Decision Making – Big & Small

“The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

We are faced with making decisions every day. Some seem relatively inconsequential like, “What should I make for dinner?”, versus more significant, complex ones such as, “What career path should I choose?” Having said this, even the smallest decisions can change the course of our life – the choice to pick up fresh bread at the bakery to go with your pasta for dinner could result in you meeting the man/woman you end up marrying.

I often think of the impact of the decisions we make in our life day-to-day, and more globally, and I am admittedly quite fascinated by it. I find myself getting super granular about it especially when it comes down to how any decision can change the course of our life. If I had not pursued medicine, I wouldn’t have met Colin, and in turn, wouldn’t have had my children, etc. Poof – a different life.

Decision-making 101

In a 2006 Harvard Business Review article A Brief History of Decision Making, they talk about this topic in detail including the ‘gut versus brain’ debate when it comes to making decisions. They say, when “faced with the imperfectability of decision making, theorists have sought ways to achieve, if not optimal outcomes, at least acceptable ones. In a survey of executives that Jagdish Parikh conducted when he was a student at Harvard Business School, respondents said they used their intuitive skills as much as they used their analytical abilities, but they credited 80% of their successes to instinct.”

I believe they summarize this debate quite well by going on to say, “Fortunately, the intellect informs both intuition and analysis, and research shows that people’s instincts are often quite good.” In a recent significant decision in my own life, moving to a different city/province, I can really see where intellect played a huge role in timing, but intuition led the way in terms of making a positive lifestyle change to a city my family loves.

Decision-making tools

In clinical practice, one of the most common decision-making tools I have recommended is the well-known pro & cons list. I have used this tool many times in my own life as well. Sometimes it is also helpful to apply a weight to the pros and cons. For example, when it comes to family planning, a pro might be your age (i.e. 27) but a con might be current finances. Depending on your values and outlook, your age might hold more weight if you believe no time is ever going to be perfect to start a family.

Another useful tool is brainstorming. Although this can be done alone, it is usually more effective and informative if you do it with someone else such as a coach, counselor, physician, spouse, group, etc. Many other tools exist and can be as simple as flipping a coin, to praying, to asking Tarot cards as a form of self-reflection/insight. Beyond tools, we are back to either following our instincts/intuition or following logic. The best of both worlds involves a combination of the two.

How do you make decisions in your life? Do you have a process that you follow? The main take away is that decisions are a part of life and essential to moving forward. We must not look upon them with either regret or fear given that most of us are very fortunate to be able to make such choices for ourselves.


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