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Decisions, decisions: What should I do?

Some people think that other people never grow up and never make any decisions. That statement is indeed false. People have to make decisions every day of their lives, it is just something they cannot elude. Even not making a decision is in and of itself a decision.

The Thinker by Rodin
google public images

Okay the notion of someone not ever making a decision falls on the premise that decisions are huge complex things that have to have long drawn out debates or a very long time to process. This could be true or not true.

We make decisions everyday; some things we don’t think long about like what dress to wear, or to brush our teeth. Though these decisions will not change the course of our life they are in fact decisions.

For the more complicated decision we do have to some some time, effort, and perhaps research to come to a good decision. Which dress to wear really wouldn’t change our life all that much. Yet, what university to go to, what boyfriend to choose, what job offer, or what state to live in have far reaching implications if we don’t think things through.

How to we make the more important decisions in our life?

The Single-Feature Model

The single-feature model comes into play when a person is just concerned with one factor or one detail about the decision they are going to make. For example, the price of an article in the grocery store. If you are hell bent on buying the lowest price cereal, then you do not care about brand, taste, nutrition value, and so on. This of course can work for the smaller things in life. Your life would not change drastically if you bought corn flakes rather than some of the more expensive brands.

However, some important decisions like choosing a job may in fact change your life. For example if your only criteria for finding a job is just that, then you might find yourself making hamburgers at McDonalds. On the other hand, if you had more than one criteria for choosing your job you might be making roast beef at a high class restaurant or hotel.

The Elimination by Aspects Model

This option requires that you look at all the options available to you and you cross off options that are the less in important to you. For example, if you are willing to travel then locality is not an enticing option when you are looking for a job or choosing a university.

The Additive Feature Model

The additive feature model involves taking all the options your decision needs and then adding them up. This one is more complicated and is used mostly for major decisions.

For example, if you are planning to get a new job; rate the importance of all options on a scale of one to 5. You might feel that getting a job close to home is high on your priority list so that would be a +5 whereas relocating across the country is not, you might rate that a -3. At the end of examining all the options and rating them the one with the most options that you desire would end up being your choice.

Some choices do not have clear cut options that can be easily evaluated.

In life there are situations where we have to make decisions that involve taking a risk.

If you come across some of these decisions you still have to make a decision but you will have to face a risk of some sort. Your choice then would be which of the risky options do you choose? For example, you have been accepted to Harvard Univesity and this has been your dream since as long as you can remember. However, your parent is very ill and choosing a university with less prestige but in town we keep you close to your parent should anything serious happen.

Here you are faced with going away to university or staying at home.

Decisions of this nature are among the hardest decisions to make. Sometimes there really is no right answer. You might choose to stay home and then face the fact that your dreams may never be realized. Or, your parent might die but since you are 1000s of miles away at Harvard by the time you get home you have missed the funeral.

The Availability Heuristic:

Sometimes thinking of situations similar to your own can help you to decide which is the best solution for you. For example, perhaps old man Brown who owns a small fast food restaurant always laments about how he missed his chance in life to do what he really wanted to do. Or, Peggy Sue went away to school and her parents died on the freeway. She was devastated when she missed the funeral because of flight delays and she is carrying this guilt around with her.

Not all the decision in life that we make will have such dire consequences. Some are easier decisions but no less complicated.

The Representativeness Heuristic:

This strategy requires the rating of the possibility that a risk could occur when making a decision. For example, if you do not choose to go to Harvard at this time because of your parent, what is the likelihood that you will get there in the future? Will you have enough money in the future for tuition. Are you just 18 years old and your parents are 90, will you be able to get to Harvard a few years later? Are you already past 30 and the window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller for a good career after university?

Or, is there a likelihood that your parent could get seriously ill in the four years you are gone? Could you transfer to a university closer to home if the health of your parent gets worst? Does your parent have arthritis or a fatally ill disease such as cancer? Finally, are you even willing to put your life aside for your parent?

When I was in university one of my professors gave us another shortcut for general decision making.

This strategy involves deciding what the worst possible outcome of your choice would be and can you accept, or live with it?

In the case of the university student, the worst possible thing that could happen if he/she goes off to Harvard, is the death of the parent in the interim. Can he/she accept that or live with that possible outcome.

What is the worst thing that could happen if the university student goes to a university closer to home. Would that university student end up like old Mr. Brown lamenting how his life could have been a lot different, can that univesity student live with this decision or is this university student resourceful and will have a successful career with or without Harvard?

As you can see decision can be simple like what dress to wear, moderately complicated or major game changers. Any option selected requires depends on several factors such as: time, the risk or uncertainty, the complexity of the decision to be made, and if this decision would directly or indirectly affect others.

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