How to make a good decision

There is growing interest in protecting emotional energy. A strong, rested, and well fed brain will return a reasoned solution to complex problem better than one which is stressed. 

The body (through the brain) will tell us when we are tired, consumed too much alcohol or drugs, and eaten badly. The brain, being the ultimate supervisor, has no objective outsider to let it know when its functioning poorly. By its nature it controls the rest of the body and so if it lacks insight, there is no other controller to temper it. We may know when we are mentally exhausted, but there is no controller to help us understand the ramifications.

Hannah Crafter from Deloitte, writes that diversity of thought (DoT) is highly energy intensive and its mismanagement can result in erroneous decisions, or should I say decisions which keep the status quo rather than taking a situation forward. The greater the diversity in arguments and ideas the greater the energy that is consumed.

Timing is important

Reviewing works from colleague Juliet Bourke, Shai Danziger and even comments from Barack Obama, Crafter notes that decisions can be compromised when cognitive energy is depleted. She reported that decisions made in times of stress or physical imbalance favour the status quo.   Danziger and colleagues reviewed 1,112 parole court rulings and found that 64.2% of prisoners were likely to have their parole petitions rejected unless the case was listed first in the day, first after morning tea, or first after lunch. Given that judges pride themselves on objectivity these results came as a shock.

When the brain is tired it acts to conserve energy, and this means it reinforces what is known (status quo) rather than expending energy on exploring ideas.

Strategies to create mental space

For leaders, cognitive depletion has severe consequences. Decisions are more liking to revert to status quo, relationships strained and tempers frayed.  If decisions revert to status quo or detract from relationship connection, then the firm’s future is restrained. Too much restraint opens space for a competitor to fill.

  • Clear out the clutter

The greater the number of decisions the faster the energy is depleted.   President Barack Obama manages his energy load by elimination. Minor decisions are removed, such as what to wear:  he limits his suits to grey and blue.

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinise yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia” says Mr Obama.

  • Keep on strategy

It is often said that a good strategy is essential to success. In fact this is a fallacy. It is keeping on strategy (“strategy implementation”) that is important. Knowing priorities and what to say “No” to limits the number of complex decisions that have to be made.  Simple visuals and one page plans outlining what is in, and out, and who does what, reduce efforts spent in non value adding activities. “No” is a word much maligned yet very valuable, especially here.

  • Build Habits

I recall passengers praising a flight attendant on her actions when a plane crashed on landing. The wounded flight attendant calmly helped passengers to safety. Later when asked how she did it, she replied that her training had made the activity habitual and so she had mental space to pay attention to the frightened passengers.

  • Trust 

Often employees are forced to deal with ‘fires’ caused by lack of accountability of others (translating into project delays, quality issues and such like) and find themselves exhausted by it all. Result: poor or no decision making. This rarely occurs in a culture that builds trust. A culture built on trust gets things done, properly.

  • Incorporate Fun

“What soap it to the body, laughter is to the soul”.  Yiddish proverb

Laughter produces endorphins – the body’s feel good chemicals. It relaxes and builds connections and returns objectivity into the situation.

Used in times of stress such as exams or difficult meetings, humour allows the brain some breathing space to look at a situation with detachment, returning a feeling of empowerment.  It reduces anxiety levels, builds patience, and simply feels nice.

  • Use the advantage to manage growth

Your clients are subject to depletion just as you are and you can take advantage of this in 2 ways:

  1. Become a trusted adviser and take the performance worry from your clients;
  2. Attend to the sales cycle when you and your client are replete.


It has been stated that success comes not from making the right decision, but from making the decision right.  But, this statement requires a decision to start … status quo is not a decision.

My challenge to you:  What actions will you take to increase the cognitive energy levels in your firm?


Berk, R.A., and Nanda. J., (2006) A randomised trial of humour effects on test anxiety and test performance; downloaded 31st May 2016

Bishop, J., (2015) Why trust? 

Bishop, J., (2016) Are you a trusted adviser?

Crafter, H., (2016)  Running on empty? The corrosive effects of cognitive depletion on performance; downloaded 31st May 2016

Lewis, M., (2012) Obama’s way Vanity Fair, October 2012; downloaded 31st May 2016.

Waytz, A., (2016) The limits of empathy; downloaded 31st May 2016

Jennifer is a strategy implementation coach who helps leaders turn their strategies into results.

She assists executives and business owners to achieve goals such as improved profit, productivity, leadership skills, business value. Her services are Business and Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation, Strategic Planning, and advising on Board Governance.

 To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.