4 Steps to Great Decisions

4 Steps to Great Decisions

Great decisions can be hard to come by. Especially when you’ve already made some poor ones and their momentum is beginning to snowball. There are all kinds of strategies for making great decisions. Benjamin Franklin came up with a popular one.

“My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro and over the other Con. Then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different time occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them altogether in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out five; and thus proceeding, I find where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly.”

We don’t live in the 1700’s anymore. We need a better strategy than this. It’s simply too… simple for the way we live now. So There a few new strategies with 4 steps instead of 2. And those are what we’re going to cover here.

Why Franklin comes second today

I like Franklin’s process, but it makes an assumption that’s becoming less and less certain in todays world: that you’ve already found the two best alternatives to choose between. Today’s world is characterized by a near paralyzing array of options and alternatives. Too much info, not enough time. Too much knowledge, too little wisdom. Today we need a strategy for coming up with the two best alternatives before we can even apply Franklin’s strategy.

For Strategy – Military First

Whether it’s a personal strength or flaw, reimagining the wheel is something I do a lot of. So in my book, Operating System Nature: The Birth of The Tradition, I reimagined a wheel I didn’t even know existed – the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is the creation of USAF strategist John Boyd, who was also elemental in the success of the F-16 and F-18 Hornet fighter jets.

The loop was a 4 step process for gaining advantage over an adversary by increasing your relative agility through optimizing energy efficiency within the decision making process. The source of the agility is a high degree of bandwidth for information processing that allows rapid situational assessment with a high capacity for effective adaptation. The loop can also be used as a weapon by overwhelming the opponents bandwidth and preventing them from rapid and effective decision making.

In simpler terms, it’s getting into a fight with someone while their pants are down in a bathroom stall and you’ve already got your business handled. They’ll lose every time because their is too much happening at the same time for them to deal with.

The 4 steps: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

All of those words are probably familiar to you in the necessary context except orient, which is the most complicated step within the process. Orienting is how we make meaning of new information. In biology there is a reflex termed the Orienting Reflex or Response.

Orienting responses are reactions to a stimulus through which an individual becomes more sensitive to the stimulus. In humans, the reaction is generally one of inquisition. This is also true for animals. For instance, dogs exhibit a strong orienting response to new sounds by perking up their ears, turning their heads toward the sounds, and tensing their muscles.

Any time a new piece of information or novel experience comes your way you must orient in regard to it. In Ben Franklin’s day the frequency of novelty was almost non existent compared to today. We are bombarded constantly with new information.

So what happens to people who are constantly bombarded with new information? 

One of two things – we become overwhelmed, or habituated.

Habituation to non-relevant information is the healthiest response. This is extremely frustrating to anyone trying to sell you something or keep your attention, and it’s the reason tech companies are constantly exploring ways to trigger the orienting reflex in people. If you can trigger the orienting reflex you’ve gotten the most valuable commodity of the modern era: attention.

In a world here novelty is exponentially increasing, and habituation to novelty is almost keeping pace, attention becomes king. Attention creates opportunities to sell, to promote, to transmit memetic information, or gain status.

How does orienting happen?

The second O, orientation—as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences—is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

Orienting is the collective influence of our past experiences, conditioning and training. Complex, but simple. We can change the way we orient to something i.e. change the meaning we assign to it through training. Franklin’s weighted cost benefit analysis is an example of a change in orienting through analysis – changing the meaning assigned to something by exploring how it harms or helps us.

But Franklin didn’t live in an era of extreme propaganda and misinformation.

Proper orienting first requires accurate observation.

Step 1 – Observation

Accurate observation is absolutely critical to making great decisions. If you make an inaccurate observation the entire process falls apart. This has been a challenge for all of human history. How do I know that? Because it is a major tenet of the philosophy of Yoga and Buddhism.

The Eightfold Path of Buddhism begins with “Right View” – what is real and true?

The first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra begins with the statement:

When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.

We observe through our central nerve systems based upon our prior experiences and the evolution of our ancestors. The process of observation is integrated with the process of interpreting or orienting to the incoming information, there is the raw incoming data, and there is the picture of it created within the brain.

The images we see are fabrications of the brain based on an interpretation of the light waves reflecting off objects and striking the retina. The sounds we hear are interpretations of sound waves vibrating our eardrums. The things we feel are mediated by the sensory nerves embedded in our skin, joints and muscles.

Observational Errors

There was an accident recently where a Tesla Model S hit a parked firetruck:

How is it possible that one of the most advanced driving systems on the planet doesn’t see a freaking fire truck, dead ahead?

The answer is strikingly similar to the human condition in the modern information era. If the Tesla slammed on its brakes every time a plastic bag drifted in front of it on the highway it would be a disaster. Tesla Autopilot has habituation built in so that doesn’t happen. It’s obviously a compromise since it requires the driver still pay attention to the road and maintain the ability to take over the car when something unexpected happens. But it’s progress, and eventually the autopilot technology will observe more accurately.

Seeing Better

Expanding our observational capacities and information filtering ability are absolutely critical skills to develop for better decision making.

How do we see better?

We go back to the OODA Loop strategy. It’s all about energy allocation, and the four steps all interact. The better we are at orienting, and the more bandwidth we have, the better our observations will be.

That starts with perceptual lenses.

The 5 lenses of your Observation System

There are 5 lenses you perceive the world through and they correspond to particular states of neural activity.

  • fight/flight – the lens that perceives the environment as dangerous and something to fight or escape
  • freeze – the lens we use when we’re overwhelmed by inescapable stress
  • social – the lens we use when we feel safe and resourceful
  • intimacy – a blending of the social and freeze lenses – we feel safe with someone and want to slow down and bond
  • play – a blending of the flight/fight and social lenses – we feel safe but also competitive

These five states or lenses are the ways we react through most situations we encounter in life. We should be able to dynamically transition between them as need requires.

