Psych Central

Demystifying Decision-Making

By Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP

Put gender and politics aside. Harry Truman was the quintessential decision-maker. Although he wasn’t educated beyond high school, he intuitively knew how to make decisions. And once he made one he was willing to take full responsibility for it. During his presidency he displayed a sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.”

What mystery was behind Truman’s decisiveness? Why does decision-making seem so difficult for the rest of us? Faulty thinking is often behind the paralysis we experience when faced with important decisions. Here are the most common “thinking kinks” to which we unwittingly fall prey:

  • By not making a decision you can’t make a mistake. Wrong! No decision is a decision, and often not a good one.

  • There is only one right answer. Fortunately this is rarely the case, but thinking this way makes the prospect of decision-making overwhelming.
  • Before making a decision you must be 100 percent sure of it. This condition is virtually impossible. Human beings are complex, and can react to a decision in many different ways at the same time. Further, we can’t see the future, so it is impossible to predict the outcome of a decision with certainty. In short, 85 percent is about as good as it gets.

Do any of these “thinking kinks” sound familiar? If so, join the rest of us imperfect beings! The good news is that there are ways to demystify the decision-making process.

Tips For Easier Decision-Making

  • Clearly define the problem. You would be amazed at how frequently decision-making is difficult because you haven’t really clarified the problem, its size and scope.

  • Brainstorm your possible choices. Take time to consider your options. If the decision is important, bounce it off a friend, mentor or trusted loved one.
  • List the pros and cons of each choice. Don’t forget to consider the risks involved with each.
  • Engage your feelings as well as your intellect. Ever have an abundance of rational reasons for making a decision, yet still didn’t feel comfortable with it? Chances are good that you forgot to consult your feelings and intuition. Here are some ways to tap into this critical yet often overlooked data:
    • Ask yourself what advice you would give a friend in the same situation. Or consider what someone you admire — dead or alive — would do in this case, like “What would Eleanor Roosevelt have done?”

    • Journal about the problem and your possible choices. Writing kicks your more intuitive and creative right brain into gear, allowing you to consider possibilities you might otherwise have overlooked.
    • Think about how you will feel in the future after saying yes to a given decision. If you find yourself feeling excited, energized or contented, your gut is telling you the decision is a good one. If you experience tension and dis-ease, maybe it’s not a good idea.
    • Consider whether or not the decision fits your values and priorities. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, don’t proceed.
    • Understand that decisions always involve risk. You can’t foresee the future, and can only make a decision with the data you have at the time you make it. But healthy growth and change involve risk-taking, and some of your most important learning has probably come from mistakes you have made.
    • Realize that few choices are terminal. Ask yourself the following question: “What is the worst possible thing that can result from this decision?” Chances are good that the worst-case scenario doesn’t warrant the kind of anxiety you’ve been experiencing.

So shed that old programming — there is no mystery to effective decision-making! Tomorrow is a new day and you now have a fresh approach to addressing conundrums in your life. I hope you’ll try it on for size.

 

APA Reference
Purcell, M. (2006). Demystifying Decision-Making. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/demystifying-decision-making/000688
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Categories