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Difficult Decisions Can Be A Little Easier

Years ago, when I was still a teenager, my father taught me a method of evaluating options when making difficult value decisions.  These types of decisions were mostly about which school to attend, career path, job positions, and major purchases (home, car, home improvement, etc.).  This method was meant for objective decisions, not emotional ones.  Difficult decisions are difficult because of the various criteria involved.  Emotional decisions are not part of this equation, so please do not use this post when deciding whom to marry, because I have been divorced twice; so you’ve been warned.

Any complex decision entails 5-10 separate criteria, items of consideration that are going to be difficult for each option.  The decision-making process is complex because each option is going to hold to each of those criteria differently.  If one of your options is overwhelmingly favorable across the board, then it really is not a difficult decision, it is a slam-dunk, a no-brainer.  Most of time, no-brainers only occur with simple, minimally variable situations.

I have tried to teach this method to my own kids and to those I have mentored, but it often does not get followed because it seems like an unnecessary step.  Hopefully one of you reading this will apply it to your next major decision in life.  Essentially you need to list each of the criteria or features of the decision that apply.  Take some time to think these through and write them on a sheet of paper or type them into the left column of an Excel spreadsheet.  The next column should show the “weight” of each of these criteria.  Each criterion should have its own unique weight based on a descending order of rank.  This means that the most important one should have the highest weight (see figure 1).  If you have eight (8) criteria, then the most important one should have the weight of ‘8’ and the least important one the rank of ‘1’.  Each criterion needs to be weighted uniquely. 

Figure 1

Now, some people will say that they are all important, and that is correct.  Each of these criteria is important, that is why you are considering each one.  However, there is an order of how they rank with you, and that is something you need to be very honest about.  For each option, whether a job, a house, or a school, you should have a column that you will score that option against each of those criteria.  I suggest a 5-point scale (Likert) where 5 means the best and 1 means the worst.  Life decisions are not black and white, so be sure you are also honest with your scoring.  It is natural for an exciting option to score low on a particular criterion, while the current option scores higher on others.  Again, if it was an easy decision, you would have already made it with confidence.

After you have scored each criterion for each option, multiply the weight times the rating for each and you will have a score.  Add up the scores for each option.  If you have a difference of 10% or more, then you have objectively evaluated the decision, and the best option is shown by a healthy margin.

Sometimes, you will have a very tight margin.  In cases like this, you can change the rating scale to a 10-point scale (Likert).  Or, perhaps there are additional criteria you left out.  Make these corrections and try again.  Excel is very handy for this since you can use formulas for the calculations and copy them into the cells.  Then, all you do is type in your ratings and weights and the computer does the rest.

We all have a gut feeling about these decisions; but often that feeling is not strong enough for a confident final decision.  Many times, you will find that your original gut feeling is an accurate perception.  Our brains evaluated these decisions automatically but can often get bogged down with varying degrees of objectivity.  Objectivity is our ability to see the facts around us, and not so much the feeling.  However, some of the criteria you choose may come from a subjective or feeling/sensing need or perceived need. 

You may have heard of personality tests, or perhaps you have taken one at work or school.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is probably one of the most commonly known and most misused personality test.  However, if you have taken one, and you are a “F” for feeling, you will find it to be challenging to evaluate options in the way I have explained above.  You may even have the urge to “wing-it.”  If you have solid intuitions, then your choices may end up being correct more times than being wrong.  If you are a “T” for Thinking, then this may be an easier method for you.  Either way, if you take a little part of your day to really think about your decision, and all the individual criteria involved, then you are more likely to make quality value decisions, more often.

You are going to make some mistakes.  Hopefully, when you do, you use that lesson when evaluating options and developing valid criteria in the future.  We are all on this big blue Earth to live and experience.  Nobody gets it 100% correct, so don’t beat yourself up when one of your decisions falls flat.


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