Decisions…. Decisions

Decisions are relentless.

They can sometimes be the fleeting thought that is processed in the gut, or the grey matter that hovers around, sucking energy from us.

They can follow us through life and replay in our minds or appear casual, flippant and maybe even relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

But there is no denying the power they have to direct our lives and the lives of others. Like an intricate web, our decisions steer us in a multitude of varying alternate pathways and play out in a ‘Choose your own Adventure’ narrative, that is our life.

So this week, with a few bigger decisions than usual to be made in our household, it got me wondering about the significant role decision-making  plays in all our lives and the power it has in determining not just our future, but our present state of affairs.

So, how do we go about making decisions?

Well, there is no end to the research and psychological studies on this topic and a great place to start is Dan Gilbert’s TED talk ‘Why we make bad decisions’.

‘The only thing that could destroy us is our decisions’ Dan Gilbert

When faced with a decision we often do one or a combination of the following:

  • Weigh up the pros and cons, do a bit of background ‘research’
  • Go with our gut – supposedly trusting our ‘instincts’ is something no one can define, but we all are capable of
  • Ruminate on it with a trusted friend
  • Look back to our past, drag up memories of experiences where we’ve faced a similar situation.

These are all pretty much common place go to’s when making at least some of our more ‘important’ decisions, like whether or not to purchase a house or move to another country.

But in truth, there are many hidden aspects to decision-making that have just as much power in steering us towards certain thoughts and then actions.

Who we are, affects the type of decisions we make

Now this probably comes as no surprise to you, but for me (at least) it provided an ‘Uh ha!’ moment.

According to Herbert Simon there are ‘Satisficers’, those who are happy to approach decisions with the view to opting for a satisfactory or ‘adequate’ solution.

This is me; ‘should I have a piece of chocolate cake?’ Weigh up some odds ‘not very healthy for me, but mmmm so damn tasty’. Consider some consequences ‘will I feel happier partaking in a little treat?‘, then make decision ‘Go on then’ …. eat cake.

And then there are ‘Maximizers’, those who require perfection, nothing but an exhaustive search is optimal to reach a decision and then, they still deliberate on whether they really made the best choice after all.

Can I know how many calories are in that cake first? Will I be having cake later in the week anyway? Will I feel guilty while eating it and therefore negate any enjoyment I might achieve while consuming it? Uhhhh

Maybe it looks good, but doesn’t actually taste good! Is cake what I really want right now? Is it $6 I could be saving to go towards that holiday I’d rather have?

Fascinating to note here that Satisficers often feel happy or ‘satisfied’ with their decisions, while Maximizers tend to feel regretful post decision-making.

I’ll admit that placing ourselves into these two finite categories of decision makers, ‘Satisficers’ V ‘Maximizers’ is not ideal, but it did make me laugh a little when I pondered which categories my husband and I more commonly fitted in to.

It now makes sense why he ruminates on them, and I’m too flippant making them……decisions, that is.

Quality control

There is of course the whole issue of ‘uncertainty’ like an umbrella, overarching all decision.

When making a decision we are inevitably basing it on an event that is yet to take place, so of course the element of the unknown can be enough for some of us to place a decision in the ‘too-hard’ basket, before we’ve really even begun.

Likewise, the notion that once a decision is made, it is somewhat irreversible, can send even the most free-spirited thinker into their quiet corner.

“The truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty” Malcolm Gladwell ‘Blink’.

We may think the more time and effort spent making a decision, the better off we’ll be with the outcome.

But Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book ‘Blink’ that sometimes it is those snap decisions, made in the blink of an eye, (still with a degree of education and control), which can be just as valid and ‘good’ as those made cautiously and over time.

Then there is that ‘fifth dimension’, that ‘unexplainable’ part that makes up us. The unconscious, unpredictable, somewhat symbolic responses that can influence our decisions.

We don’t know why we did it really, we just did. Or we come up with an elaborate story to justify our decision, but at the heart of it, we really can’t explain why we did that.

According to Gladwell, “people are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.” I like this.

So, what next?

Maybe just accepting that we can’t know or have it all, is the starting point to avoiding a meltdown while making a decision.

Maybe knowing a little better who we are and what ultimately matters to us, can allow us to feel more in control during the decision-making process.

But, as I’ve discovered (yet again…. the hard way) this week, a lot of this doesn’t help a great deal when the decision is not yours alone to make and you live with a ‘Maximizer’.

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Author: rechelleroz

Hi, I'm Rechelle. Mum to three, energetic (is there any other kind) boys and married to a Pole (he's Polish). We live on the beautiful and aptly named, Sunshine Coast in Australia. We moved here 4 years ago, after a stint in the UK. I'm a teacher, love reading and writing in my spare time and hitting the beach. My secret passion is home-grown philosophy, not the university kind. I love thinking about 'stuff' and pondering our lot in life. I'm also slightly addicted to bakery treats (now there's a whole other blog!)

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