On making choices

“Given a chance and a rock, see which one breaks a window and see which one keeps me up all night and into the day…”  –Derek Webb “Table for Two”

Decisions are funny things.  I find some choices very easy to make, while others leave me churning my wheels for weeks.  Some decisions seem to get made by default because there wasn’t time or adequate information to really think them through.  How should we make decisions anyway?  Is there a way to make better choices?

Actually, yes.  According to the authors of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, we can make better decisions by understanding our own tendencies and biases, taking a wider view, and applying some best practices to the decisions we have to make in work and in life.

I learned some interesting things from reading the book, such as:

  • Decisions framed in a “whether or not” format rarely turn out well.  Instead of saying “I’m trying to decide whether or not to do this” force yourself to name at least a few alternatives.
  • Even weak alternatives can help you make a better decision.  Something as simple as telling yourself “I can buy this or I can spend the money on something else” or asking “If I couldn’t do this, what else would I do with the time/money/resources instead?” gives you perspective on the choice.
  • In a business application I hadn’t considered for real life, the authors suggest looking at a decision with the question “What would have to be true to make this the right answer?  What data might convince us that this is the right choice?”  This is a tactic I’ve used in certain types of analysis professionally, but now I think it could be quite helpful in general life decisions too.

Several of my work/life/school balance issues give me recurring trouble (the book points out that when you’re constantly waffling back and forth on the same decision, this is a signal that you have core priorities in conflict…definitely true in my case) and I found the book very helpful in thinking through them.  First, it was helpful to categorize some decisions as being about short-term emotion and deal with them by asking perspective questions like “how will I feel about this situation in 10 months or 10 years?”  Next, for decisions involving core priorities, I got some good ideas for how to make priorities and values more concrete and viewing them from a strategic rather than a tactical perspective.  Finally, I was reminded that “an hour spent on one thing is an hour not spent on another” so defining priorities also needs to mean defining things I’m not going to do.

While I still don’t have things figured out, I feel like reading Decisive gave me some helpful tools in continuing to navigate my priorities and my time, and I’d recommend it.

Do you generally find it easy or difficult to make decisions?  


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