• Audrey Tang

Effective decisions are made when you learn from your PROCESS not the OUTCOME

Updated: Nov 23, 2020


In "Thinking in Bets" Annie Duke asks "Think of a good decision you made....now think of a bad one." It is most likely the decisions we class as "good" will have had a positive outcome, while the ones we recall as "bad" will have had a negative one.


This bias - labelling a decision based on its outcome alone can affect our ability to make effective decisions in the future.


Think about it - you might have made the decision to answer a call while driving. You weren't caught, and you were not involved in an accident. Is this a good decision? Hopefully you'll appreciate not. Because if you think it is, you are likely to open yourself up to further problems. Decisions which are repeated become habits, and if they are not healthy ones, you are now giving yourself more opportunities to trip up.


"Yes, I'd love some chocolate..." on occasion this may be a healthy choice, a treat, and if so, this decision may not make any real impact. But if the decision has come from "I need to lose weight, but yes, I'd love some chocolate..." and nothing happens on the scales immediately, wait until that decision is repeated over a series of weeks (or in my case - at the start of lockdown!)


"Good" decisions are defined by the process not the outcome

A good decision can be defined by the process, and the actual outcome only comes into consideration with regards to know what you are trying to achieve. A decision, by the very nature of life, can have millions of different outcomes, and just because one doesn't turn out the way you would like, if it was made on sound reasoning, it doesn't mean don't do it again.


To return to the example of texting on the phone. You may choose not to text while driving and still be involved in an accident - does that mean you should text next time? I hope not.


Unfortunately, the brain tends to remember in outcomes

Before you make a decision there are a number of things that could happen. For example, you decide to quit your job and start a business. Things could go brilliantly, things could go badly, or absolutely anywhere in between...you might not even be allowed to quit immediately. But, if we only associate our choices with what happened, we may miss out on learning about what really matters - the process.


A practical approach to decision making

This is expanded on in my book "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness"

1. Chang (2012) suggests the first thing to do is Frame the decision:

- Understand the situation

-state what the issue is, where and when it occurs, and who it involves

-identify if there is a pattern

-identify the outcome you would like to see


2. Next go through the process of:

Gathering information that will best help you bring about the outcome you wish

Come to a conclusion - this may also include seeking advice from others

Make the decision

Learn from feedback - and in particular, focus your reflection on the process outlined here rather than the outcome alone. If it didn't turn out the way you liked, ask yourself for example "Did I miss something" in the gathering information stage", or "did I ask the wrong people"..."or the wrong questions..." or "did I need to ask at all?"

Remember, outcomes can have a luck (or random) factor as well

While many decisions will often work out through a careful process, planning and work towards the desired result, there will also be an element of luck, or a number of other variables on the day. A boxer can train exactly as his coach suggests, he may even be on a "winning streak" yet on the day he gets knocked out in the first round. This doesn't mean everything he did leading up to the match was a "bad decision".


Strategy v Luck v Talent

Seet (1951) says "The greatest minds do not necessarily ripen the quickest". Therefore, do not be discouraged if others seem to be progressing faster than you. They may have luck, and they may have talent on their side. He continues, "...if you have done your best, you have only to persevere...on the other hand, many brilliant [children], for want of health, had work and character, have been less successful."


Perseverance and a healthy process of making positive choices is an important part of resilience building. In The Leader's Guide to Resilience, I present my resilience model which is a development of Nishikawa's (2006) 3 fold model: Survival, Rebuilding, Thriving. I believe Nishikawa, more than the writers on the topic I covered proposed the broadest (and most positive) approach to resilience - that it is not just about "bouncing back", but rebounding higher!

However, for me, I do not believe that resilience is built in a straight trajectory. At each stage of the model there are different challenges - in survival, one has to overcome the crisis and can often drawn from adrenaline as well as community support; in rebuilding often one has to contend with exhaustion and far less goodwill from those around who themselves are trying to pick up; and when you do recover - in order to thrive you need to distinguish yourself within the competition - who themselves have been through the same regrowth.


Having processes, strategies - choices that you can rely on are helpful in continued improvment, growth and success. Luck (like driving while on the phone and not getting caught) will only take you so far if such behaviour becomes habitual; similarly reliance on talent can mean that you have not developed the capacity to reflect, learn and adapt - and thus when the "dips" hit, you may find the climb harder than someone who has constantly strived to improve.


This week

-For immediate reframing of our bias over the outcome, try a simple thought experiment:

Find one decision which had a poor outcome but the process on which it was made was sound

and

Find one decision which had a great outcome but you can identify a strong element of luck

And remember

- Decisions can become habits - so make sure they are positive

- Reflect on your process not on the outcome when judging a decision and making plans for the next.


Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt

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