Decision Making Under Pressure

Moments can change futures. Encountering chaos, we seek ways to structure it, make sense of it, or avoid it. Knowing what’s really important is key.

Not every decision we are faced with has a clear choice, a good or bad one. Some decisions require us to choose the ‘least bad’ or ‘most good’, sometimes on the spot.

Overheard in a park - Parent to child. Growing up.

Decisions are simple when we’re faced with a good or bad option. They’re easy when we have plenty of time, have experienced similar situations and have others to confirm we’re heading in the right direction. Making quick, confident decisions when under pressure, with competing interests, chaotic circumstances or conflict between personal values and expected behaviour is less straight-forward. Neuroscience has some interesting insights into our brain and how it functions, it’s limitations and capacities and how we might direct our brains efforts and energies to make decisions that create futures we can be proud of.

Overwhelm, juggling tasks, distractions, roadblocks, drama, uncertainty, unrealistic expectations, fatigue, poor health, isolation and more! It’s no wonder that people in positions of high visibility or responsibility get to a point where they’ve had enough. In response to this they might use survival strategies of ‘putting on a mask’ becoming someone else to cope, they keep grinding away, doing longer hours to get through. Or turn to anything that will allow them to escape, even if momentarily, in the hope of peace, space and relief.

Our beautiful brains haven’t quite evolved at the rate and pace society has and as the speed of change, expectation and ambiguity continues we need some clear tools and techniques to stand in our own power. Strategies to trust and rely on that will guide us in significant moments.

We’ve identified what gets in the way of clear, confident thinking. Strategies to ensure, in moments, decisions are made that are good for us, good for those around us and also good for the greater good can be distilled into two themes - Space and Focus.

Confident Decision Making - Strategies for Clearing the Space and Re-gaining Focus

Great Decision Making requires us to De-clutter our minds so we can then focus on what’s really important.

  1. Clarity of Distance. Being immersed in details prevents our brains from seeing patterns and noticing our own biases that can inhibit processing information quickly and accurately. Take a break, move out of the room, take a walk, move around, draw a picture, listen to a song. Give yourself permission to disrupt the influx of detail, get some distance, even for 3 minutes.

  2. Go to the Top. Take a deep breath and go big picture. When this is over how do you want to have behaved, what are you trying to achieve in your work or life generally. What decisions do you want to have made, what are you trying to achieve. What are you trying to achieve? What’s the goal here?

  3. Acknowledge Your Anatomy. Our brains, the limbic system in particular, cares most about minimising danger and maximising reward. It get’s aroused by emotional cues perceived as threats or dangers and shuts down our thinking brain. Remind yourself that there is no sabre-tooth tiger or woolly mammoth on top of you

  4. Move Yourself and Others Out of Drama. Choose to focus yourself and others on what you’re moving towards, what you do want as an outcome and not what you want to avoid or move away from. Moving towards language is powerful. We often speak of what we don’t want, cant happen, shouldn’t occur. When we reposition ourselves and others to what we do want, what can happen we create space from drama.

  5. Sounding Board. There’s no denying that an independent sounding board who is not immersed in detail, over-loaded by drama or experiencing distractions, roadblocks and unrealistic expectations is going to be able to support clear, rational thinking that aligns with your values and core beliefs and ultimately empowers confident decision making.

When decision making has gone wrong in the heat of the moment, when fatigued or vulnerable we have choices we can make about how to redeem the situation. While there are likely to be consequences for poor choices, there will also be opportunities to empower ourselves through our mistakes. Being kind to oursleves and giving ourselves permission to be flawed is a start. Then acknowledging as soon as possible the following;
1. we made a poor choice
3. the impact that decision or behaviour had on others
4. what I’m going to do from here is…(take some time to reflect and get back to you tomorrow, etc)

Identify a decision that needs to be made. Clarify what you do want as an outcome, the reason you want the outcome. Stay out of details and away from drama (others and your own!) and list three possible solutions. Make the choice. Move on.

Books aligned with this topic
the decision book - 50 models for strategic thinking
your brain at work - strategies for overcoming distractions and regaining focus