Posted by: GeekHiker | May 8, 2011

Decisions, Decisions…

So, I have this sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that I have some major decisions coming up.

I’m not here to ask you all about that, though.

What I am curious about, and the question I’m going to throw open for discussion, is more a matter of how.

When you hit those points in your life where a major decision needs to be made, how do you go about doing it?

Ask family?

Do a list of pros and cons?

Consult the Wikipedia page and follow the steps precisely?

Ask friends?

Draw slips of paper out of a hat?

Flip a coin?

Throw darts at a dartboard?

Consult the Magic 8-Ball?

Just make a snap decision based on what your gut says?

All of these, I suppose, are perfectly valid ways of making a decision (unless you poke someone’s eye out at the dartboard; that would be bad).  Having never been a fantastic decision-maker myself, though, I’m curious how others approach the problem.

So, please, comment below.  Ask your friends and post their opinion, too.  Heck, ask your readers to stop by and add a comment.  Ideally, I’d love to see a whole conversation going on below.

Whether or not it all helps me make any decisions, or become a better decision-maker, who knows?  Should make for some interesting discussion, though…



  1. I’m a terrible decision maker! I usually gather information, consult with others and think about how I feel about committing to one of the options. Then at the end of it, I listen to my gut and if I feel a weight lift, I know I made the right one. If I feel boxed in, I review other options.

    • So, who do you consult with? Close friends? Family members? Random people on the street? I’m curious about what makes you choose or not choose to confide in particular people…

      • mostly family. Parents, brother and a cousin. They understand the whole picture of who I am, not just the parts that they want to see. My friends try to hard to get it right rather than just tell me what they think. Make sense?

  2. Wow, decision about what? Curious…

    I’m pretty quick with small decisions in everyday life (e.g., I read reviews before buying a camera and once I bought it I didn’t look back to wonder if I got the best model for my need), but in terms of BIG life-changing ones, I usually rely on my gut feeling. I’ll gather information and weigh the pros and cons, etc., but most of the time, despite all the research, I choose the path that I know that I REALLY REALLY WANT.

    I’d be interested in reading comments on this post, which will help me with TBD as well!

    • I have a tendency to distrust my own gut instinct. Part of the problem is that I can easily think out many, many paths that might end up from the choices available, and how each one could lead to potentially good or bad outcomes. Yes, it’s overthinking, but I have a difficult time not doing that…

  3. Oooh, I’m such a bad decision maker! I do all of the above, well, without the roll of the dice ones. I think I’m (usually) most satisfied when I make a quick gut decision, but when it’s big it seems like it needs so much more than that. Have you read The Paradox of Choice? It’s all about decision making and I found it to be really interesting, although it didn’t really help me perfect my method. Good luck and way to be a tease because now we’re ALL wondering!!

    • I’ve not read the book, though I’ve seen it in the bookstores and the concept makes a lot of sense in my opinion. I’m not sure that it applies in this situation: it is not that there are too many choices as much as it is the ramifications of the choices could be extensive. Such are large life decisions, I suppose…

  4. i talk to a lot of people, but in the end, it’s my decision to make, and even my closest family and friends are not necessarily going to see/understand it the way that i do. so… that’s just to say that it’s really really hard.

    what i usually do is to pretend that i’ve made one decision … and then gauge how i feel. am i excited? do i feel imminent doom? do i wish i’d made another decision? and then i pretend the same with another decision. this is how i ended up accepting my job recently… i went with the offer that i felt most excited about after pretending to make the decision.

    doesn’t work for everybody… really hard to actually suspend that disbelief…

    • I understand your methodology, and it’s sort of what I do (see my comment to SkyBlue above). I think perhaps I have more difficulty, though: I know which choice excites me more, but I think (or perhaps dread) that that choice has the larger chance of failure if I think it out. Don’t know if that makes sense…

  5. Since I recently completed some ghost-work on a business consulting book and thus read up on decision-making, I can actually comment on this.

    One strategy (which made a great deal of sense to me) involved making a chart with all of the different variables associated with each option. So, for example, if you’re trying to figure out if you should rent office space A, B, or C, you take account of all the relevant variables (a process which itself should help you to figure out what counts as relevant)—rent, location, size, configuration, expansion possibilities, parking, etc.—and then try to eliminate variables.

