This is part of a continuing series of free-lance columns that help explain how to deal with situations in our lives and/or how to make life more enjoyable.
Do you take the job in Seattle? Do you seek a divorce? Do you buy that house?
Indecision grips many people faced with these or similar choices. Others make poor decisions, often in predictable but tragic patterns.
No one is completely indecisive, according to Barry Levy, a psychotherapist who teaches a course with William Cone at Long Beach City College entitled "How to Make a Decision." "When somebody says 'I can't make decisions,' that is a decision," he says.
Levy teaches his students six decision-making models. Each is more applicable to some situations than others. He suggests applying each model that is appropriate before making a major life decision. By doing so, Levy says people can learn how to have more control over their lives.
1) Conflict resolution. This model sacrifices long-term benefits to short-term pressures, such as a parent appeasing a child or a spouse going along with his or her mate's decision without an argument.
"For some people, it is a way of life," Levy says. He believes that people who base many of their decisions on conflict resolution should use one or more of the other models to compare short-term threats with long-term benefits.
Nevertheless, appeasement may be a wise decision if the short-term pressure takes the form of a robber in a dark alley or an abusive boss who will soon be transferred to another office.
2) Flaw avoidance. For persons who don't want to buy a car too big for the garage or select a mate who's a spendthrift, winnowing out options containing one or more flaws may be a useful procedure.
3) Goal setting. "This model is often used in business situations," Levy says. It is nearly the opposite of flaw avoidance: tailoring a decision around a goal, such as earning enough money to buy a new house or giving oneself a year to find a part in a play.
Self-imposed deadlines--a form of goal setting--are particularly important for persons who tend to put off decisions, Levy says. The advantage of goal setting is that it helps one focus on actions leading to attainment of the goal. The disadvantage is that slavish devotion to goal setting can make a person's life one-dimensional.
4) Balance sheet. "This is common when you are choosing a car," Levy says. It involves listing the positive and negative points of each option. The option having the longest good list and the shortest bad list is presumably the best decision, at least under this model.
5) Weighted balance sheet. A more sophisticated balance sheet, it takes into account that some decision-making criteria are more important than others. For example, if in choosing a house "adequate closet space" is half as important as "community cultural attractions" and a fifth as important as "a good city school system," houses may be awarded 0 to 2 points in the first category, 0 to 4 points in the second category and 0 to 10 points in the third. This way, a house with terrible closet space in a city with a great school system would receive more points overall than a house having the opposite attributes.
6) Intuition. "A lot of people make intuitive decisions," Levy says. "In some cases, it is a pretty positive type of thing." He says persons making intuitive decisions "are tapping into their subconscious processes, which can have a lot of information not easily available on a conscious level."
Residue of Traumas
However, he warns that it could also be based "on a bag of old garbage," which he defines as the residue of the traumas, insecurities and weaknesses built up in the past.
He believes that people who use intuition to make good decisions are often using an internal weighted balance sheet. He says by making the process conscious, a person may be able to simulate the intuitive process on demand.
If a person continues to be racked by indecision after learning the decision-making models, Levy suggests evaluating the worst thing that could happen if he or she decides on any particular option.
He says that many times a person's fear of taking a particular path of action is larger than the pitfalls that actually lie along that path.