The Tricky Business of Decision Making

Coy fish swimming ever which way in a pond.

It’s a double-edged sword: Inhabitants of a free world seek vast acres of opportunity in life. Don’t fence us in! But with those vast acres come the responsibility of decision-making. Noooooo!

And there’s the rub.

We all meet the process of making decisions in our own way. Whether it’s a small in-the-moment choice around whether to order the pasta or the fish; or a long-reaching impactful one, like whether to accept a particular job or buy that house, our brains and emotional centers get stressed in the process. The funny thing is that in the moment, the stress of whether to choose the pasta, the job or the house can be on par. Much of this stress relates to future tripping—will the payoff be worthwhile? Will I love my dinner as much as I was hoping? Will we be happy in that new blue house; will I prosper and grow in a new job?

Different type of decisions have varying impacts on individuals. For example, in this TED Radio Hour program, Decisions Decisions Decisions Malcolm Gladwell, in conversation with host Guy Raz talks about how the decision around which line to get into in the grocery store is not one he agonizes over. He picks a line, daydreams until it’s his turn to pay and goes about his day. Guy, on the other hand, feels the pain of his decision because after he gets in line he tracks the progress to see how the other lines are moving in comparison to his—and it’s rarely in his favor. Sound familiar?

You want me to decide what? (Photo from Anza-Borrego State Park).

You want me to decide what? (Photo from Anza-Borrego State Park).

This fascinating and in-depth New York Times article, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” woke me up big time to how decisions shape and affect our lives—on a daily basis and over time. And why we avoid them, grow tired of making them—it was enlightening (and comforting) to know that decision fatigue exists! So that’s what you call that feeling—when someone asks you that question at 7 pm that puts you over the edge.

Decisions. They are the notches that shape and make our days. We are making decisions all the time: should I get out of bed; what should I wear; choices around breakfast, the quickest route to take to work, whether to listen to a podcast or the radio; which coffee to order, which email to answer first—and this is a small sample of what might occur before 9 a.m. Making decisions is something we all have in common. How we make them, how we react to the process, how we approach different types of decisions varies, but the common ground is that decision-making is a part of a life's DNA.

If you listen to the TED radio hour Podcast, the third segment, “How Does Making Hard Decisions Empower us?” offers up a five-step process to making decisions. Listen to the entire “Decision Decision Decisions” episode here.


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