A 4-Step Process for Making Better Decisions

Human beings are notoriously bad at making decisions. We seem to struggle with this in both our personal and professional lives.

Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

For example:

  • Forty-one percent of first marriages end in divorce.
  • Forty-four percent of lawyers would not recommend a career in law to young people.
  • Eighty-three percent of corporate mergers and acquisitions fail to create any value for shareholders.

According to bestselling authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear that our brains are flawed instruments.” Whether we rely on complex analysis or gut reactions, the results are about the same.

Unfortunately, merely being aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem, any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see. The real question is: How can we do better?

That’s why the Heath brothers wrote their new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. I spent this last weekend reading it.

First, we have to understand the problem. The authors point out the “four villains” when it comes to making decisions:

  1. We have too narrow of focus. We are guilty of “spotlight thinking.” We focus on the obvious and visible. We miss important facts outside our immediate view.
  2. We fall into confirmation bias. We develop a quick belief about something and then seek out information that confirms that belief.
  3. We get caught in short-term emotion. We are too emotionally connected to the decision and struggle with being appropriately detached.
  4. We are guilty of overconfidence. We assume that we know more than we actually do know and jump to conclusions, thinking we can accurately predict the future.

The great value of the book is that it lays out a decision-making process that can be used in any situation. It is designed to counteract the influence of the four villains and consists of four steps:

  1. Widen your options.
  2. Reality-test your assumptions.
  3. Attain distance before deciding.
  4. Prepare to be wrong.

The authors refer to this as the WRAP Process from the first letter of each step. By the way, these four steps are sequential—you do them in order. And the more you employ this process, the better you get at it. With enough practice, it becomes second-nature.

In typical Heath brothers style, the book is filled with wonderful and memorable (dare I say “sticky”?) anecdotes that illustrate every principle. The book offers fresh strategies and fresh tools for making better choices.

The first thing I am going to do now that I have read Decisive is have everyone on my team read it. I can’t imagine anything that could impact the quality of our lives and business more than making better decisions.

I gave away 100 copies of Decisive. To qualify, my readers had to comment below. You can find the list of winners here.

Question: What appeals to you about this book and why do you want a copy? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Steve

    I find that some decision I’ve made I later regretted while other decisions I’ve made came too slow that opportunity was missed. I’d like to read the book in hopes that I could be more discerning about the ways to avoid both ditches.

  • Misty Hymel

    I am in the process of making some pretty big decisions. I need this book!

  • http://lauriewallin.com/ Laurie Wallin

    With 2 book contracts to fulfill and 2 kids with severe special needs at home, I can’t afford to make bad decisions about my time investments. Sounds like this book would give me some tools to decide strategically what’s best for our family.

  • Deb Nelson

    Thanks for highlighting this book – look forward to digging into it!

  • http://twitter.com/jaysmaniac lance hardy

    Having been guilty of some bad decisions and in recovery process, this book sounds very helpful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nick.coby Nick Coby

    Decisions …. Probably one of my weakest areas. Especially when it comes to my personal life.

  • http://twitter.com/irenesconcierge Irene’s Concierge

    I just finished reading Made to Stick and I’m getting into a new sole entrepreneurship business, the book will help me make better choices

  • John Alexander

    Every book I have read from these guys has been gold! I am a leader of a church and am continually learning how to refine my leadership and decision making skills!

  • Charles Windham

    Well, I am indecisive and am told it takes me a long time to make a decision. It helps me to follow a proven plan of steps. Thank you.

  • Justin C

    As as pastoral intern training for ministry, I know that a key to leadership success is making good decisions. Any resource that can help me on this front is something I’d like to get my hands on. Thanks for having this giveaway!

  • http://twitter.com/Pwr2Persuade Sarah Saunders

    I’d love to have a copy of the Heath brothers’ new book for several reasons. #1: I’m a huge fan of their work already (Made to Stick is still one of my all-time favorite marketing books); #2: I’m intrigued that they offer a new approach to decision-making that can be used in any situation (gotta get me some of that!); and #3: I’m dying to see what “sticky anecdotes” they use to drive points home in their book…they’re always so good at that.

