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Simplify Decisions

Pizza or salad? Pizza or salad? Definitely pizza today.

Most of the decisions we make on any given day are relatively straightforward. We choose what color shirt to wear, what to eat for lunch, which project to work on first, and how to spend our evening. While some decisions are more important than others, many only require a few moments of time. And if we get the decision wrong (why on earth did I think my purple tie would go with my red shirt?) it’s fairly easily fixed.

Other decisions, however, are much more complex. Should I buy a car now or hope the old one holds out for another year? Should I look for a new job? Is now the right time to accept that transfer? What should I choose as my major? The process for making these decisions can be long and arduous.

Here’s why: for every decision we make, whether large or small, we’re actually making two decisions. There’s the decision itself (what color socks to wear, what college to attend) but first there is the decision about what criteria to use in making that decision. Most of the time we don’t think at a conscious level about the criteria we use. We go on instinct. This is fine when we’re deciding whether to watch television or read a book in the evening, but it seriously muddies the waters when considering more complex decisions.

Our criteria don’t need to be a mystery to us. We can take the time, sometimes only a few minutes, to think through and write down the most important aspects of making the decision. Separating the decision about criteria from the decision itself simplifies our thought process and allows us to deal with the issues much more objectively.

So the next time you face a decision of any consequence, try writing down all the criteria that might influence your decision. If you’re thinking about buying a car those criteria might include initial price, reliability, timing, roominess, total cost of ownership, color, coolness factor, and so on. Then narrow down your list to the top 5-7 criteria. What are the absolute most important items to consider? For extra credit you can even weight each item on a scale of 1-5. When you apply those criteria to your various options it will become much clearer to you what is being sacrificed and gained when choosing. This allows you to make better decisions and have greater peace of mind at the same time.


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