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
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
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
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
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.