Tell Us How to Make It Better

It's Possible to Learn How to Make Better Decisions

June 23, 2022 George Siegal Season 1 Episode 44
Tell Us How to Make It Better
It's Possible to Learn How to Make Better Decisions
Show Notes Transcript

June 28, 2022
44. It's Possible to Learn How to Make Better Decisions

Nika Kabiri has spent over two decades studying how people make decisions in various contexts, from business to politics to relationships. She teaches people how to make better decisions and how to understand how others make decisions.

Here are some important moments with Nika from the podcast: 

At 6:21 What advice do you have for someone who says they are miserable in their current job?

At 10:06 If you make a bad decision in one aspect of your life, does it spill over to the other areas?

At 13:16 Is it important to take emotions out of decision making?

Here are some ways to follow Nika:

Website: www.yournextdecision.com

 Twitter: @nikakabiri

 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikakabiri

 If you enjoyed listening to this podcast, please share it with your friends. Also make sure to like it and subscribe to become a weekly listener. And if you can leave a review that would be great too.

If you have ideas for podcasts or want to share your thoughts on what you’ve listened to, we’d love to hear from you: https://tellushowtomakeitbetter.com/contact

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Nika Kabiri:

A good decision isn't one that has a good outcome necessarily a lot of great decisions end up having bad outcomes and a lot of terrible decisions end up having awesome outcomes. So kind of going back and trying to second guess the decision is is really trying. I, I think it's kind of a way of wanting to exert some more control over your, your situation that, that you really don't have. And hindsight's always 2020. I mean, hindsight bias is a real thing. It's a legit problem.

George Siegal:

I'm George Siegal and this is the Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week, we introduce you to people who are working on real world problems and providing actual solutions. Tell Us How to Make It Better is partnering with The Readiness Lab, the home for podcasts, webinars, and training in the field of emergency and disaster services. Hi everybody. Thank you so much for joining me on this week's Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week on this podcast, I try to introduce you to people who have recognized a problem that exists somewhere in the world and are trying to do something to make it better. Well, today we're gonna be talking about decisions. Do you consider yourself a good decision maker? Do you find, you always make the wrong decisions if you went left or do you think you should have gone right? Well, decisions can be a major part of our lives on a daily basis. And hopefully after today's podcast, making decisions might become a little easier for you. My guest today is Nika Kabiri. She's spent over two decades studying how people make decisions in various contexts, from business to politics, to relationships. She's currently a consultant to businesses like Amazon and Google and other tech companies, as well as individuals wanting to make better choices. Nika has a PhD in sociology from the university of Washington where her academic focus was on choice theory and decision making within constraints. Nika welcome. Thanks for coming on today.

Nika Kabiri:

Thanks for having me.

George Siegal:

No, it's my pleasure. Glad to have you. Now I'd like to start off the podcast first by, by having people get to know you a little bit, because they might not know, might not know much about you. So tell me something about you that most people don't know.

Nika Kabiri:

That's kind of a hard question to answer. I think most people who don't know me well don't know that I used to compete in way Thai kickboxing. Really, and I like to say I'm undefeated, but I've only had two fights and I won both of them, but I think undefeated sounds pretty good.

George Siegal:

That does sound really good. So people wouldn't, people don't wanna mess around with you is the bottom line there.

Nika Kabiri:

I'm not that I'm not that fond of conflict, which is kind of funny. Like I, if I see a fight I would run the other way. Probably.

George Siegal:

Why'd you choose kickboxing?

Nika Kabiri:

There's just something kind of freeing about just letting your arms go, letting your, your legs go that kind of the impact. And it also kind of build a lot of confidence in me that I didn't have before. I, I could see my, I could watch my body develop into this like machine that could do all of these really incredible things. And it's really hard not to feel a sense of incredible accomplishment and confidence from, from that even if, if that confidence comes from, okay, well, I, you know, I won that Kickboxing fight. I know I can, I can make a good omelet. Like it didn't, it could, it could, you know, it's kinda a fungible benefit, so...