  • Frederic Gray

    Making decisions is the single greatest thing I have ever done to progress or digress. I have made some great ones and some horrible ones. I am obsessed with the decision-making process and what we as people can do to improve it.

  • ReignNLove

    Always looking for books that help the women I serve make better choices, get closer to God & improve life skills. This sounds like a winner!

  • http://twitter.com/hanskohlmeyer Hans Kohlmeyer

    Better decision making is why we learn and educate ourselves, why we are paid, why we are curious, why we are successful, why we are likeable and social.
    It is why we are human. With this premise we should do whatever necessary to improve this skill. The WRAP process described in the book ‘Decisive’ is a superb way of enhancing your decision making capability. A no-brainer, get the book!

  • http://twitter.com/StevenPotratz Steven Potratz

    Decision making – ah how it plagues all of us. As a division leader I make hundreds of decisions every day but can always use help making them more effectively. I’d love to evaluate having my whole team read this as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dkbarker David Barker

    I feel the need to “widen my options” as you say. Whether it’s looking at work or personal life, I tend to think that I’m good at one thing and then only work at that. I need to step back and see other areas I could branch out and improve in.

  • http://twitter.com/selenealexia Selene Alexia

    This book appealed to me because I, like so many others, struggle with decision making, and am not sure why. While reading this review, i got particularly drawn by the last of the four points, namely how you can jump to conclusions without actually looking at all the information objectively, and how that leads to many wrong choices, so I want a copy to learn some tools that would help me over come this.

  • Nazmi Berisha

    I think this book will bee helpful for me .

  • TSWinnett

    I love the authors. Decision making is a skill many leaders would say is one of their strengths. In actuality, many of them make very poor decisions. It would be interesting to read what the authors believe are the common mistakes and how to correct them

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathan.eddings.73 Nathan Eddings

    I continue to learn that making decisions on the fly most of the time is not a good decision. Yes I need this book and a lot of other people I know would agree.

  • http://ansonsexton.com/ Anson Sexton

    I have to make a lot of decisions for my family, my career, and the ministry that I lead. I think this book could be a valuable asset to innovate the process I work thru on a daily basis for making wise choices. I hope I win a copy :)

  • Gustavo

    Where we are in life today is a product of our decisions. Our decisions shape our destiny, so it is important to make good decisions, and also to not avoid making the tough ones. So when I look at my life against the blueprint of what I think my life should look like at this point, it is clear they do not match. Root cause: I need to make better decisions. This is a tricky topic given that at the moment of decision, hardly anyone recognizes they are making one that may turn out to be less than optimal.

  • Michelle

    the first point of recognizing a narrow view would be enough for me to explore but the rest are icing on the cake. I’d love to be of a think outside the box kind of person. I know I can factor the things I see and things that should happen in those instances… And I loved Made to Stick so… Decisive is a great decision! ;)

  • http://www.empoweringthe80percent.com/ Ellory Wells

    I’d love a copy of the book! I read a lot about personal development and leadership and often post my reading list/recommendations on http://www.empoweringthe80percent.com/EmpoweredU.

    I’d love to have a copy of “Decisive” on my list and to learn form it’s lessons.

  • Matt Jury

    I would like to make decisions without constantly second guessing myself.

  • Bob Condly

    In graduate school, I studied the 4-step model of cognitional operations proposed by Jesuit theologian and philosopher Bernard Lonergan. I’m curious how the material presented in the Heaths’ new book will supplement or challenge what Lonergan wrote. I’ve used Lonergan’s approach in my ministries at church and seminary, and my suspicion is that this book will be a valuable complement.

  • Sean McCabe

    I am a big fan of the Heath Brother’s books. I think this one will be another slam dunk and hope to win a copy to read!

  • http://twitter.com/DKTornstrom David Tornstrom

    We make decisions continually throughout each day, and while many are automatic or of minor consequence, if we don’t have a solid decision making process in place we can find ourselves far down the wrong path, whether it be in finances, health or relationships. If this book has a tested process for making better decisions, then I definitely want to read it!

