Tough choice

I have recently faced couple of choices in my life that made me think about the way how we make decisions. What sort of decisions are easy to make? What decisions are difficult? How do you define a really tough choice?

Limited amount of decision-making energy

There are situations when I’m not really willing to make a conscious decision at all as I simply don’t care and just go with the flow or let someone else decide. When I look at the decision making process I believe that each of us has a certain capacity to make a decision. We make decisions all day long, most of them are small, trivial things like “What should I have for breakfast?” “Should I wear blue or white today?” When making these decisions we spend our decision making power.

Let me give you an example from my life that is a bit silly but I observed it pretty consistently in the way I act. I love yogurt. I love trying new things. Logically, I love trying new brands of yogurt. I have discovered that when I go shopping for food in the evening after the whole day in the office I usually spend couple of minutes looking at the myriad of choices, deciding what yogurt to buy and then buy the plain one. The same as the last time and the time before. I’m essentially not able to make decision! If I go shopping on Saturday morning I tend to buy one or two brands I haven’t tried before and the decision which one to pick comes really easy.

In these situations I have found that what works for me is to acknowledge this fact and just go with the intention to pick the first thing you see. Basically decide what you will do or chose even before you see the choices.

Base it on your values

When the decisions get bigger and they may have a profound impact on you, your life, lives of people around you it is a bit tricky as you don’t want to make a mistake. But even when faced with decisions whether to go right or left at the grand scale very few of them are really tough choices. What you usually do in such situations is to compare the options available to you. You check some metrics, try to see all the pros and cons and then one of them usually comes as a winner. The actual criteria used will come from your overall goal and value system. If you base your decision on your values, it makes it usually very simple. It also makes it very difficult to regret as you go with your values and with what your heart is telling you is the right choice.

Let me give you an example from recent media storm triggered by Marissa Mayer‘s decision to abolish working from home at Yahoo. If you would look at it from money saving or productivity perspective you may argue a long time, coming with various statistics that will swing the decision from one side to the other and back. If you look at it from perspective of your value system, values of your company and culture you have or trying to create the decision is suddenly not a decision at all. You see that only one option is the right one. So something that looks like a really tough choice and difficult decision to make, could very well be the most simple and straightforward thing in the universe. Of course, you have to live with consequences. The good news is that because the decision is based on your values it will give you the drive to get through all the consequences with enough power and speed to make it a success.

More data will not help

What do you do when all the options are really comparable even when you look at your value system? Well, if everything is really more or less comparable then just stop comparing and pick one! Doesn’t matter which one as both are fine and you are wasting your time trying to figure out which of these two fine decisions is finer. Don’t over-analyze, stop getting more data, just pick one, any one, flip a coin, and move on to spend your energy on other stuff. Having 80% of data is more than enough, in fact 60% is fine. More data very often make the decision harder and harder as you have to analyze more stuff, compare more things and you get to a point of being boiled alive with data unable to decide.

Twitter type summary: “Having more data will not make your decision easier. It will just require you to spend more decision-making energy.”

How do you make decisions in your life? Have you been in situation that you just cannot make up your mind? How did you overcome it?

4 thoughts on “Tough choice

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