how do i make decisions like a grown-up?
September 11, 2007 2:06 PM   Subscribe

how do YOU go about making a difficult/complex decision?

so i need to decide if i should move out of my apartment or not. but instead of going into all the gory details, i want to know of decision making methods that have worked well for you. do you make a totally analytical pros/cons list? are you happy with the outcome it provides? just go with your gut?

living-situation type choices usually make me nuts, so give me a method to follow that will help me make a decision i'm happy with.
posted by genmonster to Human Relations (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I decide what will make me happy.

Then what will make others happy. This involves asking them.

Then decide which side is more important at that particular time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:13 PM on September 11, 2007

Ever taken a Myers-Briggs personality test? Whether you are more of a (T)hinker or a (F)eeler may determine what method of decision making works best for you.

If you are a thinker, then the analytical pros/cons approach will work better. Feelers go with their gut.

For me (a strong tihnker), I divvy the situation up into dimensions, and weigh pros and cons to come up with some (quasi)empirical basis for my decision. I've tried doing it based on feeling, and it's essentially impossible--it just feels unsubstantiated.
posted by roofone at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2007

You an do the pro and con thing, but I find it hard to be purely analytical about big decisions, because underneath it you usually prefer one side or the other, you just don't know it yet. You need to find a way to figure out which choice you actually prefer more. Some ways to find out include 1) Talk it over with another person, and let them hear you out. Usually it'll be clear to them (and you) which side you really prefer. 2) Go down one of the paths and see how it feels. 3) Try to imagine in detail one path or the other, and see which feels best. 4) Explain in analytical detail reasons for each side. Usually you'll feel that one side makes sense to you, while the other side you're rationalizing. Choose the choice that you're not rationalizing. If none of these work, maybe the decision isn't such a big decision after all.
posted by lsemel at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I tend to look for my gut impulse. I believe that I have very good native wisdom, even when it's covered over with layers of shoulds and second-guessing.

For example, I flip a coin, then see which way I'm hoping it will come down.

Or I use the Tarot or the I Ching to access intuitive impressions that I may not be consciously aware of. I find the I Ching to be especially helpful with practical and business matters.

If all else fails, I call my mom. She frequently listens to me waffle, then gives me very clear and pertinent advice. When I exclaim at her brilliance, she says "I'm just telling you what you just told me."

One method I don't tend to use is making a list of pros and cons. For some reason, that tends to make me feel more confused and indecisive, rather than less.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:26 PM on September 11, 2007

Seconding not relying on pros/cons. One place I would do it, though, is if there is a financial component to your decision -- it would be a good idea to have real numbers in front of you.
posted by lsemel at 2:31 PM on September 11, 2007

Other (trusted) people. My friends and family know me better at times than I know myself, they have emotional (and usually physical) distance to the actual events taking place and yet they always have my best interests in mind. I hash it out with a lot of people and usually, if not the answers, at least the options appear much clearer.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:44 PM on September 11, 2007

if it's really difficult to decide, it may be that either choice is basically acceptable (or unacceptable) and will result in the same satisfaction level. In that situation, it doesn't matter what you decide, so just pick one (or find some other choices).

I tend to go with a gut instinct and rationalize it later if I need to. You don't bat 1000, but you can make more decisions more quickly and keep moving forward that way, correcting course as you go.
posted by Chris4d at 2:59 PM on September 11, 2007

If you're religious, you might consider praying about it, but only after you've conducted a full analysis of what the best option is first. If you're averse to prayer for whatever reason, or you think I'm an idiot for believing such nonsense, then you should stick with logical analysis and go with whatever option you determine to be best.
posted by The World Famous at 3:00 PM on September 11, 2007

Two lists: Pros and Cons. Make them as detailed as you can. Usually by the time you've finished making the lists, you've figured out the best course of action.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:13 PM on September 11, 2007

Make a list of pros and cons. Attempt to weight each. Factor in financials. Do a gut check. Decide. Lose sleep over whether decision was correct.

