Make smarter decisions today

Think twice about the choices you make and start living a whole new life, says author Noreena Hertz.


1. Approach things head on
Tempting as it is to hide under the duvet, stick your fingers in your ears and ignore a problem, we all know that this won’t get you anywhere. Perhaps you’re facing a dilemma right now. Trying to work out whether to stop renting and buy instead? Stick with your current job or change career? Go off the pill and switch to a coil? For the sake of our health, wealth, relationships and future happiness, we need to approach things head on.

2. Have the confidence to question so-called “experts”
Did you know studies have shown that doctors misdiagnose one patient in six? That garbage collectors have been found to make better economic predictions than finance ministers? Or that, when a team of professional investment advisers were pitted against a cat, it made a return three times greater than them? Brain scans reveal that when we hear an expert speak, the independent decision-making part of our brains switches off. But you shouldn’t passively accept advice — experts are fallible too.

3. Consciously screen the data
Online, we are bombarded with information 24/7, yet studies reveal that we can’t hold more than seven separate pieces of information in our minds at once. This constant barrage is like a 21st-century form of water torture. You need to ask the right questions and interrogate the answers. Better to be perceived as “difficult” or “dumb” than to just give up. The web may be a great place to do research, but it has been estimated that as many as a third of all online consumer reviews are fake. Even if they aren’t bogus, the extent to which reviewers “herd” online can skew opinion: If people see a five-star review they’re more likely to give five stars themselves and a poor review means they’re more likely to follow suit, even if this doesn’t correspond to their real feelings.

4. Don’t be so gullible
To choose smarter, we need to know the extent to which our decisions are affected by external factors. Take online dating as an example: Men are more likely to want to date a woman if they see her picture against a red background. People asked to sign a petition are more likely to do so if they’ve been briefly touched. Good to know, and not a bad technique to turn to your advantage (although I’m not advising stroking your boss at your next pay review). You are, however, more likely to get a job if your employer is handed your CV on a heavy clipboard rather than a light one.

5. Strip it back
Research shows that people will put in a higher offer for a flat if it smells of fresh bread (making them feel nurtured) or will buy a poor financial product because it was presented on a green brochure. Before you fall in to any of these traps, you need to step back and do the following: Imagine an alternative scenario in which the particular cue was absent. This goes a long way to neutralising its distorting effect.

6. Don’t make decisions when hungry
In a recent study of parole decisions, the key factor in whether or not a judge granted parole was not the gender of the prisoner, their ethnicity or even the severity of their crime, but whether or not the judge had eaten. Just before lunch, prisoners had only a 10 per cent chance of parole. Just after lunch, their chances soared to 65 per cent. Most of you won’t be making parole decisions, but how can you advise a friend — should she end her relationship, should she confront her workplace bully — when you’re not in a fit state? It seems remarkable that life-altering decisions can rest on whether we’ve had lunch. But many other studies confirm that hunger messes with our choices.

Read the full story in the January 2014 issue of ELLE Singapore.

The story 'Make Smarter Decisions Today' first appeared in ELLE Singapore

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