Deciding and Choosing

“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.” ~ Thomas Merton

If you view my tag cloud, you would see choice as one of the most frequent tags. It is also one of the 14 categories about which I blog. It’s omnipresent in our everyday lives.

Each of us has the power to choose the path of our own thoughts and actions. The ability to make wise and fulfilling decisions, however, is a skill that is learned over time. One way to practice your decision-making skills is to make up of a pro and con list. Why? Because the creation of a list weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a choice can help you avoid focusing on the potential benefits or drawbacks of an option without addressing all of the variables.

A ‘for and against’ list represents a concrete way of looking at a problem. It can help you view a set of choices more clearly, giving you a chance to analyze each variable in an objective manner, while providing a sense of the most pleasing outcome. And it’s an easy exercise. Simply create a page mirroring the below image but keep in mind that some decisions have many aspects and may require you to make multiple choices, thus the possible need for more than one ‘pro and con’ list.

Some choices will simply involve moving forward or not, or changing or not, and will require only one list. The work comes in examining each potential outcome relating to the choice under consideration. When you have reviewed each outcome, tally the two columns and compare the pros and cons. If you were objective, the results may surprise you.

Philosopher and psychologist, William James, once said, “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.” By looking at a choice in terms of the positive and negative results that will occur, you may distance yourself from it. That distance creates a perspective in which the problem at hand is an issue that needs to be resolved, rather than a decision that will have an impact on the person you are. But a list is a tool that needn’t have the final say in a decision. Rather, it can be a helpful stepping stone in your decision-making process.

Choosing can be a variable mix of subjective and scientific. Following are three random ideas to consider when making decisions:

  • Don’t problem solve, decide. A decision can solve a problem, but not every problem can be solved by making a decision. Instead, decision-making often relies more on intuition than analysis. Deciding between vendors, for instance, requires examining historical data, references and prices. But the tipping point often rests with your gut. Which feels like the right choice?
  • Just because someone observed it doesn’t mean it’s true. We all overestimate what we believe we know, observed, and experienced. We are famous for our overconfidence — psychologists dub it “The Overconfidence Bias” — which hampers successful planning. Mistrust your knowledge — and everyone else’s.
  • Think about how you will feel when you are 70. First, it will put the difficult decision into perspective (maybe it’s not as big a deal as you think it is) and secondly, it will help you make a good decision for the long-term, rather than just for instant gratification.

17 thoughts on “Deciding and Choosing

  1. Sensibly written. For most of us, the ‘pros and cons’ activity appears too complex and we become lethargic over doing it. But as you had said, it’s a very simple exercise, which when done, can give us amazing clarity!

    And a small typo error : 5th paragraph, 3rd line : ‘you man distance yourself from it’ 🙂

  2. I agree with you Eric about choice being very important. It’s probably the main one on my cloud too! I still have challenges with making decisions, and am learning. Your suggestions are good. I took a class that helped with ideas to check in on many levels ( the mind, body,spirit) . I like the idea of weighing in against the wisdom of age. And I’m still learning how to follow my intuition. Thanks.

    • Often a possibility that I believe many do not consider, Nancy – that being there ‘could’ be a better choice out there. Perhaps a bit of caution or prudence vis-a-vis quick decision-making. I like you ‘practice’ consideration/recommendation.

  3. Thanks for this one…I am admittedly a poor decision maker. Not in the sense that I necessarily make bad choices, but that I don’t do well when it comes to having to make a choice. I appreciate the advice on this topic that you’ve written here, Eric. Good stuff.

  4. Good post Eric and I agree about choices being ever present in our lives. The thing is when we makes lists of pros and cons, as one way of helping us decide the danger is to not be too dependent on it..meaning there will be times when lists or other tools won’t you said…it’s not a definite thing, it is just there to help us.

  5. I flipped a coin once about 8 years ago. Now I’m writing on your blog. For some reason, your post has me thinking about the Hero’s Journey. Maybe it is because my students are researching and writing theirs as we speak.

    • I, too, have flipped many a coin. You prompt more thought on this. Mine was a simple example of an easy process. Aligning with Campbell is a more interesting and nuanced view. I would like to believe that given time and a desire to engage a more time consuming and probing ‘decision-making system’ that some would consider, if not move through, a more complex (and likely, significant) staging. Thanks for sharing an appreciated perspective, Scott..

  6. Pingback: Man Feels Weak: Let Him Speak … | Wilder Man On Rolling Creek

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