  • honestinquirer

    I would like a copy of this book, because I have been avidly reading all I can on leadership, due to my new assignment to develop discipleship and small groups at Chapel by the Sea in Anchorage. I tend to over-analyze decisions and hesitate. I want to be more bold, and in fact God has been developing more boldness in me in several areas the past 20 months.

    However, the advice given in this book looks like it will help me be much more intelligent in decision-making. Along with a better sense of confidence, I can see my future decision-making to be much more effective.

    Thank you for the opportunity.

  • Jonathan Dixon

    What appeals to me about this book?

    I believe being decisive is the most critical step in creating a balanced life. In my quest to creating this balance, I believe “Decisive” will help nurture that process and help close the gap to my personal success in life (and work).

    Why do I want a copy?

    First, thank you for the opportunity. Secondly, because I want to do better as a man, a friend, a brother, a son and someday as a father. I want to make decisive decisions that will make a positive change for my family legacy and those I come in contact with.

  • larry

    sounds like good sound advice.

  • Clark Williams

    I’ve read their previous books and like their approach and message. This book is timely as I’ve entered a new level in my consultancy ..trying to make the leap from freelance to entrepreneur.

  • Uday Nayak

    Thank you Michael for the wonderful thoughts Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.
    Never really imagined so much goes into decision making and how we can improve it. Your perspective on the subject is always much appreciated.

  • Mark de Roo

    Without question, we’re in the “Super Information Age” and while the exponential growth of information can be beneficial, it is equally overwhelming–and when we’re overwhelmed, we literally don’t think straight. The end result? Poor decisions. Some assistance in navigating all the information that bombards us will be helpful. I’m really anxious to read the book!

  • Ray Abide

    I read Made to Stick and if this book can provide the same quality of advice on making better decisions, it is a “must read” for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dianneinthailand Dianne Doell

    Greetings … I’m not sure if there is still time to submit this, but sure would like to receive a copy of the book. I am a Christian missionary serving with am international church and ministry among the poor in Pattaya Thailand. We are developing a training and resource center to help made disciples and facilitate life change among the thousands from all around the world that come here. If you look up Pattaya on-line you will see that it is one of the darkest cities in the world and a hub of sex trafficking. We are believing to develop a great resource center of Christian and secular material that will be used to help bring change to all who come. You material. and all you recommend, is great for either Christian or secular reading … and full of practical wisdom. Would love to have a copy of the book for our center here …

    Dianne Doell http://www.mercypattaya.com vifcpattaya.com vifcbanchang.com

  • Michael Eastman

    Why I would like a copy of the book “Decisive.” As a pastor I am faced with a lot of difficult decisions. I just finished reading “Thinking for a Change” by John Maxwell. In it he talked about “big picture thinking.” While reading your article I noticed the comment on “spotlight thinking.” I am trying to move from spotlight to big picture thinking and I desire to take my team along with me on the journey! I believe “Decisive” will help me be a better leader and enable me to help our team broaden our vision.

  • Richard G

    Working in a team of highly motivated people, passionate about working with ladies caught in the sex trade in Thailand, but with a bias towards dreaming instead of decision-making, this book could be a real help in seeing some of our dreams become reality!

  • http://twitter.com/anilforbiz Anil Saxena

    Chip and Dan Heath have done it again. Their book Switch about organizational change was so incisive that I recommend it to anyone involved in change. Decisive is another great book that breaks down a complex topic into simple, easy to understand nuggets of knowledge. Awesome.

  • Joshua

    As a young aspiring leader I would love to be more confident in making better decisions.

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  • Jeremy McCommons

    This post really resonates with me. If I hadn’t widened my options after realizing the career I had chosen for myself was not what I wanted, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Although I consider myself a very focused person, I know that flexibility and being able to work with every circumstance that comes along is a key to success and to long-term fulfillment. Thanks for the great post!


  • http://twitter.com/DannyTanner1T28 Danny Tanner

    Michael, I was curious if you found a good way to debrief the book with your team once you were finished reading it. Thanks for any ideas that you can pass along to me. Enjoy your day!

  • Adewale Adeku

    I want to learn what to look into before making decisions in life that their consequences are too severe. From what I heard from others, Chip and Dan are the best..