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How to Stay VARI Alert

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The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

Oct 14, 2015


People like to have choices. But research shows that human brains have limits. The more decisions people make over the course of a day, the more tired their brains become. Smith lecturer Nicole M. Coomber, associate director for the QUEST Honors Program, has developed a four-part framework called VARI to help people guard against decision fatigue.


Since different people have different values, the best decision might not be the same for everyone. People should consider their values in two buckets. Terminal values reflect the end results they want to achieve — such as financial security or family happiness. Instrumental values describe the methods people use to achieve the end results — such as with honesty, fairness, authenticity or kindness.


After you determine your values, think about which decisions can be made self-moving. Less important decisions can be delegated. But even important choices can be automated — especially when you can’t afford not to make them. For example, you can have 10 percent of your paycheck go to your retirement savings before you see it. You can set an alarm for when you need to leave work to have dinner with your family. You can develop diet and exercise habits so you don’t have to actually make the choice every time to eat certain foods or go to the gym.


Many complex decisions cannot be automated. People must think about their values, gather facts, list options, establish criteria for evaluating options, assign weights to each criterion and then make a choice.


Sometimes your gut tells you that the most rational decision is not the best. People must broaden their thinking to consider holistic associations, patterns, emotions and assumptions. In a complex world, feelings and facts belong in the mix.