By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
The thing is ...most people who consistently make bad decisions actually believe that they are making good ones. They persist in this belief until the very nanosecond when disaster strikes, be it in the form of a tsunami of bills come due, a petition for divorce from a spouse fed up for too long, or a pink slip from an employer.
Now, before anyone gets their back up, I am not saying that in all cases all of the bad things that can happen to you are caused by bad decision-making. They're not. Most of the lousy things that happen to us happen despite us doing everything we can.
But what I am saying is that, if you want to move forward at a faster rate than you are doing right now, the only thing you can change which is almost entirely within your control is your own decision-making process.
You, and you alone, are the CEO of your decisions. And as the CEO, you should use "best practices" to improve your ability to make decisions.
We have collected the 5 best ways to improve decision-making, based on medical research.
Exercise Regularly to Boost the Clarity of Your Thinking
Exercise directly affects your cognitive abilities. Exercise triggers increased levels of dopamine and serotonin. A 2013 study from Dr. Candace Hogan of Stanford University examined the effects on 144 participants of a single bout of exercise. The participants ranged in age from 19 to 93 and were randomly assigned to either complete 15 minutes at a moderate pace on a stationary bicycle or to complete a 15 mental test in which they ranked certain images.
After just 15 minutes of exercise, the participants showed increased "high arousal positive affect", meaning they were activated excited and enthusiastic, emotional states which improve your ability top stay alert and pay sustained attention .
Exercise has both an immediate and a long term positive effect on your ability to think clearly and problem solve. To date, 43 studies have linked regular or single-bouts of exercise with increased ability to problem solve. For example, a 2010 study from the University of Georgia found that exercise boosts your ability to think faster.
The type of exercise you do is up to you. But the exercise should elevate your heart rate. Walking for at least 30 minutes a day, climbing stairs and practicing yoga all help to improve your cognitive function.
If You are a Woman, Time Important Decisions for Low Estrogen Times of the Month.
Really? This sounds a lot like the type of Neanderthal-like thinking I've spent a lifetime fighting against. But here it is from a scientific study on the role of estrogen in decision-making. In 2011, Dr. Emily Jacobs and Dr. Mark Esposito published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience called " Estrogen Shapes Dopamine-Dependent Cognitive Processes: Implications for Women's Health".
The study of young women found that the levels of estradiol in the body impacts on working memory and corticol dopamine, the hormone that elevates mood. Working memory affects a number of complex cognitive functions such as "fluid intelligence" and problem solving.
Dopamine interacts with estrogen is a complex way. The relationship is not as straightforward as more estrogen, less dopamine and therefore less working memory. Instead, it appears that too much dopamine is just as harmful to your working memory as too little. There is a "sweet spot" so to speak, somewhere in the middle, where the right amount of dopamine signals the optimal functioning of your pre-frontal cortex and which houses your working memory.
Feeling down in the dumps is one indication that your dopamine levels are too low.
Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Boost Brain Power
Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked in several studies with improvements in cognitive ability.
A review of all existing studies on omega-3's ability to affect cognition was completed in 2016 by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The study noted that, during middle age, most people consume relatively low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The study found that, based on the results of all existing studies, raising the levels of omega-3 fatty acids can improve your ability to think clearly. Specifically, this finding suggests that members of the military can benefit from increased levels of omega-3 fatty acid to further raise cognitive clarity on the battlefield.
These findings apply equally to those of us on the normal "battlefield" of simply working and aging well.
Add fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, sardines and tuna to boost levels of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
Lower the Amount of Sugar You Eat to Think More Clearly
There's no other way to say it ---sugar clouds your thinking.
Chronic exposure to high-energy, sugary diets lowers your ability to think, according to a 2015 study from School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Australia.
As the study observed, " higher intakes of carbohydrates, particularly simple sugars, have been associated with lower cognitive function."
Meditate to Stay Mentally Sharp
Mindfulness has been associated with decreased rates of cognitive decline as you age. Practicing mindfulness or other forms of meditation has also been linked to increased cognitive ability.
A 2014 study led by Dr. Tim Gard of the Harvard Medical School observed that "meditation can enhance various cognitive functions, including attention, memory, and executive function."