    So maybe A is 1000 sq ft and B 960 and C 1050: the sizes might be close enough that you can eliminate “square footage” as a variable. Or maybe they’re all similarly priced per square foot; again, eliminate. The point is to eliminate as many variables as possible, and then to focus on what remains. Some of what remains will be of lesser and others of greater importance; if you can create some sort of ranking system or way to assign a standard value to non-standard variables (e.g., how important is it to be near an interstate, how important is security or on-site maintenance, etc.), you can then get some clarity on which location gives you the most of what matters.

    It sounds cumbersome, but I think many of us engage in a rougher version of this kind of d-m in everyday life.

    As for trusting your gut, ehhh, the evidence (as in, peer-reviewed social-science research) is not encouraging. If you’ve been working for a long time in a field which is highly predictable or for which clear causal relationships exist (e.g., medical diagnosis or any kind of mechanics—save, perhaps, quantum), then listening to your “gut” about patient X or car Y may work, but, otherwise, not so much. When people say their “gut” never leads them astray, they’re probably forgetting about all of the times their gut led them astray.

    Also, don’t confuse “gut” with “desire.” This is just me, here, not the research, but I would argue that desire matters. Do you really really want something—even if it doesn’t make sense? Does it make more sense to live without what you really really want? And what about time—do you have to do something you don’t want for awhile to get to do something you do want for the long term? Or do you not want the thing badly enough to trudge through the misery to get it?

    Finally, how are you with second-guessing or regret? Are you more likely to regret what you tried and failed at or what you never tried? Some of us are able to decide and move on, regardless, but for those of us who do look back, well, it helps to have a way to reassure that whatever the outcome, we did what we could.

    Or you could just flip a coin.

    • FLIP A COIN!!! 🙂

      • I’m not quite sure that a chart applies to the situation, mostly because I have no idea what I would put for categories…

        As for the gut, I’m inclined to agree with you. Desire, of course, is a touchy thing, with potential to go either way. Desire has it’s merits, to be sure, but it can also end up leaving you an ex-governator/unemployed actor with a messy family situation…

        On regret, I’ll have to put some thought into that one. Thanks for bringing it up. I think. 😉

  6. In the same boat my friend, as you well know. Pat just made a HUGE decision and while I supported it, he made it. For the decision I have coming up, its just gonna take a lot of inner thinking, figuring out if new, unknown stuff is better or worse than the stuff I hate to do now. So that doesn’t help you much but hey, just thought I’d let ya know you’re not alone. 🙂

    • Well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Do you find it easier, with Pat by your side, acting as anchor and touchstone? Or am I simply seeing things as being greener on the other side?

  7. It took me years to decide on a new job so I am rather crap at decisions…

    Generally I am better with what I don’t want instead of knowing what I do want. A lot of thinking and reading and angst and some chim wagging with a trusted friend generally helps some.

    • At the moment, I know the things I don’t want. How best to remedy that is a WHOLE ‘nother question…

  8. I’m definitely a “go with my gut” initial instinct kind of guy. I’ve been faced with a fair amount of significant life decisions in my time. Sometimes I’ve made the right choice, and sometimes I’ve made the wrong choice; I’d say it’s slightly weighted toward more right than wrong. I guess to me, it’s better to choose a course of action and start down the path. You can always change course if you realize that you made a mistake. IMO, the only way you can truly go wrong is become paralyzed when faced with a decision. In those cases, people either tend to never take action, or as a result of their delays are forced into a path based on the circumstances…nothing like abdicating control of your life, huh?

    • Well, we disagree on the gut, but I do agree with your point about becoming paralyzed with fear about making a change. That said, it’s difficult to feel completely free to make decisions in life sometimes. Winning the lottery would help. 😉

  9. I gather information, look at the pros and cons, ask friends and family, agonize over it for way too long, then give up and go with my gut. Not sure I would recommend my methods.

    • Heh. At this point, I’m thinking that’s as good an option as any other…

  10. I research everything, if learning about something is necessary, and then I think about it. All day, every day. I make up all cases scenarios (what if it goes like this, and if it goes like that, and what if it turns upside down) good, bad and ugly. And I don’t stop thinking about it until suddenly at some point, all the ideas begin to condense and I’m left with the lowest number of options. Then I stop thinking about it. I relax. I give me a positive pep talk if I need it. I breathe.
    When I ask myself what is it that I want to do after all this, usually, the answer just comes. And I know it’s right if I feel secure and at peace. If something feels off, I need more time for it to come.

