How do you decide? Do you understand your mental process of weighing options? What makes you choose option A over option B? There are benefits to understanding your own decision-making process. Making conscious decisions is important to avoiding regret. Understanding how you make decisions can streamline future decision-making.
This week’s journal topic: Decision Making
Since the Enlightenment, human reason has been the gold standard for decision-making. More specifically, what we call a “good” decision is the rational one. This is mostly a result of the philosophizing of a 17th century German thinker named Immanuel Kant. In his works, he emphasized that human rationality is the defining human function. Being rational is the most important thing we can do to maintain our place in the universe as special creatures.
You may not agree with the post-Enlightenment emphasis on human reason. Regardless, decision-making is an important part of being human. But if not reason, by what criteria should we make decisions?
A decision criterion is a factor deemed most important by which you weigh at least two alternatives.
A decision criterion helps us weigh options. If there is only one option, then you won’t need a decision criterion. You’d simply take the one option available. Think about it this way: if there’s only one flavor of ice cream available, that’s what you’ll choose. But you also probably wouldn’t say that you “decided”. If it’s your turn in line for one flavor, you don’t hem and haw, saying, “Well, I guess I’ll take chocolate.”
Take a moment to think of how animals choose by instinct. With few exceptions (if any), animals perform action according the rules given by nature, i.e. instinct. If you look at animal behavior in light of instinct, you can see that animals do not decide; they merely act according to the one ‘choice’ available to them: instinct. In contrast, humans are free to choose against nature. Human beings can choose their own decision criteria.
Some categories of decision criteria
Expression of Faith: If faith is the most important part of your life, then your decision
criteria might be faith. When making a decision, you might ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” or “Does this decision reflect my whole-hearted faith in God?”
Expression of Values: The answer to a question “Should I cheat or not?” comes easily if you know that you value honesty. The answer to “Should I stand up to a threat?” comes easily if you know that you value courage. If you are driven by values, then it can be easy to choose between two options. Imagine the choice between two jobs, and one requires betraying a personal value, such as equality, loyalty, or even work-life balance. Sometimes a decision comes easily when you ask yourself, “Does this option express value “X” that is important to me?”.
Maximization of a Good: Do you fall for two-for-one deals on a mediocre brand or purchase one high-quality item? Both of these decisions aim at maximization of a good. In the first case, you want to maximize the money in your pocket by maximizing the longevity of return for your purchase. In the second case, you want to maximize the satisfaction and longevity of a purchase. The question you ask yourself is, “Which option gets me more of what I want?”
Probability of a Desired Outcome: The question is, “Which action is more likely to get me the outcome that I want?” You’d think that this question is a no-brainer – we’re all trying to get what we want, right? Well, maybe. In fact, if you examine closely the decisions you make, you will often find that the answer is not a straightforward yes. For example: do you want to live a long, healthy life? Ask yourself how many times your food and exercise choices reflected a positive answer to that question.
- Do you enjoy making decisions or is deliberation a painful process for you?
- Consider various area of life: career, family, food, friends, leisure, community, etc. In which area are you most confident to make decisions?
- Why do you think it’s easier to make decisions in that area?
- What are five important actions in the last week that resulted from your decision process?
- Use the categories of decision criteria. Which types of questions did you ask yourself when deciding to act? Did you maximize good, express value, etc.?
- Do your life decisions truly aim at what you want? If not, where is the discrepancy?
- What type of decision criteria do you think is most helpful to your happiness?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Give yourself time to think and re-think. By doing so, you evolve your own thought processes! The journal is meant to help you develop a daily practice of positive self-reflection.
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