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Reduce Stress By Up-Leveling Your Decisions

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Our success and happiness are largely determined by the decisions we make. And our stress level is largely determined by how we decide. We each make approximately 35,000 decisions every day. If we never slept, that would be almost 1 decision every 2 seconds. How is that even possible? Well, most of those decisions are routine and not even conscious. They happen in the blink of an eye – just 1/10th of a second. It is enough to stress us out just thinking about it! Add in the stress of making more decisions faster and with greater accuracy and it is no wonder we suffer from almost universal decision fatigue.

The science behind how we make decisions is still relatively new. What we do know is that of those 35,000 decisions, only 20% have meaningful impact on 80% of our life. So not every decision is created equal in its importance. Since different decisions have different impact, it is important to apply different levels of decision-making to both minimize our stress and amplify our success.

There are four levels of decision making. Each one serves a distinct role. When you understand what they are, it is easier to recognize which one is the best approach for a given decision, and if the wrong level is holding you back.


This level represents the majority of our 35,000 decisions. At this level we give little or no conscious thought to our decisions. Instead they are habitual, with low self-awareness. This level is actually not necessarily low risk, but it is based on experience. If your experience and habit is speeding to work, that entails risk of either having an accident or getting a ticket, but since it is your habitual approach, you do not give it a second thought.


The second level of decision making is usually reserved for crisis, or if you are experiencing decision fatigue.  Any of us will tend to revert to this level of thinking as a shortcut, and out of “laziness” to protect limited daily decision energy reserves. This level of decision sometimes referred to as black and white thinking, or “either/or” decision-making. It only sees two options. So, if you are standing on the railroad tracks with a train bearing down on you, you decide whether to stand still or get out of the way. It can seem like that is the situation when you are in a high-stress work environment, or your family is struggling.


The third level of decisions sounds promising, and most of us spend our conscious decision-making time at this level. However, it should come with a warning label. The reason this is dangerous is too much time considering options creates decision fatigue, and overthinking. Both overthinking and decision fatigue create stress, anxiety and depression very rapidly. There are many ways to mitigate the impact of too many options, and we cover that in upcoming blogs. Our decisions at this level tend to be conservative and risk-averse.


Level four decision-making is an exciting place. This is where we recognize that we do not solve the problem at the same level of thinking that created it. We shift our focus from problem and into the infinite possibility of solution. We become creative, curious, highly self-aware, and innovative. At this level high risk tolerance, which is fundamental for a growth mindset. Unstoppable Leadership hangs out at this level of decision-making more than any other. How can we move from Level 3 to Level 4 thinking? The key is self-awareness. To move from consideration to creativity, we must tap into the 90% of our mind that contains intuitive (inner) wisdom. We can do that many ways, but some of the most popular are mindfulness, meditation and games that employ the “intuitive leap” like riddles. In order to learn to trust our intuitive insight, we must practice using it in low-risk situations.

The result of up leveling our decision process is the success and happiness we have been searching for. When we do that, we trade stress for renewed energy and motivation.


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