Don’t Sweat The Big Stuff

The usual advice given to those who want to get more done is to prioritise. As Richard Carlson said, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Give yourself time to look at the big decisions and do some serious thinking on them. The theory is that you’ll make better decisions that way. Maybe so: but you may want to consider what is coming out of research on thinking. There’s quite a trend there.

Back in 1995, Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago was awarded the Nobel Economics Prize for his view that people make economic choices based on all the information available to them and learn from their mistakes. By 2002, Daniel Kahneman shared the same Prize for his work on integrating psychological research into economic science. He demonstrated that human decisions may systematically depart from those predicted by standard economic theory. People take decisions they feel good about and not necessarily those that are logical. Recently we’ve seen Brian Knutson introducing the topic of neurofinance which moves the decision-making mechanism even farther. He suggests that it’s the brain’s pleasure centres that get involved in financial decisions, just as they do in matters of sex and getting high.

If you thought that was pretty far out, then you’ll find some Dutch research even harder to believe. Ap Dijksterhuis, the lead researcher, suggests that the best decisions particularly for complex problems are made by the subconscious. He calls it the Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect. So for really tough problems, it’s best to sleep on it and you’ll find you’re making better decisions. How could decision-making require any less energy than that?

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