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DECISION-MAKING

When Should You Leave Big Decisions Up to Fate?

A recent study took a look at the relationship between tough decisions and the belief in fate.
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Recent research from Duke University suggests that when decision makers are ambivalent about a set of tough choices, they tend to be comfortable pinning the outcome on fate.  

The researchers defined fate as "the belief that whatever happens was supposed to happen, and that outcomes are ultimately predetermined." They conducted their study by asking 189 participants about their presidential candidate choices during the 2012 election. Those respondents who said they were stumped over their decision were also more likely to indicate that they believed in fate.

If you're thinking that such a philosophy is a little reckless, especially in a business setting, consider the upside. Difficult decisions are stressful and aversive, especially when they're important and need to be made quickly. However, "deferring responsibly for complex issues and attributing events to external forces, such as governments or other powerful forces, can be psychologically palliative and can reduce stress," the authors wrote, citing other researchers in their paper. 

But despite the fact that a belief in fate might result in better mental health, the authors conceded that the mindset could short-circuit a good decision-making process. Nobel laureate andpsychologist Daniel Kahneman has written about the pitfalls of mental shortcuts in his bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In the book, Kahneman describes two different kinds of mental processing: System 1, which is quick and based on intuition, and System 2, which is slower and based on reasoning. The mental shortcut of invoking fate falls under System 1.

In an interview with Inc. Kahneman said that, while you don't have control over all outcomes, that's no reason to rely on System 1 for tough decisions. 

"Not all mistakes are avoidable," he said. "But there are some mistakes that if you brought System 2 to bear, if you slow yourself down, you could avoid."

 

IMAGE: fjordaan / Flickr.com
Last updated: Mar 26, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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