Jen Butler, MEd.
Research, such as this 2003 publication in the International Journal of Emergency Management (January 2003, Vol. 1:3, pp. 278-289), suggests that when you are under stress, your decision-making processes are significantly reduced. It's a complicated, physiological process as corticosteroids, those hormones released while under stress, reduce spatial reference, working memory, and behavioral flexibility, according to a 2009 study from the journal Science (July 2009, Vol. 325:5940, pp. 621-625). This results in us focusing on problem-related information and ignoring a full scope of details that, if considered, could provide us insight and change the direction of our decisions.
Stress also causes us to make decisions more quickly than usual because it is natural to do anything to get out of the stressful situation, and making a snap decision moves us along, albeit potentially in the wrong direction.
6 ideas to help
You can take several steps to ensure stress isn't a barrier to your decision-making.
1. Set reasonable goals
Stress often occurs when we set unrealistic, time-bound expectations on us and others. But how do you know your goals are reasonable or unreasonable?
2. Talk to others
Talking to others about your situation, especially those with different viewpoints, broadens what you see as possible solutions. This can also help with your goal setting.
“Having high stress levels compounds the way in which you make decisions, so look out for the pitfalls.”
3. Get facts
Decision-making based on assumptions and feelings makes for irrational decisions. To lower your stress and increase your strategic solutions, make sure you are including facts from a variety of channels.
4. Be cautious of groupthink
When you are stuck in deciding, some turn to a group to help make the decision. The problem with groupthink is it discourages creativity and limits your solutions. Groupthink often results in poor results and negative consequences, as individual situations and nuances aren't considered.
5. Cut your losses when necessary
Good decisions have a domino effect that perpetuates positive outcomes. Being overly committed to a single decision when the results are poor can cost more time and resources because you are too invested and you're efforts to "make it work" overshadow cutting your losses.
6. Confident and humble are best
Leaders require a level of confidence that allows them to believe they are worthy of others to follow them. Yet if you overrely on your own opinion of your self and ability, the ego takes overs and looks for confirmation bias. This is the act of looking for information that supports your existing beliefs and rejecting new data that contradict.
Decision-making itself can be a stressful and challenging process. Having high stress levels compounds the way in which you make decisions, so look out for the pitfalls.
Jen Butler, MEd, has worked in the area of stress management and resilience training for more than 25 years. Register to hear her podcast here. You can contact her via email here.
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