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Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath.
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Life is full of big decisions, but hard-to-detect flaws in our thinking often prevent us from making good choices. According to Dan and Chip Heath, we can make better decisions if we follow a process that pushes us to overcome our biases and illogical ways of thinking. In Decisive, they present a decision-making process we can use for big decisions across any area of our lives.

Dan and Chip Heath wrote this book because they noticed there’s ample research on how flawed our decisions are but little...

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Decisive Summary Why We Need a Better Decision-Making Process

When we make decisions, we typically start by identifying and weighing our options. Then, we pick an option and hope for the best. These steps aren’t a problem in themselves. According to the Heaths, the problem is that we passively allow our biases and irrational ways of thinking to influence each step.

Different Approaches to the Study of Decision-Making

The Heath brothers study decision-making by examining how our cognitive flaws impact our choices. How does their approach to demystifying decision-making compare to that of other authors who explore the psychology of decisions?

Some authors focus on the ways culture and society impact individuals’ decision-making. For instance, in The Art of Choosing, social psychologist Sheena Iyengar examines how culture influences the value we place on choice and the choices we make. In The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz studies how the abundance of choice offered in market democracies impacts our decision-making and well-being.


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Decisive Summary The Solution: A Four-Step Process

The Heaths insist that mere awareness of our bad habits isn’t enough to improve our decisions. We need a process that actively resists each habit. In this section, we’ll explore the decision-making process that the Heath brothers offer as a solution to the habits. For each step, we’ll describe its purpose and offer three strategies for implementing it.

(Shortform note: In the book, the authors organize the four steps of their process into a mnemonic called “WRAP.” Each letter in the acronym stands for a step in their process: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, and Prepare to be Wrong. We’ve rephrased each step to clarify the exact goals of each one. However, we’ve maintained the authors’ sequence of steps because each step builds on the one before it.)

The Link Between Social Context and Decision-Making Capacity

The Heath brothers claim that we can improve our...

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Decisive Summary Step 1: Uncover More Options

Because of binary thinking, during the first step of decision-making, we tend to come up with only two options. The Heath brothers argue that we can improve our decisions by coming up with more options. They cite research that suggests considering more than two distinct options facilitates faster, more creative decisions that better suit our needs. Additionally, doing so guarantees that you have at least two backup options. However, the authors warn that having too many options overwhelms you. They suggest that you aim for three to four strong, distinct options.

What’s the Ideal Number of Options for a Decision?

Many researchers and authors investigate how many options are optimal for decision-making. Because Decisive focuses on big decisions, we’ll share several findings from research that examines high-stakes decisions (rather than inconsequential decisions, such as what color tie to wear).

Like the Heath brothers, researchers have observed that having lots of options doesn’t always lead to better, more creative decisions with helpful backup options: There are clear negative consequences of having too many options. For example, when...

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Decisive Summary Step 2: Question Your Viewpoint

After you develop two to four appealing options, it’s time to evaluate them. However, because of confirmation bias, we often ignore crucial information about our options. The Heaths emphasize that while we can’t eliminate our confirmation bias, we can resist its power and make well-informed decisions. In this section, we’ll share several strategies for doing so.

Strategy 1: Seek Out an Opposing Viewpoint

One way to resist your confirmation bias is to hunt for information that contradicts your existing beliefs. The authors claim that according to research, when we consider an opposing viewpoint, we force ourselves to pay attention to high-quality information that we’d otherwise ignore due to confirmation bias.

A technique to accomplish this strategy is to find an expert on the topic of your decision and ask questions that welcome an opposing viewpoint. For example, imagine a high school graduate who must choose among several colleges. One college tops their list because they believe it has a strong art program. They meet with an admissions counselor from that college to learn more. Their confirmation bias tempts them to ask questions that confirm their belief that...

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Decisive Summary Step 3: Put Your Current Emotions Into Perspective

As previously noted, tough decisions heighten our emotions, which compels us to avoid change. Our bias towards the status quo tempts us to choose whichever option minimizes loss and change—even if change is what we most need.

To overcome status quo bias, the authors argue that we shouldn’t disregard the current emotions that drive us to seek comfort in the status quo. Instead, we should put those emotions into perspective by looking outside ourselves and beyond the present. In this section, we’ll share several strategies for doing so.

Mindfulness for Managing Emotions

Research in psychology supports the authors’ claim that we shouldn’t disregard our emotions. In fact, doing so harms both our mental and physical health.

One way to manage, rather than disregard, heightened emotions is to practice a well-known mindfulness technique called RAIN:

  • Recognize: Acknowledge what you’re feeling by naming your emotions.

  • Allow: Let...

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Decisive Summary Step 4: Prepare for Future Outcomes With Humility

After you’ve made a choice, the decision-making process isn’t necessarily over. The authors claim that after you make a decision, you can take action to increase the odds that your decision will succeed.

As previously stated, our hubris makes us overconfident in our predictions for the future, which causes us to poorly prepare for the decision’s outcomes. The authors argue that we can overcome our hubris with humility, and increase the likelihood that our decision will succeed, by:

  • accepting that we can’t predict the future
  • instead, preparing for a range of possible outcomes

In this section, we’ll share several strategies for doing so.

Strategy 1: Make Contingency Plans

The authors share that one way to plan with humility is to prepare for both best-case and worst-case scenarios. By planning for both types of scenarios, we ensure that the worst-case scenario won’t be devastating and that we’ll be more prepared for the success of the best-case scenario.

For example, consider a woman who decides to quit her job and open a food truck. First, she imagines a worst-case scenario and makes a plan for it.

  • Worst-case scenario: An accident totals her...

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Shortform Exercise: Develop Options for an Upcoming Decision

When faced with a big decision, it’s important to push yourself beyond binary thinking by developing more than two viable options.

Think of a big decision that’s on the horizon for you. (This decision might relate to your health, career, relationships and family, upcoming purchases, politics, education, finances, or leisure.) Describe that decision, and explain why it’s important to you.

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Shortform Exercise: Make a Plan for Your Decision-Making Process

The remaining steps of the Heath brothers’ decision-making process (assessing options, choosing one, and preparing for its outcomes) are steps that may take time and involve others. To set you up for success on these steps, let’s plan which strategies you’ll use for each step.

Look over the three to four options you developed in the first exercise. Which option(s) do you prefer, and why do you prefer those options?

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