George Siegal:

Sure And, and it looks great until somebody kicks you and then I imagine the feeling changes dramatically and then, okay. And if you could do anything you wanted today that this is Nika, just go have fun. What would you choose to do?

Nika Kabiri:

Go have fun. Oh my gosh. Well, Honestly. So I live in central Colorado. I would probably go someplace beautiful, cuz there's so many beautiful places around here. Go for a long drive, go for a hike. My life is super busy. So anything that doesn't feel busy would be a great break.

George Siegal:

Good, good answer. Now when I re was reading about you because a lot of people you know, coaches or mentors, a lot of these, a lot of you folks reach out wanting to be on podcasts. It's a very competitive field I imagine. And so it's confusing. So let's just narrow it down. What is the problem or issue that you say you work on?

Nika Kabiri:

I work on decision making, so that's, it, it spans a bunch of different types of contexts. So I have clients that come to me who are individuals who need help making a decision about a career or decision about where to live or decision about whether to get a divorce. But I also work with businesses that need help trying to understand how consumers make decisions so they can nudge those decisions and also make better decisions themselves. Like, why are we stuck in analysis paralysis or you know, how do we make the right choice as far as which which business to, to buy or whether to launch our own product or things like that. So it's, it's just really comes down to decision making in any kind of context.

George Siegal:

Is part of making a decision, being able to get past second, guessing yourself after you've made the decision? Because I know, first of all, I know a lot of bad decision makers, and then I know people that once they've made a decision agonize over, whether it was the right decision is, is part of what you teach people okay. You make a decision and then you move on?

Nika Kabiri:

Yes. It is kind of a big problem. I think what people forget. I mean, think about just how messy and crazy and complex life is. Like there's so many things that happen we, that we cannot predict and the outcomes of our decisions are influenced by so many variables of nothing to do with us or how good of a decision maker we are. I mean, if COVID, isn't an example of that, I don't know what is, so I think a lot of the coaching that I do around that is just helping people recognize that there are all these different variables at play, a good decision isn't one that has a good outcome necessarily. A lot of great decisions end up having bad outcomes and a lot of terrible decisions end up having awesome outcomes. So kind of going back and trying to second guess the decision is is really trying. I, I think it's kind of a way of wanting to exert some more control over your, your situation that you really don't have, and hindsight's always 2020. I mean, hindsight bias is a real thing. Like it's a legit problem.

George Siegal:

So how would you, could you gimme an example? So I come to you with a problem. Let's say I'm miserable in my job. I just say nothing's, which doesn't apply to me. Cause I, I actually happen to love my job, but, but if that was the problem that I came to you with, where would we go with that?

Nika Kabiri:

Right. So I think a lot of people end up stuck. Well, people end up stuck in their jobs or in their relationships for different reasons. Some are consciously really trying very hard to make decisions, but they just can't seem to make decisions that get them where they wanna go. And then other people don't really know where they wanna go. So depending on the situation but the first, the first thing, I really wanna make sure that my clients understand. That they have a very clear sense of their end game. Like they really understand kind of in a general direction. Like we don't really, we can't really, again, predict that we're gonna definitely end up on that house, in that house, on the beach with that perfect for partner. Right. But you know, we can imagine a general direction and I'm often surprised even still at how often people aren't clear on where they wanna end up or that they either are clear, but they don't really have that vision as they're making the choices in their everyday life. So that's where I would start. Like, what's, what's the ideal vision for you as far as career, but also life because your career fits into your life. That's first.

George Siegal:

What do you think people agonize over more career and, and business decisions or personal decisions? Cause some people get one aspect of their life right. And they completely screw up the other. What, what do you see more often?

Nika Kabiri:

I think it's about 50, 50. But then again, I, there are a lot of people who don't come to me that I don't see. So I don't know if the world at large is, you know, split down the middle, but but I think what's really more interesting is how many career decisions are impacted by relationships or personal choices. Like people wanting a career in another state, but they can't, they can't go because of their, their, their partner. And then they start to think, you know, well maybe this isn't the right partnership for me. And it kind of, we switch gears a little bit or you know, the other way around. So I, I think we, we tend to compartmentalize these things in our decision making and they're often not as compartmentalized as we wanna believe they are.

