How to Make Decisions on the Fly


None of us always have time to sit down and puzzle things out. Sometimes you have to make decisions without the luxury of time. It’s seems like the odds are stacked against us when we’re under pressure, but there are a few things we can do to increase our odds.

Be prepared. Have you been in a business meeting and sat in awe as discussions seem to reach an impasse and then after some deft deliberations the person chairing the meeting reaches a consensus? Or perhaps watched a sporting event where a team or player is facing defeat and the end is nigh? Then suddenly they pull out the great winning shot, score that goal, or make that play that turns the tables? You might chalk that up to the skill and quick thinking of that particular competitor and you may be right, or more-likely, the team or athlete knew what to do long before that high-pressure moment. Their coach probably planned out a tactic or two for exactly that situation. That preparation was practiced until they were second nature. So when the time came, they could shut out the crowd and the stress and simply stick with the plan.

None of us know exactly what decisions you’ll be faced with throughout life. But we can prepare as best as possible for what to do in a variety of situations. At work, stay in tune with what your organisation has coming down the line and the pros and cons of each. Learn valuable skills that will come in handy in case of an emergency. Many people only take a first aid course after having struggled to help when a medical challenge has confronted them. Practice the skills that are important in your life so that if you’re suddenly faced with a big decision, you won’t have to think about it much; your training will just kick in automatically.

Go with your gut. Intuitions, or gut feelings, are sudden, strong judgments whose origin we can't easily explain. Although they seem to emerge from an obscure inner force, they actually begin with a perception of something; a facial expression, a tone of voice, a visual inconsistency so fleeting you're not even aware you noticed.

The best explanation psychologists offer is that intuition (gut feeling) is a mental matching game. The brain takes in a situation, does a very quick search of its files, and then finds its best match among the years of memories and knowledge. Based on that analogy, you ascribe meaning to the situation in front of you.

Not long ago people thought feelings that had little to do with rational decision making, or that got in the way of it. Now that position has reversed. We understand emotions as practical action programs that work to solve a problem, often before we’re conscious of it. These processes are at work continually, in doctors, soldiers, manager or parents, all of us - to be precise.

So trust your gut. But make sure it’s an informed gut. It also been well documented that the most accurate hunches come to people with the most experience and training.

So - Be prepared - and trust your gut.