The Art of Making Decisions

Robert Taibbi

So, you’re deciding between taking a job near you that pays less but keeps you closer to your family, or one on the West coast that pays more but where you don’t know anyone. Or maybe you’re trying to decide about whether to end a relationship, or what refrigerator to buy.

Figure out what is at the top of your list

This is the most important part of the process and often the most difficult; once you figure this out everything else more easily falls in line. Here you want to think big — what’s most important to you about a job, a relationship, a refrigerator? Money, experience, career ladder, location.

Sort out means and ends

Taking the job on the West coast may be the means to get more experience in your field; leaving the relationship may be the means to handle relationships problems that don’t seem to have any other solution; buying the refrigerator is the means to keeping food cold. Or they may be an end — living on the West coast has always been a life goal; leaving a relationship gives you the independent life you have been craving for years; buying the perfect refrigerator, after struggling with whatever one you inherited, has been a dream.


But wait, there’s more. You also want to sort out your motivational drivers, shoulds vs. wants. The perpetual conflict between these two and can leave you confused and torn. Shoulds are about rules and expectations that you likely inherited from parents, etc.; they fill up your head, can cause you to feel guilty if don’t follow them. If you base your job decision on the notion that you should live near your family, you’ll avoid guilt — you are, after all doing the right thing. But shoulds can carry you only so far; if your wants — those desires, those gut reactions — are left out of the equation, you may eventually begin to feel regretful or resentful because the life that you’re living, though a «good»one, is not your own.

What’s the worst that can happen

Figuring out the top-of-the-list, the shoulds and wants, the means and ends can help you zero in on what you are most striving for. But there is often another hurdle in this decision-making process: being stopped in your tracks by imagining what will happen if you make the wrong decision — that you’ll move to the West coast, miss your family, and lapse into a depression; that you will leave the relationship, never find another partner, and forever regret that you didn’t try harder; that for all your careful research, the refrigerator will turn out be more expensive but not much better than the ones you disliked all those years.

And if you can’t get what you want

You decide on the West-coast job, to leave the relationship, to get that side-by-side refrigerator, but then find that you’re blocked from getting what you want — you aren’t offered the job, you feel you can’t financially afford to leave the relationship, the company that makes the refrigerator you want goes out of business.
This, too, is about having a Plan B, but often about transforming the dream. Ask yourself what what you wanted represented to you, what larger psychological and emotional need it filled.

Categories Psychology

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