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Decision skills are mental techniques, tools, habits, and dispositions that we can use to manage and improve the quality of our decision making. Decision skills can be taught and improved through practice similarly to how an athlete or artist improves their craft over time through training. Decision skills include probabilistic thinking, recognizing and resisting cognitive biases, and demonstrating self-direction toward improvement of one’s judgment and decision making.
Probabilistic thinking involves consistently making estimations, considering likelihoods, and assessing one's confidence about the information they have regarding the past, present, and future. Probabilistic thinking helps us avoid making unsupported guesses about what could happen and instead make better-reasoned choices.
Cognitive biases are a frequent cause of mistakes in decision making. They often occur as a result of holding onto one's preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information. Cognitive biases undermine accurate perceptions, memory, and critical thinking. Recognizing and resisting cognitive biases is an important decision skill for students to develop to improve their judgment and decisions.
Belief Formation and Updating
“...beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.”- Philip Tetlock, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
Belief formation and updating begins with willingness to change one’s thinking, especially as new information becomes available. It is the deliberate and repeated process of recognizing and evaluating information and applying a fresh perpsective to improve one's understanding and decision making.
A willingness to engage in belief updating includes holding one's beliefs as hypotheses instead of asserting them as rigid facts. Representing one's confidence in a belief with a numeric value (e.g. "I'm 75% confident we'll be able to get to the wedding on time based on when the flight's supposed to land and the typical traffic at that hour.") and noting that it's subject to change is another way to demonstrate this kind of flexible thinking. Perpetual belief updating helps us make judgments and decisions that are better aligned with reality.
Uncertainty is more than just the feeling of being unsure. It is the complex emotional and cognitive response each of us experience to situations involving chance, insufficient information, or inadequate analysis.
Black-and-white thinking is the tendency to jump to a conclusion to resolve uncertainty, which results in judging situations in either/or terms (like good or bad, right or wrong, or 0% vs 100%). Black-and-white thinking is problematic because skillful decision making requires thinking in shades of gray, considering multiple factors, and accepting that decisions can be complex. Probabilistic thinking is the skillful alternative to black-and-white thinking.
Self-awareness is the disciplined recognition of and honest reflection on the way one thinks, feels, and behaves. It is a deliberate effort to incorporate the current context and past experience in order to improve one's understanding of their motivations, goals, and preferences. Self-awareness acknowledges the limitations of our cognitive abilities and emotional control, and is a lifelong pursuit.
In the context of Decision Education, self-direction is the motivation and commitment to continuously develop one's understanding of decision skills, apply them to decisions, and reflect on those applications in order to make better decisions in the future. People who possess self-direction acknowledge their responsibility for learning and improvement.