short run, it would be a better solution in the long run for everyone involved. That's thinking big picture.

While the researchers do not cite this as an example, you can use this mode of thinking when making a crucial decision about whether or not to leave your marriage. It might seem selfish to divorce your husband if you've fallen in love with someone else, but these findings would indicate that leaving would ultimately be of greater benefit to you and your family, in spite of the temporary pain it would cause.

"The most efficient decision is the one that is going to maximize the total pie—and that is true whether more goes to you or more goes to someone else," Stillman said. "Sometimes it makes the most sense to seem a bit selfish if that is going to maximize overall benefits."

It's also worth noting that big-picture thinking can provide a boost to your happiness levels. For more on this, check out I Took Yale's Happiness Course and Here's Everything I Learned.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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