I recommend getting ottereroticist's Mom's number.
posted by theora55 at 3:13 PM on September 11, 2007

For big work decisions, I ask the total moron that I used to sit near. She has the worst judgment of any person I have ever met. I run my situation by her and do the opposite of what she suggests.

It works like a charm.

Depending on the morons you know, YMMV.
posted by Sheppagus at 3:16 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Somehow, I think I know which decision is best, but what makes the question complex is that part of me wants to have it both ways, or aspects of both choices. So what's really happening is that I'm researching/thinking/discussing till I have enough data and reasons to support that one decision much more firmly and convincingly.
posted by xo at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2007

I second what Chris4d says. That approach to decision-making is one of the cornerstones of my life philosophy. I've found time and again that when I find myself agonizing about a decision, it's an indication that all choices have roughly equal pros and cons, so logically none will make me more or less happy; they're just different paths, and I might as well just pick one and start walking down it. I've done this on a number of occasions, and it's never steered me wrong.
posted by autojack at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2007

This point bears repeating: if you don't have a strong gut instinct on this question, and the pro/con method yields roughly equal lists, then there is no general way to make the Right Decision.

It's best to accept that, in many cases, neither decision is clearly the best one, and you'll just have to choose one and move forward without knowing that you "got it right". There will be some disadvantages to either choice, and you shouldn't let yourself get caught up in trying to find a choice that will be totally free of disadvantages -- there are no such choices.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:41 PM on September 11, 2007

When I'm faced with making a big decision, the most effective thing I do is a lot of research to find out exactly what I'm deciding on.

The example of a living situation is a perfect one. "Should I stay here or should I move out," to me, is an impossible decision to make without knowing what the exact choices are. For instance, right now I live in a house in the suburbs. I've been thinking about moving into a condo in the city. But to me it's nearly 100% futile to evaluate or discuss this decision without first actually looking at condos in the city, finding out the prices, checking out the neighborhoods, etc., and then comparing those things to what I have. Know what I mean?

Say you're living with housemates who are driving you nuts, but financially the situation seems impossible to beat. Well, you can sit around and wonder if you could still make all your payments if you moved out, and wonder what kind of place you could afford on your own, but that's not really going to help. Go out, look at places, do the math. And then you'll really be able to know if you can afford it, and you know what your potential new place would feel like, etc.

For me, after I know exactly what my two (or more) choices are, the decision becomes much easier. One of the choices will usually feel right in both my thinking and my feeling.

Apologies if you already know exactly what your choices are. It just seems that often people try to decide between hypothetical situations, and my personal decision making process doesn't work that way. :) And for me personally, doing all the research is really most of the decision-making work.

Beyond that, I do make pros/cons lists, and I try not to make hasty decisions. An idea I'm ga-ga about one day might seem less attractive to me six weeks later. (Doing a whole bunch of painstaking research also usually helps me get over the "crush" stage of any particular idea. If at some point I lose interest in the research, it becomes clear that I should think again about making a change or a decision in that direction, etc.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:09 PM on September 11, 2007

If I cannot make a decision based on pro's and cons, I consider worst case scenario's and pick the choice with the best outcome worst case scenario.
posted by davar at 4:20 PM on September 11, 2007

Remember Thomas Hobbes's maxim. If the difference between choice A and choice B is significant, then the decision is easy. If the difference is insignificant, then the decision doesn't much matter.
posted by megatherium at 4:52 PM on September 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

I usually knock out a quick analytical review; if one is a CLEAR winner, I generally go with it, unless it will make me unhappy compared to the other.

If neither is a clear winner, I think about how I feel, and how my decision will impact other people, then make a judgement accordingly.

If a decision isn't a clear winner by analytics or emotions or empathy, I realize that either one is equally appropriate, and so either keep on doing the same thing (since not changing is easier than changing) or, if either solution requires change, I flip a coin.

