Decision Making and Performance

Ever wonder why really talented kids you knew growing up turned out to not live up to their potential?  Or worse yet, ended up living a life you wouldn't wish on anyone?  We see this in all walks of life; people with high IQ's, very talented under utilizing those gifts.  We also see the other side; a very ordinary person, average intelligence, not particularly outstanding at anything doing great things, building a successful business, making an impact on the world. 

The New England Patriot's quarterback, Tom Brady, is a 3 time Super Bowl champion, two time MVP, and has won 5 AFC Championships.  Tom was the 199th player drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft.  Now, certainly he was talented but clearly there were people who were considered more talented drafted ahead of him and yet he's considered one of the most successful quarterbacks ever.  As you might imagine, every player at the NFL level is strong and fast.  What separates the good from the great??  Ever wonder what that is?

What you can know is that in any area of life, performance is a function of three things; talent, skill and decision making.  Talents are things we were born with, always good at and can never remember learning; like music, athletic ability or math aptitude.  Skills are things we develop over our life time usually through practice and hours repetition.  Decision making is about choices we make and particularly our choices under pressure. 

Which of these do you think has the biggest impact on performance?

It's decision making.  Of the three, decision making has twice the impact on performance than talent and skill COMBINED.  It's not that talent and skill don't matter.  It's that they don't matter as much as decision making and unlike our IQ (which we can't improve), we can with focus, practice and awareness improve our decision making

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, noted neuroscientist from UCLA and co-author of "The Neuroscience of Leadership" talks about by applying what he calls "attention density" we can establish new patterns or ways of responding.  Improving our decision making requires two things; paying attention to how we're feeling or our emotions and being clear on our values.

When we get emotionally charged, our brain literally shuts off our ability to think logically and we make poorer choices.  This occurs because our brains are wired to perceive and avoid danger.  If our brain perceives a threat real or imagined, it doesn't want us analyzing the situation.  It wants us to either stand and fight or run like hell; that's our fight or flight mechanism.  We are hard wired to be emotional first and logical second.  If the emotions we're feeling are strong enough, they cause a very quick reflex response. 


They want us to respond very quickly and are usually wrong.  Ever said or heard someone say, "I was so angry I couldn't think straight."?  That in fact may have been true.  Any high energy emotion (like fear, anger, frustration, euphoria or excitement) impairs the logical, thinking part of our brain.  We simply can't access our logic and all we have to go on is the emotion.  When that happens, our decision making is impaired and we typically make poorer choices.

The key to improving decision making is going from being emotionally reflexive to becoming emotionally reflective.  If we can catch ourselves getting emotional and calm ourselves down, we make better choices.  Top performers in any walk of life condition themselves to be very self aware so they know when they're getting emotional and know how to calm themselves. 

Getting emotional is part of the human condition.  It's what we do with that emotion that becomes optional.  While that may seem simple, it's not easy.  I'll cover more about how to do that in my next post.

Chuck Wachendorfer

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