By Lauren F. Friedman, published on July 3, 2012 - last reviewed on June 14, 2013
We spend a significant chunk of our lives trying to make up our minds. Small college or large college? Organic or not organic? Boxers or briefs? We like to think we're masters of deliberation, but supposedly fail-safe decision-making techniques (e.g., ask a close confidante) may backfire, while counterintuitive tricks (think in another language!) can help us reach wiser conclusions.
Two heads are not always better than one. Making up your mind collaboratively with a friend or spouse might seem like the best way to consider more perspectives, but the opposite is true: Joint decision-making (in groups of two) makes people more likely to reject outside information, finds a recent study in Psychological Science. Individuals tend to consider input from others more carefully than pairs do, leading to better decision-making overall.
Do you find yourself making decisions based on emotion instead of logic? Try thinking in a non-native tongue, which researchers suggest might facilitate emotional distance. In a recent Psychological Science study, when participants had to assess risks—e.g., keep one dollar now or flip a coin to earn $1.50—they made smarter choices when the problem was presented in a language in which they were proficient but not fluent.
Stop staring at the 43 varieties of peanut butter: It doesn't matter that much which one you choose. When a decision feels difficult, we often mistakenly perceive it as important, report researchers from the University of Florida and the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. Before letting a trivial decision paralyze you, assess the potential impact of your conclusion.
When we make a poor decision, we often invent convincing justifications after the fact, leading us to think we've chosen wisely. "Humans are masters of self-deception," write Zoe Chance and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School. "They make excuses for their behavior—even to themselves." To avoid misplaced confidence, try revisiting a problem without thinking of your initial decision as inevitable.