You might be aware that I am interested in the topic of Mental Fitness. I’ve been writing about it for a while.
At the core of my working definition of mental fitness is the idea that we can train different aspects of ‘mind’.
Mind is the collection of capacities that we typically associate with having a brain.
I am firmly of the belief that we can train our minds. The existence of schools and universities and the fact we spend up to a 1/4 of our lives in these places learning stuff is testament to that.
But it isn’t just formal education where our minds can be trained. It might be psychotherapy (e.g. learning how to manage emotions), mindfulness training (e.g. learning to harness our attention), or brain training (e.g. improving our memory).
I also think we can train our minds through the choices and activities of everyday life. For example, self-improvement (conscious and deliberate attempts to improve some aspect of ourselves or our lives) involves drawing on many psychological capacities. For example, if I decide to improve my health through my changing my diet this will involve learning new information, setting goals, planning, practice, learning new skills, forming habits, problem-solving, shifts in my identity etc. Maintaining most aspects of health and wellbeing involves the development of habits and routines (e.g. regular exercise, meal planning, sleep hygiene).
Because of the importance of habits and routines, I’ve spent most of my time over the last year or so thinking and talking about habit formation.
In recent times however, it has become clear to me that it isn’t just habits and routines that are important.
It is also about the choices and decisions we make. For example, how is it that I came to make the decision to work on my health using diet? How is it that you made the decision to come to university?
We likely make thousands of decisions a day and I’m not suggesting we bring all of them into the spotlight. But the big ones – the ones that have significant implications in how our life unfolds – do seem to be worth analysing. Or when we are confronted with a problem or situation that finds us stuck or requires us to make difficult choices, our capacity to make good choices at that time is an indication of mental fitness. And I suspect like all aspects of mind, we can learn to make better decisions.
So I’ve started reading more about decision making and I am realising it is an area I don’t know much about.
I do know there are a large number of cognitive biases (thinking errors) that reduce our capacity to make rational decisions. They often lead us to make decisions automatically or impulsively without adequate consideration.
I do know that there isn’t a single ‘decision-making model’ that applies across all scenarios. In fact, I know that some people have made it career tracking the different mental models that can be used to make better decisions.
I also know, from my clinical training, that we generally encourage those who are confronted by difficult decisions to apply at least a couple of different ‘lenses’ to the problem in order to work out what might be the best way to proceed.
For example, if someone was trying to work out whether to quit their job and start searching for a new one, we might approach it from a few different angles:
First we might start with a stepped process to help the person gather and analyse the relevant information needed to make the decision.
Second, we might encourage the person to start a journal or spend time writing about the thoughts and feelings that the decision is bringing up for them, so they know better what influence their emotions are having on the situation.
Third, we might try to help the person clarify their values (the kind of person they want to be, the kind of life they want to live) and weigh up the different options against those values. What choice is most consistent with their values?
Finally, we might encourage the person to share the problem/situation with close friends/family members/colleagues and get different perspectives on what to do.
The person would then need to weigh up all this different information in making their final decision. Some planning might then need to be done in order to manage the inevitable consequences of making that decision (for example, if the person leaves the job, they need to work out how to support themselves whilst unemployed). The person might need support in following through with the decision as it may have negative consequences.
Even from just this simple example, you can see that a lot can go into the process of making better decisions, but a core component is that the problem/situation is deliberately and consciously viewed from a few different angles, as a kind of antidote to making a rash, poorly thought through decision.
Students are confronted with big and complex decisions all the time
The modern university student has a lot of complex decisions to make. Decisions about what courses to do, how to study, how to allocate their time, employment, what they want in their life, what is important to them.
Many students (particularly those fresh out of high school) are also new to the whole ‘shape their own destiny’ thing. They have a lot of complex decisions to make and not necessarily the life experience to help guide those decisions.
So it strikes me that talking more about decision making is a good thing and you’ll see more decision making content on this blog moving forward, and decision making also being a part of future mental fitness content I develop.
In the meantime, I’ve linked below to a couple of decision-making articles that I have found recently that I found valuable in shaping my own thoughts about decision making.
Thankfully you will find this an active area of consideration for a lot of people, so no shortage of content to consume in your quest to become a better decision maker.
Also a video from one of my favourite YouTubers: