Are there Good and Bad Decisions?

Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

In short:

  1. The actions you take after making the decision are more important than the decision itself. (More in this in Episode 12)
  2. It’s possible for things to go wrong even when you make a good choice and take all the ‘right’ actions. Not everything is in your control. (More on this in episode 13)
  3. Information is going to come to light after you’ve made the decision. The hindsight bias will make you think you could have predicted the outcome using the information you had available at the time of making the decision. This is a fallacy. Don’t evaluate the quality of your decisions based on the outcomes. Evaluate the quality of your decisions based on the process you undertook to make them.
  4. Encountering problems isn’t an indicator of a poor choice.
  5. Big decisions are not big decisions. They are a series of tiny decisions made over a period of time.


In detail:

1. Actions are more important than the decision

Our biggest decisions often push us out of our comfort zones and this can make us fearful so we end up failing to take the necessary actions to make the decision work. We then mistakenly think we’ve made a poor choice when in fact we’ve taken poor quality actions. In Episode 12, we’ll explore how our decisions – and the actions we take afterwards – are affected when primed by fear.

2. Beware the Hindsight Bias

Bad decisions and bad outcomes are not the same thing. The hindsight bias causes us to re-evaluate the information we had available at the time of making the decision and re-shape it using our knowledge of the outcome. We mistakenly think information was “obvious” and that we failed to interpret it correctly. This is rarely the case. At the time of making the decision, multiple outcomes were possible and we had to make the choice on this basis. One an outcome has emerged, there is no longer any doubt. These were not the conditions under which you made the choice.

It is better to evaluate the quality of your decision based on the quality of the process you followed than it is to evaluate based on the outcome.

3. Problems are inevitable

Even when things go perfectly, you’re going to encounter problems. In fact they’re often the first sign that things are going exactly as they should. Even winning the lottery has its downsides! When weighing up your options, consider the problems you’ll face, even if everything goes perfectly.

Use a “yes if” approach when considering the problems. “Yes, I can do that if I do…” This is more powerful than “No, because”, which ultimately shuts off your options without considering whether or not there’s a way you could make them work.

4. Big decisions are really a series of small decisions

This one fits in quite well with 1. Many of us agonise over the big decisions we have to make without realising how many dozens or even hundreds of smaller decisions go into the situation that led to the big decision – or how many more decisions will be made afterwards, determining the outcome of the decision.

For example, Matthew is 29 and hates his office job. He wants to work somewhere funky like a gaming company or Google but he has never studied IT and isn’t up to speed with latest technologies. He goes to work every day, comes home every evening, has dinner and possibly goes out with friends. Every day, without necessarily realising it, he is making tiny decisions to keep himself in the same place. Once he starts thinking about all the tiny decisions he makes each day about how he spends his time, he is in a position to make decisions that will eventually lead him to a place where he has a big decision to make about where he wants to work. The opportunity to make the big decision is unlikely to present itself until he changes his everyday decisions to start moving in that direction.

Related Podcasts:

Where do beliefs come from?

How to challenge a belief

Books mentioned in this week’s podcast:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Start now, Get Perfect Later by Rob Moore



Where do beliefs come from?

Take a moment to answer any one of these questions:

  1. What is success?
  2. What does it take to be a good person?
  3. What is the most important thing family members can do for each other?

The only way to answer these questions is to tap into your beliefs.

Our beliefs drive every aspect of our lives – every thought, every action, every aspiration. Is something worth doing? It depends what you believe? Will this project work out? I depends what you believe? Should you ask that person out? … You get the picture.

Most of us get that beliefs feature heavily in our lives but few of us stop to think about where they came from or why we don’t all believe the same things.

Even more interesting than the fact that we don’t all answer the same way is that most of us would struggle to answer these 3 questions without significant time and thought because we’re not always consciously aware of the beliefs driving our choices – and most of us don’t realise that some of our beliefs are not even our own.

What are beliefs?

Arguably, this is a philosophical question and we could debate its answer for hours. For the purposes of using our understanding to shape our lives in positive ways, I like to think of beliefs as rules of thumb. They are the rules we live by and they help us decide whether things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and whether we should ‘advance’ or ‘retreat’ (not in a fight / flight sort of way, more in a “will something good or bad happen if I do this?” sort of way)

If you listened to Episode 4 (We know what to do so why don’t we do it?), you’ll know about the Rider and the Elephant. It’s worth noting that, for the most part, beliefs are the domain of the elephant.

Three sources of beliefs

Again, if we argued this philosophically or delved deeper into the theory of beliefs and where they come from, we would uncover more than 3 sources of beliefs but for the purposes of making informed choices about which beliefs to cherish and which to change or chuck, these two sources are a good place to start.

  1. Advertising / Society / Culture
  2. People in your life – parents, teachers, friends
  3. Yourself – your experiences and your interpretation of those experiences

Advertising / Society / Culture

These are the beliefs that are ‘sold’ to us. They come from the media, government, religion etc. Once we internalise these beliefs we come to accept them as our own.

People in our lives

We take on beliefs shared with us by significant people in our lives. For example, a belief I internalised from childhood was “never give anyone anything bad to say about you”. To this day, I struggle to have the courage to stand out because my instinct suggests I’ll draw negative attention – something I should retreat from. Every time I post a blog, upload a podcast or update social media, I have a little flash of fear as I push against that deep rooted belief that I’m going to accidentally give someone a reason to criticise.


Our experiences provide information about what works and what doesn’t. They provide the blueprints for future decisions. BUT. As I discussed in Episode 3, our experiences and our memories of those experiences are not the same and our beliefs are shaped by the remembering self. For this reason, it’s easy for our beliefs to feel like they’re supported with iron clad proof when in actual fact, they can be massively skewed by our interpretation of our experiences.

Why does it matter?

Not all of our beliefs serve us well. Some hold us back, some make us unhappy, some stop us from noticing the opportunities to do things differently.

Where this is the case, it’s worth examining our beliefs more closely. Beliefs are not facts and should not be treated as such.

Where your beliefs serve you well, help you make choices that allow you to improve your life and the lives of others, it’s worth leaving them in place. When they’re doing the opposite, it’s worth challenging them and working out where your beliefs came from is the first step in this process.

In next week’s episode, I’ll explore how to challenge beliefs.