The One Thing That Most Impacts Your Ability to Make a Decision (According to Science)

Kaitlin Vogel
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When it comes to decision making, I admit I’m the type of person who can never make up my mind. Even when it’s something as simple as ordering coffee, I spend way too much time weighing my options.

I love iced coffee, but it’s getting colder out. Should I take a chance and go for the pumpkin spice latte? That girl in front of me just got one and it looks amazing.

Of course, after all that I decide on the same thing nine times out of 10: grande non-fat latte.

You can imagine if that’s how complicated I am with coffee, the way my brain analyzes deeper issues such as my career and relationships, can become a real problem.

Needless to say, the constant back and forth and always wondering, “Did I do the right thing?” is exhausting.

The question of how to make a decision is one that I’ve spent many years trying to figure out. As I’m sure we all have.
 

 
 

How to Make a Decision, According to Science

The good news is that scientists are looking deeper into this topic. They are exploring how to make a decision to find the very key to effective decision making.

We’ve all heard this advice when we’re stressed about how to make a decision: “Sleep on it.” And as it turns out, there is some truth to this age-old advice.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, sleep really does help when facing tough decisions.
 

We’ve all heard this advice when we’re stressed about how to make a decision: “Sleep on it.”

 
While previous research showed that sleep helps problem solving (leading to better cognitive performance when awake), it was unclear if some kind of conscious thought process was necessary prior to sleep or during sleep . . .

As a result, University of Bristol researchers sought to understand whether a brief period of sleep could enable us to process unconscious information and how this would impact behavior.
 
 

Sleep and Decision Making: The Study

For this study, researchers used a “masked prime task.” They concealed information by showing it briefly so it couldn’t be processed on a conscious level.

The information that was hidden, on the other hand, was processed at an unconscious level in the brain. So, researchers measured the degree to which it impacted their reaction to consciously processed information.
 

Sleep really does help when facing tough decisions.

 
Participants performed two tasks: the masked prime task and a control task where they responded when they saw a red or blue square on a screen. After performing these tasks, they either stayed awake or took a 90-minute nap prior to performing the tasks again.

Researchers measured the electrical activity in the brain before and after the nap. Here’s what Science Daily reported about the findings:

“While it is already known that the process of acquiring knowledge and information recall, memory, is strengthened during sleep, this study suggests that information acquired during wakefulness may potentially be processed in some deeper, qualitative way during sleep.”
 

 
 

So, How to Make That Tough Decision? Definitely Sleep On It!

In other words, sleeping does in fact provide a fresh perspective. It’s comforting to know that our brains are at work even while we’re asleep.

And it’s definitely a comfort to hear that the solution to issues with decision making can be as simple as taking a nap.

“The findings are remarkable in that they can occur in the absence of initial intentional, conscious awareness, by processing of implicitly presented cues beneath participants’ conscious awareness,” said Dr. Liz Coulthard, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol Medical School.

So, when in doubt about how to make a decision, just get some shut-eye!

If you struggle to fall asleep, these 15 Bedtime Mantras Will Help You Fall Asleep Faster

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Kaitlin Vogel

Kaitlin has worked as a professional writer and editor in New York City for over seven years. Beyond her professional experience in journalism and psychology, it is her keen interest in personal development that has driven every one of her career decisions thus far. She's committed to creating content that matters.

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