Leaders all over the world, in almost every organisation, are often guilty of making bad decisions. Sometimes, these bad decisions happen daily. For example, poor hiring decisions, deciding to launch a product that ends up failing in the market, and throwing more resources onto flailing projects are examples of such decisions.

One reason for the abundance of bad decision making is that most managers have never received formal training in how to make effective decisions. The good news is there is a great deal of scientific research into how to make better decisions that remains largely unknown and underused.

Here are four golden rules for better decision making backed by science.

  1. Don’t make big decisions after lunch.

    Research into the topic of decision fatigue has revealed that the more decisions a person makes over the course of a day, the worse the quality of those decisions become.

    Human beings start every day with a set amount of cognitive resources, and every single decision made, big or small, eats away at these resources. As such, leaders need to schedule their most important decisions for first thing in the morning, or at least before lunch, in order to optimise decision-making quality.

  2. Dim the lights

    Emotion is one of the biggest enemies of effective decision making. Strong emotions can lead to us making decisions that are overly influenced by what feels important right now, but may have poorer outcomes over the longer term.

    To help reduce the impact of emotion when making decisions, turn down the lights a bit. Research from the University of Toronto Scarborough has shown that emotions are felt more intensely in brightly lit environments so, instead, dim the lights and by doing so, reduce the impact of intense emotions that may be clouding your decision making.

  3. Don’t make decisions with people who are just like you

    People often default to making decisions, especially work-related ones, with others who they feel are similar to themselves. The familiarity heuristic suggests that we have a preference for the familiar, and often tend to hang out with and work with people who are just like themselves.

    When it comes to decision making, scientists have found that we need to deliberately introduce diversity to arrive at better decisions. Research from Tufts University found that racially diverse groups perform significantly better on decision-making tasks compared with racially homogenous groups.

    For example, in one study, mock juries consisting of both white and black people (compared with all-white juries) had broader deliberations, made fewer factual errors, and recalled more facts about the case that were incorporated into the final decision.

  4. Practise mindfulness for 15 minutes

    Many bad decisions can be related to the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, whereby the more a person is invested in something, the more psychologically difficult it is to abandon it.

    Research has shown that engaging in 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation increases resistance to the sunk cost fallacy – that is, it makes it easier to stay focused on the present as opposed to dwelling on the past.

These are just a few of the traps that prevent people from making good decisions. So the next time a big decision presents itself, be deliberate about using strategies to maximise decision-making effectiveness.