Everyone makes decisions, but very few people put in the time and effort to learn from their decisions. A decision journal is a practical and strategic way to learn from your decisions.
Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize for his research around bias and decisions, said one of the best ways to improve your decision-making is to keep a decision journal:
The idea is whenever you’re making a consequential decision…just take a moment to think, write down what you expect to happen, why you expect it to happen and then actually, and this is optional, but probably a great idea, is write down how you feel about the situation, both physically and even emotionally…The key to doing this is that it prevents something called hindsight bias, which is no matter what happens in the world, we tend to look back on our decision-making process, and we tilt it in a way that looks more favorable to us.
With time, a decision journal helps you understand your tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses so you can make smarter decisions.
What is a Decision Journal?
A decision journal is a way to track, record, and reflect on how you think about decisions. It’s a way to monitor and improve the quality of your decisions.
Short-term, a decision journal offers you a process to apply to your thinking. A journal helps you slow down and work through each component of a decision (i.e., emotions and context). Once the results are in, you can look through your notes for short-term feedback. Was your decision smart but stricken by bad luck? Or was it not smart but boosted by good luck?
Long-term, a journal helps you see patterns in how you think about decisions. Do you always tend to take bigger risks when you’re excited? Or do you act overly conservative when you’ve recently made an unrelated mistake? You’ll notice tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. Learning these patterns helps you improve your future decisions.
What Does a Useful Decision Journal Look Like?
A good template should help you move deliberately through your thought process. It should also help you be clear and concise so you can easily review your notes and understand what you were thinking and why. It’s both a template for thinking and a template for reflection. Here’s ours:
Three Tips to Keep in Mind as You Journal
As you fill out your journal, keep these three tips in mind.
- Write clearly and simply. You want to be able to look back through your journal and understand what you were thinking and why. Don’t be vague, beat around the bush, or write out long, stream-of-conscious paragraphs. Follow the template above to help you stay on track.
- Save your journal for big decisions only. It takes time and effort to journal. Journaling every little decision will wear you out and offer bad returns on your time invested. Reserve journaling for your big decisions because these are your biggest learning opportunities. Journaling about a big decision will also help alleviate the inevitable stress that comes with it.
- Spend time reviewing. Reviewing past decisions maximizes the value you get out of your journal. Review old decisions, even the painful ones, because that’s where the most learning happens. Pay attention to patterns in your thoughts, feelings, and situation.
Build Your Decision Record and Learn along the Way
Having a template for each tough decision you face will build your confidence and help reduce your stress. As your record of mistakes and successes grows, so will your decision-making skills. At the same time, your growing record will become more useful and informative for future decisions.