How to Decide, In 59 Seconds

This is taken from 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman, a book that wants to make your life better – in 59 seconds or less. It is all based on scientific research. If you like that sort of thing.

Beware of Deciding in Groups!

Groups tend to:

  • Polarise an individual’s opinion and make them take more extreme decisions.
  • Be more dogmatic than individuals.
  • Be better at justifying irrational actions than individuals.
  • Be more likely to see their actions as highly moral than individuals.
  • Stereotype outsiders.

Furthermore, when strong-willed people lead group discussions they can:

  • Pressurise others into conforming.
  • Encourage self-censorship.
  • Create an illusion of unanimity.

How to Beat the Salesman

You can use these mind tricks for good or evil. Use them to persuade, or use knowledge of them to avoid the dodgy sales tactics of others.

  • Salesmen will often use ‘That’s not all…’ techniques, i.e. give something away for free, offer discounts or bargains. There’s nothing wrong with that – if you already want to make the purchase.
  • Another technique (often used, I’ve found, by people outside train stations incongruously desperate to call home…) is ‘Disrupt, then re-frame’ – in other words surprise a person and then make a request. Don’t ask for a quid, ask for 97 pennies. The unusual request will break through the other person’s automatic negative response.
  • Another good one is to ask for a small favour and then build up to the big favour/sale – get your foot in the door.
  • Or to start with a ridiculously big ask and so that your ‘reasonable’ offer looks like good value.

Use the Unconscious to Unlock Complex Decisions

When making straight-forward decisions, stick with the concious mind. Just think about the pros and cons and assess the situation in a rational, level-headed way.

But for more complex choices, try giving your concious mind a rest by following this simple technique.

  1. Outline exactly what decisions you have to make.
  2. Work through anagrams for five minutes. This occupies your conscious mind.
  3. Now without thinking too much, write down your decision. Hopefully your unconscious mind has come up with something!

When You Make the Wrong Decision…

Regret is surely one of the most painful emotions known to humankind. ‘No regrets’ is a great thing to strive for, but there’s nothing more human than making bad decisions. Don’t let it get to you by using these tips.

  • People tend to regret things that they don’t do, rather than things that they do do.
  • Prevent regret in the first place by adopting a ‘will do’ attitude. Say YES.
  • If you do regret something, see if you can correct it. Write a letter, mend that broken relationships, go back to college, etc.. Use regret as a wake up call for motivation.
  • If it isn’t possible to make things better, don’t dwell on ‘What might have been…’ Instead, spend time thinking about three benefits of your current situation and three negative consequences that could have occurred had you taken the decision that’s causing the regret.


Good judgement is at the heart of good decision-making. So what happens when you are faced with a judgement call?

How to Beat Liars

  • Forget the clichés about liars staring to the left or whatever. It’s not true.
  • Liars tend to become static, they gesture less. 
  • They speak in less detail and increase their pauses.
  • They avoid the words ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and increase their use of ‘him’ and ‘her,’ rather than using specific names. 
  • If someone becomes suddenly evasive, ask for a straight answer.
  • Try to establish an honest baseline for the person by asking simple questions that will get an honest reply.
  • Get them to email you their story. People lie in 14% of emails, 21% texts, 27% face-to-face, 37% phonecalls. Take note of that one yourself: emails can come back to haunt you!

How to Judge Time Accurately

We are very bad at estimating how long things will take. Improve your estimates by:

  • Comparing how long a similar project took before.
  • Unpacking the activity into its constituent parts and estimate how long each one will take individually.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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