George Siegal:

So, you know, the next question that I have for you is, is how this problem affects people's lives. You've kind of touched on that, but so we would say indecision is, is what's really affecting, affecting people's lives?

Nika Kabiri:

Indecision does. I think indecision is there's. There's not being able to make a choice. Like you have a, you know, you're facing a decision, you have all these options, the trade offs are complex and there's indecision around that because it's just a difficult decision. And then there's just indecision in the sense that people often decide not to decide. And they just go along with the inertia of life. They get out. College and they think, oh, I guess this looks like a good job. And just because that job's been handed to them, they'll take it. They don't really kind of consciously look at other options and evaluate trade offs. They just go with it. And then they, you know, that leads to another thing and another thing. And, and I think that's a bigger problem than being faced with a choice and, and having a hard time, you know, should I have pizza or should I have a burger? Like. That's an easier kind of problem than not owning your decision making, like just kind of thinking that you're okay, because you've got this flow, like the, you know, like life is a river and it's taking you in its current. You can end up in places you don't wanna be like on the bank of some terrible place. If you don't own it.

George Siegal:

Now, do you see inconsistency or consistency in people like somebody who is in a bad job, does it usually spill over into other aspects of their life? I mean, I've, I've never been a person that's had trouble making decisions. I I've made a lot of bad decisions, but I don't, I don't agonize over 'em and then I don't kick myself over 'em I just, I just keep going. But I know some people, if, if, if you, if you're really bad in one area, Does it spill over to other areas of your life? And if you improve that area, does it carry over to other areas?

Nika Kabiri:

I think it depends on the person, but I have to say not necessarily. And I feel like I'm a perfect example of this. Like I feel like in my career, I've made a ton of really great decisions and I really have very little regrets about the choices I've made. I've kind of exactly where I wanna be doing exactly what I wanna do, my personal, like my friendships. Also no regrets there. But then when it comes to romantic relationships, oh my God, I cannot get it right. Like I just, I just cannot, you know, there's just something about the meaning making that is involved with my personal, romantic relationships, like that I think it I'm very biased in that way. Like I get thrown off and even with all my training, I cannot seem to make solid decisions, but you know, I'm you're, you are where you are and you just have to keep, you're learning and plugging, plugging on, right?

George Siegal:

Yeah. Well, I would think relationships, I mean, you see, what is it just with marriage? What over half end in divorce. Yeah. That, you know, it's not a natural Alliance and any stretch of the imagination. So it certainly is challenging for everybody or for most people. What obstacles do you face when you work with people? Like your goal is to make it better to improve their lives? What, what do you think the blocks are? The obstacles you run into?

Nika Kabiri:

I think one of the major ones is what I mentioned that I find to be my obstacle, which is this kind of phenomenon of meaning making. That's a very human experience that we, we see things or evidence or we experience something. And then we add on top of it. A layer of, okay, well, what does this mean? And we don't always rely on evidence or data or facts in order to draw the conclusion about what that might mean. And I'll give you an example in a minute, but once you, once you embrace a meaning which is basically the brain jumping to conclusions, right? If you just embrace the meeting, it then becomes information. And then you use that information, which is not good information to make your decisions. It's really hard. It's almost like cracking the code or looking past the, looking at the code of the matrix to kind of see that that's happening. But for instance say you are in a career that you don't like. You're not very you know, maybe you're not doing a great job because you don't like it and your manager is kinda making it very clear to you you're not doing a really great job. And you might come to believe that that means that you're a failure or you might come to me believe that means that you're, manager's an a-hole right? Like it could be either way. But depending on which way you wanna go, whatever you decide, that means it suddenly becomes real, it becomes reified. It becomes information. And it's hard to let go of that information. I mean, once you believe, okay, I'm, I'm just a failure. I'm gonna fail. It takes a lot of work to undo that. So that's a big barrier. It's, it's learning that meaning making that the meanings aren't incorrect. They're just irrelevant. You don't have to really, nothing has to actually mean anything for you to make the right decisions to get to the next best place.

