Have you ever looked back and wondered what you were thinking with some of your decisions? When looking at our past, many fall prey to the old adage that hindsight is 20/20. While there is value in reviewing the past and searching for lessons, it can be a dangerous activity.

Often we categorize decisions as either good or bad, based on the outcome. We fail to consider there could be a spectrum of possible decision qualities. For example, one could consider a snap decision to be of low quality. While a well-researched decision would be considered to be of high quality. A decisions outcome isn’t always a reflection of the quality of the decision. In searching for ways to make better decisions, I have been experimenting with using mental models. A mental model is an explanation of a thought process or how something works in the real world. They shape how we see the world.

Whether we recognize it or not, each of us uses mental models each day. Psychology uses the term Cognitive Distortion to describe the flawed models’ many uses each day. Models like Black-and-White Thinking, Personalization and Catastrophizing are examples of the flawed models used. These flawed models cause individuals to make decisions that are less than optimal. To learn to make better decisions, one must examine the decision-making process. The Fifth Discipline Field book identifies a Ladder of Inference for decision making. The Ladder begins with people taking actions based only on their beliefs. It ends with decisions based on observable data and experiences. Using this ladder would help rank the quality of decisions made. For most people, making decisions begins with taking actions based on their beliefs. For example, I may decide to buy a certain make of car based only on my personal bias towards that manufacturer. This would be a low-quality decision because I didn’t take any other factors into consideration.

On the other hand, high-quality decisions come from several actions. It entails observation, checking our own biases and researching outcomes. When purchasing a car, researching safety ratings, prices and consumer reviews would lead to a higher quality decision.

One can learn and develop the skill of making better decisions. It begins by observing one’s current decision-making process. After observing the outcome—and making a short note about your process—rank the quality of the decision on a scale of one to ten. When scoring, be sure to allow for unknown variables or things outside of your control. Then after scoring a few decisions, you can look back and spot patterns leading to high/low-quality decisions.

Since I have been using mental models to help make my decisions, I have noticed a change in my thinking process. I have moved away from making decisions based only on my beliefs. I have become more aware of my Cognitive Distortions and learned to think without them.

Some of the mental models I have found helpful are: Occam’s Razor which says the solution with the fewest assumptions is the best choice. Social Proof which says we tend to seek safety in numbers and look for social guidance for our behavior. Confirmation Bias which says what we choose to believe is what we see. Tendency To Help says we feel the need to act even when our actions aren’t needed or the knowledge to be useful. Hindsight Bias which says once we know the outcome, we tend to believe we knew “it” all along.

It can be challenging in today’s environment to take time to learn to think differently. It takes time, effort and a willingness to admit you might be wrong. But, if you take the time, the results will be immediate and life-changing.