Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to Make a Decision

Life is the sum of all your choices.” – Albert Camus

We make decisions every day; everything we say and do is the result of a decision, whether we make it consciously or not. For every choice, big or small, there’s no easy formula for making the right decision. The best you can do is to approach it from as many perspectives as possible and then choose a course of action that seems reasonable and balanced.

1. List your options. Prima facie, it may appear that there is only one course of action, but that is usually not true. Even if your situation seems limited, try to make a list of alternatives.
Then ask other people for suggestions. Be terse and ask them what they might do in your situation. Sometimes strangers can offer the most creative ideas because they do not share your assumptions or biases.

2. Weigh the possible outcomes. For every option, list every possible outcome and label it as positive or negative. Some people find it helpful to make a decision tree, which lays out every possibility in visual format.

3. Consult your intuition. You must feel comfortable with the decision. On your list or tree, place markings next to those decisions that are backed up by your intuition.

4. Make a choice. This is, of course, the hardest step, but there will hopefully be a decision on your list that is backed up by both logic and intuition. If things don’t match up clearly, though, ask for advice from people you trust. This can be a good tie-breaker.

5. Implement your decision wholeheartedly and joyfully. Once you have made a decision, implement it totally. At this stage, don’t be confused by thinking about the other potential alternatives that you did not pick.

6. Evaluate your decision. This is the most important step. If you don’t evaluate your decision afterward, you won’t learn anything from it. Ask yourself whether the outcome was what you expected. Would you do it again? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? How would you turn this lesson learned into advice? By drawing insight and wisdom from every decision you make, you can ensure that every choice has at least one positive outcome.

  • Don’t get too hung up on keeping your options open. Researchers have found that our aversion to letting doors close, so to speak, results in poor decisions.
  • Don’t get lost in the decision-making process. Give yourself a time limit if you have to make the decision soon or if the decision is relatively unimportant. There is the risk of “paralysis by analysis”. If you are trying to decide what movie to rent this weekend, don’t spend an hour writing down titles.
  • Remember that you may not have enough information to make a good decision. Do more research if you’re having trouble narrowing down your options. Also realize that the information you need may not be available to you. After reviewing all the information you have, you may have to go ahead and make a decision.
  • Don’t overthink it. If you try too hard, you may miss the obvious.
  • No scenario is perfect. Once you have made a decision, carry it out wholeheartedly as best as you can without regrets and without worrying about the other alternatives you did not pick.
  • After your decision is made, new major information may come to light suggesting alterations to or the wholesale reversal of your original decision. Don’t be afraid to go through the decision-making process again if this happens.
  • Consider that all your options may be about equally good if you have thought about the decision for a very long time. In that case, all the options may have great advantages and great disadvantages. You would’ve already made the decision if one of the options could be proven to be significantly better than the others.
  • Stay away from people who make it seem as though they want what’s best for you, but assume they know what that is and you don’t. Their suggestions might be right, but if they refuse to account for your feelings and concerns, they might be very, very wrong as well.
  • Remember that at some point, indecision becomes a decision to do nothing, which might be the worst decision of all.

Sources and Citations :

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