How to decide among close options

January 27, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Tips

I’ve written before about why deciding is hard. One of my most helpful (to me) insights was that the difficulty in deciding is not figuring out which option I like, but working up the nerve to get rid of the options I don’t choose.

Our language illustrates this challenge — the -cide in decide is the same -cide as in pesticide, insecticide, etc. It means to kill, reiterating that the challenge of choosing is “killing” the options you don’t choose.

I see people caught in patterns of not choosing, sometimes looking for more evidence, sometimes analyzing away, sometimes just scared to “kill off” options. Their reasons are endless. The result is the same.

How to decide among close options

The situation

If you strongly preferred one option over all others you would have taken it. If any options were obvious losers you would have eliminated them. Sometimes you’re left with a few competing options, none of which you want to “kill.”

Examples

Examples are endless. Here are a few you’ve probably felt.

  • You have job offers from multiple companies.
  • You don’t know if you want to get married or not.
  • You’re trying to decide between cars.
  • Should you take a vacation or use the money to go back to graduate school?
  • Should you pay off your loans or renovate your house?
  • Should you approach that attractive person or not?
  • Should you get dessert or not?

I could go on. You know your own. You’re probably dwelling on a few big decisions now and more than a few little ones.

The decision-making model

When you’ve collected all the evidence you can and you’ve eliminated all the choices you can, here’s a model I recommend and use.

You’re skiing down a slope. You get to a place where the paths diverge. You stop to decide which option you prefer. After you look down each slope as far as you can you realize despite collected all the information you can, you can’t tell which path is better for you.

In my decision-making model, the question is not “Which path should I take?” but “Do I prefer skiing or standing in the cold watching other people ski past me?

Don’t like skiing?

You’re surfing. You see a few waves approaching. You look at them to figure which you prefer. After examining them as much as you can you realize despite collected all the information you can, you can’t tell which wave is better for you.

In my decision-making model, the question is not “Which wave should I take?” but “Do I prefer surfing or floating on a surfboard watching other people surf past me?

Don’t like surfing either?

You’re hiking. You get to a place where the paths diverge. You stop to decide which option you prefer. After you look down each path as far as you can you realize despite collected all the information you can, you can’t tell which path is better for you.

In my decision-making model, the question is not “Which path should I take?” but “Do I prefer hiking or standing around?

You get the idea.

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