    • By the way, this just made me realize that I never ask other people about my decisions. I’m very much an “it’s my life and I do it my way” kind of person.

      • I sooooo want to make more decisions like that!

        • I’m jealous of you. I don’t think I ever reach that point of “relaxation” in making my decisions. Again, I think that plays back into my overthinking that I talked about above. I wonder if being able to make decisions in that fashion is something you’re born with, or a skill that can be learned?

  11. I’m a muller. I think it over until I can’t stand thinking about it for another second, then I jump at the first option that appeals to me.

    • And does that work effectively for you?

  12. Ooo~ Ooo~ *raises hand* I know the answer!

    Well, I enjoy reading Dale Carnegie books, and a good way to make decisions is to write them down.

    Write about all the possibilities for the problem. Write out what could happen in each scenario. Then pick a plan, write what you’re doing to do and do it.

    Ask yourself, “what are the options?” “What’s the best choice?”
    When you write it out, it helps you get the ideas out of your head and onto concrete paper. You can better analyze the ideas and then make a decision.

    Good luck!

    • I’ve actually done that on paper to a degree. I keep running into the fact that I’m imaginative, and can think out potentials for each decision to a number of outcomes, some amazing and others dreadful. None of which serves to help me narrow down the choices…

  13. Wow, I got a headache just scanning all this advice.

    Deep inside you know what choice you want to make, but you are afraid it might not be your best option. Ignore the fear and be true to yourself, if you make a mistake that’s okay, mistakes are the best way to learn and you do not have to stick with a decision if it goes bad. But if your decision involves commitment, that’s different, then ‘if in doubt leave it out’, be sure about commitments.

    • OBJECTION! I say you forget all this stuff, get completely sauced and buy a goat. Then you won’t care about any of your other decisions because you’ll be focused on “What the hell will I do with this goat?”

      • Sorry ’bout the headache. Seriously, though, how awesome are my readers?

        Being okay with making mistakes is a philosophy I agree with in theory, but am terrible with in practice. As many long-time readers will tell you, I tend to be very hard on myself, so it usually doesn’t go over well in my own head when I make a mistake!

        @ MissMcCracken – to goats make good hiking companions?

        • I’m sure they do. Pack mules may produce a similar effect 🙂

    • this was well written!

  14. Magic 8-Ball

    or I go here:

    Susan Miller will blow your mind.

    I also ask my parents.

    And friends.

    And colleagues.

    And anyone else who will listen.

    And I take the advice that I want to hear bc I know in my heart what I want to do.

    • The heart may know, but it may also be surrounded in fear…

  15. I give it to my Maker.

    • Well, as you know, I tend to be more spiritual than strictly religious. But I can’t deny, it would really help if God had a call-in radio advice show…

      • Trust me, I’m not religious either as I don’t enjoy the booga stuff of chants/calistenics and all when it comes to the former religion I was originally baptised. It’s more of a relationship than man made rules of any religion. If you can think/talk, you can give it to Him. Ask to have the doors closed that are not the way you are to go. I was in that make-a-decision place and it was agony, until I gave it over with this request and now the things that I needed have come about (car, job, etc.) … In the words of Dr. Henry Jones, Sr, “You must believe, Boy!”

  16. […] Geekhiker, remember this post you did about decision-making? Now you’ll know after this […]

  17. My counselor says that most people *know* what they want. Her job is to strip away the fears and barriers to thinking it won’t work or isn’t possible, she says.

    Given that, if you really *don’t* know, I have 2 methods I employ if grappling with a decision. 1. I pretend I made decision A. I go through 24 hours and see how it sits in my gut. Am I okay with this decision? Does it feel right? Then the next day I pretend I made decision B. How did that feel? By day 3 I can usually see I am leaning more towards one end then the other. My second method is similar — see if I feel the same after a week. If I am consistently leaning towards something after a week, that’s probably where I want to go.

    Sometimes we need more resources to make decisions feel more comfortable — maybe some planning would help? Or maybe you jump and the net will appear? Best of luck whatever it is!

    • Planning would definitely help. Now if only I knew what to plan for

  18. Not to beat a dead horse, but this article says something very true about decision making:

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