Before I follow through, though, if it's important I sleep on it to see if I'm disappointed with my decision the next day, and/or run it by a trusted friend or family member who's good at seeing sides of things I haven't considered.
posted by davejay at 5:02 PM on September 11, 2007

Myself: if there's data, I make lists of pro's, con's, and extrapolate as much into the future, and see if the choice is obvious. If it's not, I dwell on it while going to sleep, and usually sometime in the next day or two, I'll stop waffling and realize that I've decided on one.

My wife: she'll mentally assign one option to her left hand, and the other to her right hand, and ask me to randomly choose a hand. If she's happy or ambivalent when I decide, she accepts my decision and let's me know what the assignment was. If she's not, she goes with the option I didn't choose. Alternately, she'll ask me to assign options to a left/right hand, and she'll pick.

A friend: go to a beach (or stream or creek). Find two rocks. Assign each rock to a choose, and attempt oneness with it. You're not allowed to leave until you cast one rock away into the water and keep the other rock for your collection of decisions.
posted by nobeagle at 5:15 PM on September 11, 2007

lots of interesting answers here. especially daver and megatherium and co.
one aspect that hasent been adressed: what if the decision is between known (my apartment and crazy housemate) and unknown (another apartment and possibly crazy housemate)? that makes it hard to make lists or consider consequences. in these instances i tend to go for the unknown just for the hell of it, but this has led to disastrous consequences in the past. what would you do?
posted by genmonster at 5:22 PM on September 11, 2007

Do both. Be realistic and write up a pro/con list and give it a good read over. Consider any evidence or facts you have as well. But don't ignore any feelings or mental reservations, allow yourself to process these; many times I'll simply have a feeling or thought about something that may go against or with the pro/con list or reason in general, and most times in the end the feeling was correct. Intuition if you will. A healthy balance of reason and emotion solves most of my problems.
posted by Meagan at 5:35 PM on September 11, 2007

genmonster: When given a choice between known and unknown, I also tend to go for the unknown. It might be because up until grauating college I centered for safe and known, and that wasn't working.

While unknown has been a rocky ride, I don't have regrets about things that I haven't done (well, since making the change in strategy), and anything which went badly I chalk up as a learning experience. So either things go well, or I learn something. Choosing known, either things go well, or I'm haunted for years with what might have been.
posted by nobeagle at 5:39 PM on September 11, 2007

If it's that complicated, I sort of "try on" each decision. I know it sounds kind of funny, but I'll spend a few days telling myself "I'm going to go with A", then another few days saying "I'm going to go with B". Whichever one "fits" best or "feels" best is the one I'll go with. It might sound weird - in fact, now that I'm saying this out loud, it *does* sound weird. But truthfully, every time, A or B makes me feel like I'm going to vomit, and therefore isn't the right choice. Obviously not the method to pull out if you're just picking cell phone plans or something...
posted by ersatzkat at 5:46 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I try to consider best and worse case scenarios for each choice and I try to take the least bad worst option, even if it's not the best good option.
posted by b33j at 5:51 PM on September 11, 2007

Not rushing helps me feel sure of a decision. I am much smarter about things after a few days of pondering it.
posted by Riverine at 8:31 PM on September 11, 2007

Make the pro/con list. If one is a winner, go with it. If they're too close to call, listen to your gut (your most reliable source, always.) If your gut is torn, flip a coin. Go with what the coin says. That's what I do.
posted by smeater44 at 9:09 PM on September 11, 2007

Sheppagus: If your co-worker actually leads to perfectly wrong results as often as you claim, she has to be a master of her field who is just fucking with everyone around her. Truly useless help comes from someone who is right just about as often as they are wrong; if someone is consistently right or consistently wrong a decent fraction of the time, they're actually a useful input so long as you adjust for the output. ;-)
posted by korpios at 8:26 AM on September 12, 2007

« Older zzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzZZzzzzZZzzzzzzz   |   Help me sort my rows please! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.