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Every day is full of many decisions. According to research from the past decade, we make at least 200 decisions every day (Wansink and Sobal, 2007). They happen when we wake up, before we take a break at work or school, and when we get home. These decisions are also made with differing urgency: some must be planned ahead, such as for a relaxing evening with family, and some must be quick decisions, perhaps to enjoy a night out with friends. These decisions consume us 3 to 4 times a day (possibly 5 to 6 if you enjoy snacks). Oh, and I forgot to mention that the aforementioned 200 decisions are just those on food alone.
How many decisions do you think you have to make in a day? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? In the normal working lifestyle of today thousands of potential decisions could lead to some serious stress internally. But, when you add being in graduate school on top of that, you are looking at a decrease in the quality of decisions that you make; this is known as decision fatigue.
When decision fatigue takes hold, we often turn to our support team for advice. This could be our friends, family, or even the family pet to derive clarity from the situation as to what decision you should make. During graduate school you may find that decision fatigue is present most of the time. This could lead to looking for advice on everything from difficult decisions that involve organizing and planning research to simple decisions, like what you should have for dinner. What follows are some tips to consider when you’re caught in this situation.
When decision fatigue takes hold, we often turn to our support team for advice.
When to Take Advice
When it comes to those difficult decisions, there are really only two groups of people that you can rely on: those you care about and those with experience or expertise. One of the hardest skills to learn when growing up or as an adult is to perfect the art of listening. When asking someone who is not close to you for advice, they may be chomping at the bit so eagerly waiting for their turn to speak that they may not hear the details of your situation. In contrast, someone that you care about probably also cares about you enough to take the time to listen carefully, allowing them to understand every little detail of your situation.
Expertise isn’t so difficult to find these days with access to online forums and an increasing number of graduate students in various fields. Or, you could be unlucky enough to run into a sufferer of the Dunning-Kruger Effect (see below) who only perceives that they are experts. However, if there is someone that you know to have had one or more experiences similar to the situation you are in, then it is worth considering what they did when they were in your shoes.
The most optimal person that you should take advice from is someone who cares about you, has had a similar experience, is willing to listen, and leads you to find the decision that you believe is best for you. This person’s concerns are not in validating the decisions that they made in the past but assisting you to make sure that you are confident with the decision that you are about to make.
The most optimal person that you should take advice from is someone who cares about you, has had a similar experience, is willing to listen, and leads you to find the decision that you believe is best for you.
When to Not Take Advice
The Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to when a person believes that they are superior to those who surround them in a skill or discipline, but they lack the competence that is needed to be proficient. Research shows that a considerable number of novices in different academic disciplines are overconfident in their abilities to perform. Dunning & Kruger (1999) state that, “consistently, the confidence with which people make their predictions far exceeds their accuracy rates”. This research could make you wary of taking advice from anyone who considers themselves ‘an expert’.
Figure 1: Dunning-Kruger Effect. Graph from Dunning & Kruger, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (1999)
There really is only one ‘you’. While you may be frustrated with one decision, tired from all of the other decisions, or unsatisfied with the uncertainty that comes with thinking over a decision’s outcomes, you are still the person who knows your goals. If someone isn’t asking for more information about your situation or desired goals, then they may be more interested in sharing their opinion or ideas than helping you.
In the end, the decision is up to you and you are the perfect person to make it. In your unique situation, you are the only one who is qualified with enough information on your background, your goals, and all of the other miscellaneous details that go into the thousands of decisions that we have to make everyday. And if all else fails, ask a stranger. Author and Teacher, Kio Stark’ delivered a TED Talk (2013), “Why You Should Talk To Strangers,” where she explains, “researchers have found that people often feel more comfortable being honest and open about their inner selves with strangers than they do with their friends and their families, that they often feel more understood by a stranger” (Stark, 2016). Which every decision you end up making, make sure it’s the one that represents the person you want to be.
Kruger, J. & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121.
Stark, K. (2016, February). Kio Stark: Why You Should Talk To Strangers [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kio_stark_why_you_should_talk_to_strangers
Wansink, B. & Sobal, J. (2007). Mindless eating: The 200 daily food decisions we overlook. Environment and Behavior, 39(1), 106-123.