Every day we are faced with a multitude of choices. In fact, we are faced with so many that most of the time we aren’t even conscious of most of them. Our brains rapidly make choices moment by moment as we respond to outside stimuli. That works well for simple decisions but as decisions increase in complexity, we must take time to slow down, think, analyze, evaluate and decide between the alternatives at hand. In these cases, we need decision criteria in order to help us make a choice. We need to come up with a limited number of factors which we consider important to the decision at hand and then either objectively or subjectively weight them according to some relative measure of importance to help us determine which of the options at hand is superior to the others.
In addition to distinguishing between the relative merits of the various alternatives, one must also have a framework regarding the ultimate objective. Are you trying to optimize (find the very best alternative) or satisfice (accept any alternative that is just good enough)? If I am going out for a nice dinner, I’m most likely to head to my favorite restaurant (Café Napoli) but if I am trying to grab lunch as quickly as possible, it’s Jimmy John’s. Those are two very different choices. While both satisfy the basic requirement of nourishment the former decision is based on the quality of the food and atmosphere while the former is focused on speed and convenience.
If you’re trying to make a major life decision such as a new job in a different city, for example, the analysis is far more complex and requires ranking location, work environment, likelihood of success, upward mobility, compensation, family, schools, and perhaps numerous other factors.
Some decisions merit serious consideration and others, well, not so much. It is important, however, to be able to quickly distinguish between the two and make decisions relative to the potential consequences of choosing between the various alternatives. I’ve seen people agonize over trivial decisions. I have also seen people make major decisions with far too little thought and analysis. Neither is a good approach.
During my undergraduate days at Carnegie Mellon University, I took a psychology course (I’m sure it was Psychology 101). To this day I remember the professor saying if you are having a very hard time deciding, meaning that it was hard to distinguish between the relative merits of the two leading alternatives, then the difference between the two “probably didn’t matter a helluva lot”. That was good decision-making advice that I have always kept in mind.
This past weekend I was out of town and found myself faced with the decision of stating whether I would rather own an orange Lamborghini or a purple McLaren. Since the dealership was closed and I left my spare quarter million dollars reserved for the purchase of a supercar in another pair of jeans, I decided to delegate the decision to my 10-year-old via text message. He’s one of the most decisive people I know and rarely struggles making decisions. He went with the orange Lambo.
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