Recently I was trying to help someone make a decision on something and it caused me to think about my own decision making process.  Now I don’t claim to make decisions any better than anyone else and probably worse than some.  I have lived long enough to have made thousands if not more of decisions both important and  inconsequential. I have made good decisions, bad decisions and no decisions enough to regret ones I made or didn’t make. Some have worked out for the better (usually through luck) and some still leave me shaking my head and asking “why did you do that?” Some have been rationally and coolly thought out; some have been spur of the moment hunches;  some have been emotional and some have probably been from unconscious psychological processes I would only learn about  if I went to therapy. Some have been made alone; some with consultation and advice from others; some have been made because of past experiences, some have been scary leaps into the unknown.

As I’ve gotten older I like to think that my decision making process has gotten better and that I’ve learned from my past decisions.  What have I learned?

1. All decisions are choices of which consequences you are willing to accept from your decision. Decisions have consequences that go beyond the decision itself.   Some of these are anticipated and can be planned for, but there are usually unforeseen consequences as well. Understand that the consequences are the results of your decision and take responsibility for them.

2. Use most of the time you have to make a decision. No this isn’t an argument for procrastination.  I have found that the best decisions I have made are not those made at the last minute when time pressure influences your choice, but decisions made at the next to last minute.  If the decision has to be made in 10 days or ten minutes make it at nine days or nine minutes. This maximizes the use of the time you have to make a decision while not putting you under the time pressure that forces you to make bad choices.

3. Once you have narrowed things down to two choices, choose them both if you can. Sometimes you can’t, I understand that, but more times than you think you can have your cake and eat it too.  The time you spend making that last agonizing choice between two choices is usually more than it would take just to do both of them.

4. Try to create another option. If you can, change the constraints that have created these choices.  Sometimes this means changing the question you are asking.  I remember my senior year in college when I was asking “What should I do with my life?” A fellow senior advised me “You are asking the wrong question it should be ‘What am I going to do next.” It caused me to think of whatever decision I made as something that could be changed if it proved to be the wrong one. Sometimes creating another choice means thinking outside the box, but as Shakespeare wrote ” there are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Understand that there are always other things, other choices you should consider in making your decision.

5. Never make a decision that you are ashamed of at the time. You will have plenty of time to be ashamed of your decision later. Regrets over decisions will be inevitable.  It is better to have a regret for something you did because you believed in it than to have regret for not doing what you believe. Much better.

6. Real life isn’t like the SAT’s. There is not only one right answer. The test never ends. There is more than one chance to answer the question. No other person is scoring the test. The final evaluation doesn’t come immediately but at the end of your life.

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