George Siegal:

Is it important to take emotions out of it? Because I always, like I tell my kids, if you, when you're upset, that's not always the best time to make a decision. You, you wanna think about it. You wanna calm down, you wanna cool off. That sometimes those fast decisions made out of passion don't always end up being the best ones.

Nika Kabiri:

That's a great question. And that's good advice. I think, I think and it kind of ties in, you know, when people say, you know, always listen to your gut, your instincts are always right. Oftentimes you're it's. It's your emotion, that's talking to you and not necessarily instinct. And if you were to cool off a different gut would kind of emerge and tell you to do something else. Right? So and this is what psychologists call like hot states and cold states. And we kind of forget when we're emotional, what it's like to not be and vice versa. But my advice on that is generally to pay attention to your feelings. Don't ignore them, but manage them before you make the choice. And instead of letting the choice be the thing that's managing them. I think a lot of times we make decisions in order to get to an end game. That's a feeling we . Try to choose our way to feeling better. And that never really works out. Emotions are so elusive that, yeah, it's just not the right way to go.

George Siegal:

What is imposter syndrome?

Nika Kabiri:

I have issues with imposter syndrome, so I, I have to, I have to be heavy. I apparently read my latest newsletter. It's the sense that no matter how qualified you might be to do something or how competent you might be or whatever the evidence in the past has, has provided you. As far as your competence, you still feel like you are not able to you're not competent enough or cap capable enough to perform or, you know, a role or task or do whatever it is you set out to do. You're lesser than the role than, than and it's kind of, it, it could be a bias in a way. I think, I think what I, my issue with it is is that it's it's a syndrome that you know, that I have, like, it makes it the focus of it when we think about imposter syndrome is like you have imposter syndrome, you need to work on that. You're really awesome. And you have to believe that. And I think a lot of times we experience imposter syndrome, not because we feel a certain way about ourselves because a situation is one of uncertainty that we aren't familiar with, what we have to do. We don't know what success looks like. And often in wor in the workplace, we aren't really supported as much as we should be. We're not given a vision of what success looks like. We're not given feedback that's constructive that tells us okay yes, that's, that's on the right track or that's not. So we're kind of clouded in this like confusion about what success is, and that's kind of an automatic fallback. It's like the meaning making that I was telling you about. Like, we, we suddenly put a meaning, a layer of meaning on top of it that says, well, then I must be a fraud. I a fraud. I feel like I don't belong here when perhaps you're just stretched past your comfort zone and maybe that's okay. And maybe the problem is that you don't have enough information.

George Siegal:

Wouldn't, wouldn't some of that be having confidence. A lot of, you know, with imposter syndrome, it seems like a lot of it is, is confidence in feeling like you're worthy of being there. So wouldn't people maybe feel that if they're starting a new job, when something is new and then once they get their legs under 'em and they realize I can do this doesn't that? Quite often go away?

Nika Kabiri:

Right? Because the uncertainty has gone away because the uncertainty is gone. I mean, uncertainty is such a trigger when we don't know what to expect, or we don't know whats going on. We don't have enough information. We kind of revert to these biased behaviors and we use mental shortcuts and, and one of those is just this belief that we aren't capable or competent when really we don't have the right information to know. You know, whether we're on the right track or how to do what we need to do.

George Siegal:

Are there things that people can do that will help them make better decisions? Yeah. If they're just thinking, you know, I'm a crummy decision maker. How do I, I need to be better at this?

Nika Kabiri:

Yeah. I think the first thing to really pay attention to are your wellness habits. There's research that points to the relationship between poor sleep, for instance, and impulsive behavior. So if you are, even if you're trying your best to be rational, trying your best to make the best decisions, if you're going on very little sleep or poor quality sleep you're just not gonna be at that at that place mentally to, to be able to evaluate things in a thoughtful, rational way, as well as if you were getting good sleep. Same with eating like nutrition is really important. And also I think oftentimes a lot of us make decisions hungry. I mean, there's some wisdom behind, you know, don't, don't get into an argument when you're hungry, because you're not really, you know, because you just cannot, you're impulsive. Your behavior is gonna change. Your decisions are gonna change. So that to me is a very important first step. Just take care of yourself. And I think a lot of the rest will be easy if you don't have those basic physiological needs met, then we, you can work all day long, I'm being rational and it's just gonna be way harder. So that's, that's the number one thing.