Stuck Perspectives

Strategies are effective until they are not. For the OODA Loop strategy to work, agility in perspective is required. The difficulty is that we orient based upon genetics, culture, and previous experience. Said another way, we can start to orient from only one lens or perspective. This is especially true for lenses that have worked well for us or the society we were enculturated within in the past. In particular, those strategies we successfully employed in high stakes scenarios are likely to become default mode strategies.

If you grew up being bullied, whatever orienting perspective brought you through that experience is more likely to be the perspective you bring to a new or stressful situation. If you’ve ever seen combat, had a miserable boss for years, endured poverty, you are more likely to make decisions from the lens you used during those high stakes scenarios.

Our nerve systems learn. This is part of what makes humans so extraordinarily successful as a species. We are constantly learning and or reinforcing OODA Loops while applying the tremendous amount of horsepower in the human brain. Unfortunately making poor decisions has consequences that can linger. And animals, like humans, can get stuck in neurological ruts.

Breaking Out

Getting stuck in neurological ruts has consequences, so animals with the ability find ways to break them. For many animals: ants, sheep, goats, dolphins, jaguars, humans, etc, the solution is often a psychoactive chemical.

So what they’ve discovered is in evolution, every organism from humans, to mammals, to birds, we get stuck in a rut.  We can’t see new solutions to our problems.  But by altering our consciousness, what is happening is we’re increasing the brain’s information processing capacity.  We are increasing pattern recognition, so the linking of closely related ideas, lateral thinking, the linking together of disparate ideas.  It’s getting us out of ruts.  It’s helping us innovate new solutions.

I’m not suggesting we all take psychedelics. There are a tremendous number of ways to break a rut that do not involve taking drugs. You can make your own pattern breaking drugs internally, but you usually need help or at least some specialized knowledge.

Energy Levels Matter

Another consequence of getting stuck in a rut is energetic momentum. Momentum can be a real bummer when it’s got you snowballing in the wrong direction. One poor decision can leave you in a low energy state, which changes the possibilities for perspectives on a situation.

You current level of resources determines if a situation you encounter is a crisis or an opportunity. When you’ve got a great job and a well funded bank account a real estate collapse is an amazing investment opportunity. But when the collapse coincides with your own job loss and the draining of your bank account its a life altering tragedy that can take decades to get back to square one where you started.

This goes back to the OODA Loop. No matter where you’re at in terms of resources, your only option is to make the most effective use of what you have and make decisions that place you in a better position than where you are right now. If you’re currently stuck looking through the wrong lens or perspective, that means breaking the rut and changing things up.

keep the following quote I’m mind whenever you wonder how important energy allocation is.

“… we found that individuals of low- and high-IQ did not differ in the amount of available resources. Rather they differed in the timing with which they allocate them, with high-IQ individuals choosing the most beneficial moment.”

Your nerve system is what gets you into ruts, it’s also what gets you out of them. And there are some ways to do that.

My 4 Step Process

In my book Operating System Nature: The Birth of The Tradition, I outlined a process similar to the OODA Loop. My process is three steps: perception, interpretation, and adaptation. It’s a very similar structure, and I came up with it because I was unaware that the OODA Loop even existed. Though there is a significant difference between my process and the OODA Loop. My process is descriptive of how the communicative interaction between any two actors in the drama of life interact, whereas the OODA loop is specific to human decision making strategy.

The three step process illustrates how central this form is to biology in general. It’s how nature makes decisions relative to adaptation and energy allocation. It’s part of the pathway towards evolutionary advancement. But I have a four step process for human decision making when we’ve been stuck operating in the same stuck perspective, snowballing poor decision into poor decision.

  • Break the rut
  • Perceive
  • Interpret
  • Adapt

How do you break the rut?

There’s actually a surprising number of options here. Historically people have meditated, prayed, gone on pilgrimage, vision quested with social isolation or physical austerity, taken hallucinogens, taken part in trance inducing rituals (dance as one example) used physical practices like yoga or even therianthropic ritual.

But the best practice for breaking neurological ruts based in stuck perspectives may be chiropractic care.

Breaking ruts with chiropractic

What if I told you that the biggest surprise in my patients verbal responses to care since America’s perspective on cannabis started to shift has been how many of them get up and make comments about feeling like they’re high. It’s something I hear at least every couple weeks or so. And after the third or fourth person brought it up I started to investigate what is going on. I knew from my education that the body releases endorphins when a joint “pops” during an adjustment. But I’d never had a patient get up and say they felt like they’d just done some heroin, which is the street drug relative of endorphin. And I don’t “pop” joints in the work I do.

As I investigated I learned that this is actually a researched phenomenon in regards to spinal manipulation.

In subjects receiving OMT, serum levels of AEA obtained after OMT more than doubled the pre-OMT levels. No change was seen in control subjects

AEA is also called anandamide, the compound in cannabis that is known to enhance lateral processing. In other words, the chemical in marijuana that makes it a favorite of artists for its ability to enhance creativity, has increased activity in the body after having your spine worked on, without ever taking a drug or CBD oil supplement. It is helping to trigger the breaking of a neural rut by enhancing the ability of the brain to make connections in novel ways that mean new solutions and possibilities.

Spinal Dysfunction represents a “stuck” perspective and the restoration of healthy spine function creates an energy efficient state of physical and emotional agility where we are able to transitional between lenses and perspectives to accurately perceive our environment relative to our available resources and orient, decide and act upon them in ways that mean our lives get better instead of worse.

In other words, chiropractic care can be a good start to better decision making.

Read Operating System Nature: The Birth of The Traditon by Dr. Peter J. Fox on Amazon

Emily Morter


Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *