Why you can’t make up your mind – Decisions.


By David Joel Miller

Why is hard to make up your mind when you have multiple choices?

Deciding on Choices

Deciding on Choices.

Choosing when you have multiple options can be difficult for several reasons.

There are two basic methods for making decisions, logical and emotional. As we saw in a previous post about Intuition neither way of making your choices is infallible.

Most choices are not clear-cut, all good or all bad. So we have to weigh the choices and then find some way of evaluating the good and the bad of each choice. When we get all done many of us fall back on our default mode to make our decision.

Not all choices are equal so a fixed set of decision-making rules does not always work even though some people and some institutions adopt a systematic procedure for making those decisions. Below are some examples of choices

A good choice vs. a bad choice.

Which do you want ice cream or a beating? Ice cream good, beating bad, take the ice cream. Anyone having trouble making that decision?

Good vs. good.

At the party do you want cake or ice cream? This is a matter of preference, may take longer to decide but ether is OK. It might be better if you could have both but that was not an option offered.

Good with bad vs. bad with good.

Your friend is having a party with cake ice cream and some champagne. You just went on a diet to get in shape for that reunion and you are trying to give up drinking. See friend and go off your diet?

You promised your workout friend that you would join her today at the gym. Last time you made an appointment she did not show.  Go to gym and work out to lose the weight but risk her standing you up again?

Now add more good and bad.

There is this cute guy from work that may be at the party, so might your ex.

There is this other cute guy that you met at the gym but your ex’s new girlfriend is now working there.

The more pros and cons we add the more difficult it becomes to make a decision.

Remember that whether you try to choose rationally or emotionally you run into problems making that decision.

Rationally you never have all the info you would need. Who will show up where? You can’t know ahead of time and if you attribute probabilities to these events that still does not solve the problem.

Which would be worse? Running into your ex or his new girlfriend or both of them together?

One common approach to  solving this dilemma is to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle put the reasons for choice one in one column and the reasons for choice two in column 2.

Not much help is it. Is the risk of getting ice cream instead of cake more or less important than the risk of seeing your ex or his new girlfriend? Not all reasons are equal. We get into some calculus to solve this equation.

Worst of all by the time you get all the info you need and get the math done, the party is over and the gym has closed.

Also choice decisions do not always s include all the alternatives. Make sure that the best choice is not left off your list. Also as with the cake or ice cream example, sometimes our action as in asking for both can alter the options available.

One last decision problem – time.

A dollar today is not equal to a dollar a year from now. Neither is exercising or eating cake. You could go to the party now and then exercise next week. A few weeks of that and you will not need your gym membership. You also will not be in top shape for the class reunion and that was the reason for your exercise and get healthy program in the first place.

Sometimes you need to trust your gut.

This impossibility to getting enough info and then assigning probabilities and so on is why much of the time we humans use intuition. Based on past experiences and the degree of your preference you will choose one way or the other and then have to live the consequences.

One last factor you need to consider is the importance of your goal. You might do something distasteful for money. Say your boss asked you to go to a function and make a speech and your ex might be there. Would you do it to please him? Would you do it for $1.00 how about $1,000,000? The bigger the rewards the more you might choose one option over the other.

But what about the size of the negatives? If one choice might alter your life forever in a bad way would that affect your decision?

So these kinds of choices are very personal and reflect not just the pros and the cons or the chances one thing or the other will work out, they also reflect your personal goals and values.

You goals and values shape your choices.

To make better choices on difficult decisions you really need to get to know yourself, your goals and your values. Then pick what is best for you.

Any comments from out there? Have you had to make a difficult choice and how did you finally go about deciding.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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