good and bad

How to Judge Good and Bad Decisions?

“Oftentimes, the most important decisions are the most difficult to make – for, your future, and the future of the generations that come after you, hinges on the outcome of those decisions.”― J.E.B. Spredemann

It may be said that life is a series of decisions. You make these decisions keeping the outcome in mind. Any good outcome is attributed to a good decision and a bad outcome is attributed to a bad one. But in reality, things are not so simple. Decisions are not easy to make, especially those that have a lot riding on them. And the outcome is not entirely in your hands. Since the quality of the decision does not always match the quality of the outcome, it is difficult to define what a good or a bad decision is. Most people would say a good decision is one that leads to a fabulous experience, but they do not see the entire picture.

Why it is Difficult to Evaluate Decision Quality

“I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made in my life because, with every choice I make, I learn something new.”― Siva Kaneswaren

Since there does not exist a perfect correlation between decision and outcome, an accurate prediction of an outcome demands omnipotence. Here are some of the problems we face while evaluating the quality of a decision:

  • We cannot possibly have all the information available to us before making a decision.
  • It may not be possible to determine decision timing because the decrease in the value of outcome due to delay may not be known.
  • Whether a decision is honest and true is hard to say. Lies, misrepresentation of facts and impertinent information can hamper the decision-making process.
  • Simple thinking may lead you to believe that a specific choice leads to a specific outcome. While this may be true for rudimentary decisions, for the complex ones, the number of associated factors influencing the outcomes makes this difficult.

How to Increase the Chances of Making a Good Decision

Unnecessary fear of a bad decision is a major stumbling block to good decisions.” ― Jun Camp

While it is true that it is not always possible to ensure a good outcome, efforts should be made to improve the quality of the decision. Based on research, common mistakes can be avoided when the possible courses of action are compared to one another, rather than evaluating them separately. I think it is also a good idea to thoroughly go through the decision-making process before the outcome has been reached, to reduce outcome bias. To increase the chances of making a good decision, we should evaluate the decision-making process itself rather than backtracking from the outcome.

Past events may sometimes seem more predictable than they were. Hence, it is vital to evaluate the thought making process, but while doing so, we may be influenced by emotions. Whenever a bad outcome occurs, we go back to our decisions and try to judge it based on bias. It is important to learn from others, especially before taking a decision that may alter the course of your life. Take advice from others who have taken similar decisions in the past. Experience is something you can never have enough of. It is also prudent to take into consideration the many variables that could influence the outcome.

What Causes a Bad Decision

“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” ―Mark Twain


We have all made bad decisions in our lives. Or rather, we have made decisions that have led to bad outcomes, and in hindsight, the decisions seemed poor. Whenever you make a bad decision, you think ‘Why did I make this decision?’ or ‘What could I have done differently?’. While it is important to learn from your mistakes, it is a wrong approach to judge every decision based on its outcome. In my opinion, you need to understand the process behind the choices you made. Here are some of the factors that lead to bad choices:

  • Heuristics: One cannot possibly go through every possible scenario before making a decision. To avoid this, our brain relies on shortcuts known as heuristics to arrive at a solution based on trial and error. While this may work at times, it affects our long-term decision-making capabilities.
  • Poor Comparison: Whilst making a decision, often we make bad comparisons without considering other options. For example, if you could save 100 rupees on a 500 rupees item by traveling for 10 minutes more, you would certainly do it. But if I told you that you could save 100 rupees on a 5000 rupees item doing the same, you would think twice about doing it. Here, you are comparing the amount you save to the amount you pay, which might be a faulty comparison.
  • Optimism bias: Most of us believe that bad things only happen to other people and not to us. This belief stems from overconfidence. We tend to ignore information that indicates that the risk of something bad happening is much higher than what we anticipated.


Characteristics of Good and Bad Decisions

“A major life decision is never a choice but rather a realization that the decision has already been made.” ―Doug Cooper

In my experience, people that make good decisions are the ones that are eager to learn, motivated, and always getting involved in discussions regarding the decision making process. In contrast, people making bad decisions usually have little or no interest in the discussions. They often skip meetings and negatively express themselves.

When an entire group is involved in the decision-making process, they are more likely to make good decisions when they are united by team spirit and when their morals are high. In contrast, groups making bad decisions have internal conflicts, ego clashes and all kinds of polarization.

Individuals making great decisions are proactive and do not spend too much time gathering all the information possible and pondering over all the possible outcomes. They arrive at a decision based on swift thinking and evaluation. Whereas, those who make bad decisions procrastinate and do a lot of last-minute work.

Those making good decisions always respect the decisions that they made. Even if the outcome was not fully satisfactory, they live by their decisions. Whereas, it’s a characteristic of people making bad decisions to disregard decisions and not abide by them.

Final Thoughts

Let me end with a true story about a decision that changed the world. In September 1983, Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Union Air Defence forces was working on a night shift when he saw on his computer that five missiles fired by the US were heading towards Russia. He could have reported it immediately which would have led to a nuclear war, but he felt something was not right. He examined the computer and found that it was a malfunction. Thus a decision taken by a single man prevented a nuclear war.