Decisive: How To Make Better Decisions In Life And Work


What tough decisions are you facing right now in your career change? How are you going to make them? Decisive shows how our decision-making processes are often deeply flawed and offers a powerful new approach to making big choices. Natasha tell us what she thought of of the book (hint: she loved it) and shares the key lessons she learned from it.

How do you make big decisions? Do you list the pros and cons? Go with your gut instincts? Ask your friends and family for their advice? Do you even know how you go about making decisions?

Career change is a series of tough decisions. And not only are they tough decisions to make, their potential consequences affect every corner of our lives. So when a book popped up on my radar that offered a simple, sound process for making better decisions, I figured it was probably worth checking out.

And boy, was I right.

Brothers Dan and Chip Heath believe that when it comes to decision-making, humanity has a pretty shocking track record:

“An American Bar Association survey found that 44% of lawyers would recommend that a young person not pursue a career in law. People don’t save enough for retirement, and when they do save, they consistently erode their own stock portfolios by buying high and selling low. Young people start relationships with people who are bad for them. The elderly wonder why they didn’t take more time to smell the roses when they were younger.”

Why are we often so bad at making decisions? And is there a method for doing it well?

Decisive answers these two core questions in clear, simple, and memorable terms.

First, the Heath brothers lay out the “four villains of decision-making”

1. Narrow framing (defining and limiting our choices too narrowly; seeing decisions in binary terms)

2. Confirmation bias (developing a quick, subconscious belief about something and then automatically seeking out information that supports that belief)

3. Short-term emotion (a loss of objectivity due to fear, elation, or agonising)

4. Overconfidence (thinking we know more than we really do about how the future will unfold)

Decisive takes us through these four ideas to show how they infiltrate every decision we make (and wow, do they get in the way!), leaving us powerless and unable to navigate big decisions with clarity and strength. Worst of all, they often get in the way without us even knowing about them, which leaves us scratching our heads in puzzlement when things don't work out well.

We’re then introduced to the strategies to defeat each villain, and given powerful tools within each strategy to open up our capacity to decide, and find solutions that previously didn’t seem available. 

Even better, these strategies are pulled together into a process (the WRAP process), which can be brought to any decision you need to make to ensure you’re doing what’s right for you.

One of the things I loved most about this book was how much attention the Heaths have paid to making what you’ve learned stick. There’s a huge amount of information packed into Decisive, but the Heath brothers manage to pull it all together in a way that bypasses information-overload and leaves you with a great understanding of everything they present. The book is split into easily-digestible chapters, peppered with brilliant examples and some hilarious moments of self-recognition. 

They close each chapter with a one-page summary of what you’ve learned, and build on each discovery so that nothing passes you by. At the end of the book they provide examples of decisions you might have to make, and take you through the process to show how it can be used in a variety of different scenarios. For those of us who are fascinated by this kind of subject, they provide further reading and worksheets, but the core messages of Decisive are more than enough to make decision-making both easier and more effective for anyone who picks up the book.

Decisive is easy-to-read, easy to digest, and packed chock-full of powerful ideas, examples and methods to ensure you never make decisions in the same way again. I loved every second of this read, and will be coming back to it again and again.

Top Takeaways

  1. Widen your options: Whenever you find yourself using “whether or not” thinking (whether or not to quit my job, whether or not to break up with my partner, whether or not to explore this new opportunity), you’re in the danger zone.

    “Any time you’re tempted to think ‘Should I do this OR that?’ instead, ask yourself, “Is there a way I can do this AND that?’ It’s surprisingly frequent that it’s feasible to do both things.”
  2. Reality-test your assumptions: “This is what’s slightly terrifying about the confirmation bias: When we want something to be true, we will spotlight the things that support it, and then, when we draw conclusions from those spotlighted assumptions, we’ll congratulate ourselves on a reasoned decision. Oops.”

    Find ways to try and prove yourself wrong, and do everything in your power to find out what the reality of your situation is. Talk to people, try things out in small, low-risk ways (the Heath brothers call this ‘Ooching’), and play your own devil’s advocate.
  3. Attain distance before deciding: Avoid getting lost in short-term emotional attachment. Use the 10/10/10 test. How will you feel about this decision in 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months? How about 10 years? 
  4. Prepare to be wrong: “A study showed that when doctors reckoned themselves ‘completely certain’ about a diagnosis, they were wrong 40% of the time.”

    Part of our problem is that we spend much of our time of autopilot during our decision-making processes. Set up ‘tripwires’ to knock yourself out of autopilot and force yourself to reassess your situation on a regular basis. “Think of the way the low-fuel light in your car lights up, grabbing your attention.” These could be deadlines, budget limits, or even giving the feeling that ‘something’s not right’ a name (pilots call these moments ‘leemers’), so you can recognise it and follow a process to check it out.