Some thoughts on decision making

Every single day we’re faced with making decisions. From the trivial to the life changing, decisions inform how we live and what we do every day. Where do we go for coffee? Which pub will we drink in tonight?  Will I text that girl/guy I think I like? Should I get a laptop or a Mac? Will I buy a house or an apartment? Is it time to quit my job? Some of those mean nothing except for an hour or so of different kinds of atmosphere and company, while the others have far reaching consequences that may shape the rest of our lives.

For some reasons I find the bigger, life changing decisions easier to make, while the small and inconsequential choices leave me squinting my eyes and unsure of how to proceed. I don’t know if all other people are like me in that sense, but from experience I would suggest that a lot of people experience similar difficulty.

So why do I think it’s easier to make the big decisions? When we’re thinking of buying a house or a car or considering marriage or changing career then we put a lot of thought into our plans. We come up with the idea, we think about it for a while, we get advice and opinions from friends and family, then we look at the consequences and weigh the impact of the decision on our lives. Maybe we’re still interested at this stage so we get some more advice, this time from experienced professionals or we do a bit of research. And finally once we’ve done all that and more we’re ready to make the decision and we’re confident in our choice. Essentially I think the decision is easier because we are more prepared. We know the question, we’ve come up with the possible answers, and we chose a path. Whether or not it’s the right decision is for time to tell, but nerves and fear aside it generally feels good to make that big decision.

Small decisions are almost completely opposite in nature. There is very little preparation or thought put into them and the consequences don’t seem too important or far reaching. Yet because these decisions have an immediate impact they can make us feel like we’ve been put under a spotlight. My examples are mostly of social situations and that’s because it is most often at these times that I have to make these decisions. In trying to please both myself and other people I often feel like I’m being pulled in different directions. However the truth of the matter is that more often than not I’m pushing myself in different directions without any clear plan of what to do. It’s uncomfortable, and the problem is that we do it to ourselves. It’s a hard habit to break. The good thing about these kind of snap decisions is that they tend to occur in fun situations and the rewards are of the instant gratification kind.

There are some decision types that fall into the middle. I had one recent experience that could be grouped here and I think it’s what prompted me to write this in the first place. For some choices we can make only a limited amount of preparation. There’s only so much research to be done, and two or three outcomes are obvious from the get go while others are hidden from us. Whether or not we make the decision comes down to our gut feeling, our instinct for what we perceive to be the right path to follow. The problem is that it’s impossible to know exactly, or even generally what will happen, and as such the comfortable predictability of the event is lost to us. In some respects I think that this is the worst of the situations. The impact of the choices may have unwelcome lasting effects emotionally or socially or both. While, as with all uncertain decisions, the rewards might make the risk worthwhile.

For my own recent experience the consequences seem to be unpleasant and too numerous. And as of yet not all of them have been revealed to me, so it should be interesting to see what happens. This now means that for me making similar kinds of decisions in the future will become more difficult, at least for a while. That said I think it’s true to say that life is a learning experience and I’m still a student, so I regret none of my decisions, and I’d do it all again. I may be wary of them and occasionally wonder what would have happened under other circumstances but I’m happy I made them. They have made me who I am…

and I like me quite a lot.

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