George Siegal:

And don't go to the supermarket if you're hungry.

Nika Kabiri:

That's right. You just buy the, the dumbest stuff. You just, cuz you're not making good decisions.

George Siegal:

The hunger affects your decisions. Now, one of the things that you had had asked me, so you wanna talk about your website. And, and I was looking at your website and I definitely wanna talk about that. But as I was reading about you, it sounded like when you were in your early twenties, you were dealing with a lot of stuff that probably had something to do with how you ended up where you are now, talk about what you were experiencing and how you turned that around?

Nika Kabiri:

Yeah. So in my early twenties, I went through a spell of serious depression, lot of anxiety, I was having panic attacks. And I was suicidal to just be blunt about it. It was kind of a part of like my everyday life that it was something I thought about. And and. I reached a point where I realized either I was going to, I was really just fighting for my life and I started to get therapy, but it, that didn't help like therapy. Wasn't helping me psychiatrist put me on meds. Wasn't really helping me. And And the thing that helped me was that I just happened fortunately to go back to grad school and study sociology and learn about, I mean, meaning making, that's just sort of where that's where my journey started, where I started to learn about all of these beliefs that I had about myself or about other people in the world that were just false. Not false, but they were meanings were kind of given to me or taught to me by my surroundings, by people who were jumping to conclusions themselves by using they were using biases and heuristics. And so I kind of had this understanding of the world that I thought was real, had been reified. And when I started reading about so the social construction of reality and what. How we kind of create these understandings that may or may not be true. It just blew my mind and it kind of opened everything up. And that sort of started the journey toward, you know, what is good information? How do you get the right information? And that's what research is about, right. And graduate school, you learn how to do really Research in a very rigorous way, systematic way, rational way. And I just sort of applied those methods to my everyday life. Like trying to understand what reality was, and also understanding that some things aren't knowable and you have to be uncomfortable with uncertainty sometimes. And then I went on to study rational choice theory, and it was really in all of that, that I started to see this like real life application, like everything I learned in school I just applied to my own life and realized that I wasn't in a good place because I had made all these decisions that kept getting me stuck in these bad places, bad decisions. And once I could make better decisions, I just chose my way out of it. And it took a long time for my feelings to catch up for my it took a little while for the anxiety and all that to kind of dissipate, but I was on the right track and it honestly saved me. And that's really why I'm doing. What I'm doing now. Like I really, I think there's an answer here that could help a lot of people who don't find help in other solutions.

George Siegal:

So tell me about the website. When people go to the website, what are they gonna find? They're first gonna reach that, that bio about you and, and, and what you've overcome, but what other kind of things are going on on there?

Nika Kabiri:

Right. So I have an advice blog. So people from time to time will email me questions about challenges they have in their lives or decisions they have to make. And I have, I respond, I give them advice on on the website using decision science as my guide, I have a, a set of guides. I think there are two or three up there. Right? I think two up there right now, one on how to convince. Or how to communicate with people who believe in misinformation and how to, I don't know, change their minds if it's possible. And the other is how to deal with decision fatigue, which is a bigger deal than I think a lot of us think like we do suffer from decision fatigue and it makes our decisions really bad. So some guides that will help. And if you subscribe, I send a weekly letter to my subscribers just about my life or about people. I know. Random stuff, all tied back to decision science, to help everyone who reads them hopefully make better decisions.

George Siegal:

And the website is the web address is?

Nika Kabiri:

Your next decision.com.

George Siegal:

Okay, great. Now, what advice would you have for people who maybe your entrepreneurial or they recognize a problem in the world and they wanna make it better. But they're not doing anything, you know, maybe they just complain about it. Maybe they sit around doing nothing about it. What would you tell people to get them moving.

Nika Kabiri:

Yeah. Well, I think first of all, I would make sure the idea is a good one, because a lot of entrepreneurs that I've worked, and it's scary how quickly one can fall in love with their own ideas. I mean, it's, it's just kind of a psychological phenomenon. We come up with something, we create this thing and then we, we feel so in love with it. And I think sometimes that gets people stuck in and of itself because they they feel like there's this great idea and they are worried or fearful that others won't also see it. I think gathering information is really the first, the most important step. And detaching yourself from your idea, really actually I'll backtrack. That's the most important step. Ideas kind of come and go, you'll have a million of them and every single one, isn't gonna be a, you know, an excellent idea. So just make sure that you detach yourself from the idea that's floating around, that you happen to grab out of the air and then just get as much information that you can from about that idea. Like. What is the size of the market for that idea? Is there a good product market fit? Is it solve a real problem that people have or is it just something cool that you think you could build? I think that's where a lot of entrepreneurs, they, they, they're late to the game in that they don't gather the right information. They start building, they start creating, they start looking for investors before they really even know if it's a viable idea. And I think once you start doing that information gathering, you're not making a choice. You're not really doing anything. You're just doing research, but it gets you closer to action because more information makes action more possible.

George Siegal:

Good, good advice. I mean, you know, I think a lot of people do have ideas and you know, I'm actually more critical of my ideas. I always try. Ah, that's terrible. That's not a good idea. And then, then I go a little further with it, but I can see how a lot of people just think they have the next great thing. And that, that would have to be frustrating.

Nika Kabiri:

Yeah, and their mom loves it. So, you know.

George Siegal:

Yeah. And social media now is the great equalizer because people blast their ideas out there and share 'em with everybody.

Nika Kabiri:

It's, you know, it's funny cuz social media it's it's, it's a poor form of feedback, but we take it so seriously. Like it's all it is. It's constant feedback. Like you post something and either people like it or they don't like it or they criticize it and, and you're constantly being told how quality your, your thoughts are, how, but, but it's not objective feedback. It's, it's not rational feedback. And and so oftentimes we take irrational subjective feedback as truth and reify that as information I highly do recommend against using that kind of method. I think rigorous market research, good old fashioned market research is more on is, is less biased than, than that.

George Siegal:

Yeah, absolutely. I think your own little circle can be very misleading in, in, in evaluating either validating you or invalidating. One way or the other. It's probably not doing you a lot of good.

Nika Kabiri:

No, no.

George Siegal:

So what's the best ways for people to get in touch with you?

Nika Kabiri:

You can follow me on Twitter at Nika Kabiri. But you can also just go to your next decision.com and follow me on Twitter there as well. That's where you'll get the latest updates and just subscribe to my website. There's also an some information on my website regarding how to reach out to me. If you wanna ask me a question for the advice page or set up an appointment for a consult it's all at yournextdecision.com. It's not gonna be too hard to find.

George Siegal:

No LinkedIn or TikTok or Instagram.

Nika Kabiri:

Oh, I, yeah, LinkedIn, I have shied away from ins. I mean, Decision making doesn't lend itself to a lot of great images. I dunno how to make, I, I had an idea of going around and taking pictures of other people's bad decisions, but I just, I don't know. I think that would be so no, not on Instagram, nothing. It's Twitter and LinkedIn, but you can find those links on my website.

George Siegal:

Absolutely. Well, Nika, thank you so much for for coming on today. Thank you for your time. And I'll encourage everybody to in the show notes, all this information will be there for people to get in touch with you.

Nika Kabiri:

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

George Siegal:

Thank you for joining me on today's Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast and thanks to my guest Nika Kabiri. If you are interested in becoming a better decision maker, all the information to reach Nika is in the show notes. For this episode. I encourage you to leave a review, become a regular follower of the podcast. There's also a contact form on there. If you have any questions or things you want to see in an upcoming podcast, I'd certainly welcome hearing from you. Thanks again for listening. See you next time.