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Slam Dunk Decisions - Ever wrestle with a tough decision? The decision was either tough because you didn't know what the outcome might be or it was tough because there were competing alternatives that all seemed attractive. There are resolutions to each of these tough decisions.

For any decision you face, you should as least know the outcome you want. Call this the ideal solution that is the embodiment of the reason you are considering a change from the status quo (what you have now). If things were perfect or just the way you wanted them, then there would be no need to make a decision. People make a decision when things are either not perfect or believe conditions could be better with some alteration of what they have.

When you don't know the outcome of a decision, then all you need to do is take a couple of steps towards implementing the decision and keep your eyes open. If the situation seems to be getting better, then keep going. If the situation seems to be getting worse, stop and re-evaluate. Sometimes you have to let the reality of the situation reveal itself before you make a full commitment to any course of action.

When you have many seemingly good choices (a very desirable situation to find yourself in), let your intuition be your guide. Use your conscious mind to separate out the better choices and use logic to pick the seemingly best choice. Then turn the decision over to your gut (heart) to decide. That evening, remind yourself that you need a decision by the time you wake up. The next morning, if your subconscious mind feels uncomfortable with the choice previous picked by conscious deliberation, then set that choice aside and pick another. Repeat the process the next evening before bedtime. If you awake the next morning feeling that this is the right decision, it probably is the right decision. Your intuition is significantly more aware of your true motives that your conscious mind, so it is best to use this power when making decisions.

No decision is difficult when there is no uncertainty. The decision is then obvious.  

 
So the time gathering information is useful in reducing uncertainty.  Knowing yourself and your values also aid in making a decision.  When you know what you want and the likely outcome of a project, the decision boils down to one paying the price.   All decisions are based on aspirations of improving what one has now by trading giving up some part of the status quo for the brighter prospect for the expected future outcome.

Tough Decisions - Some decisions are so obvious that you make them without hesitation. Other decisions are so difficult it seems that there is no satisfactory solution.  This website offers help in making the difficult decisions.   By following a disciplined approach, a decision maker can improve their chances of making the best decision possible given the circumstances.  It my not be the perfect decision and the outcome may eventually fall short of the decision-maker's desires.  But a decision made with a disciplined approach and logical deliberation produces better decisions over the long-run than ones made without it.

Time Management - A critical decision for everyone is how to spend one's time, energy, and resources.  Most people's lives are already filled with things that they are already doing or planning to do to fill their time - the daily quota of 24 hours per day.  Only minor decisions are needed to manage successfully the things that one is already committed to doing, such as deciding at what restaurant one will take his wife to on Friday night. Major decisions are those that involve adding something new to one's plate of activities.  Major life decisions require substituting something that one already has committed to (spending time and energy on) for something else they might enjoy better.   Its these types of major decisions that this website strives to address.   

Give to Get - Since one only has 24 hours in a day, more activities can not be added without postponing or eliminating some of the activities one is already doing.     These major decisions all involve giving up something one already has in exchange for gaining something new.   It's a give and take situation.   In other words, to gain something new, something the decision maker wants and doesn't have, something they already have must be given up.  Logically, only the best new opportunities should be allowed to enter the decision-maker's life.  The least valuable activities should be sacrificed to permit the resources in time and energy that they previously consumed to be diverted to the new opportunities.  Decision making by this model is one of constant renewal, weeding out the lesser valuable activities and replacing them with higher value activities.   All major decision-making  has at its core the same difficulty...giving up choices that are less than the best to allow other better choices to enter.   What makes any decision tough is giving up what has for something one doesn't have but wants more.    Surrendering what one has is the price that must be paid for getting what one doesn't have.  Some might consider this to be a two-step decision making process.  The first step is to select the best of the best to add to one's life.  The second step is to select the least important thing one does to give up to permit the time and resources for the new. 

Psychological Resistance - Adding to the difficulty of making decisions are known psychological barriers.   For instance, picking any one of many choices available is a decision to pursue one specific course of action instead of others.  Picking one of the choices also means an associated decision not to pursue any of the other choices.  This is particularly true when the choices are mutually exclusion, meaning that only one choice is needed to satisfy the identified want or need.  Giving up good choices is psychologically painful, but it is necessary to devote scarce resources to the successful implementation of the choice selected.  Making a choice implies commitment to that choice and that one is prepared to invest the requisite time, energy, or resources (i.e. sowing the seeds of harvest) needed to implement the decision.    

Constant Renewal - Giving up something old for something new allows one's life to to progress towards the better.  Constant renewal weeks out the lesser valuable and replaces it with something that is hoped will be better.  If a decision-maker were successful is the renewal process, one's life should be getting better and better.  But is this is what happens in most people's life?  In a short answer, no it isn't.   The reason one's life doesn't get progressively better is ineffective decision making.  Hence this website to enlighten more people to use a disciplined approach to making the major decisions in their lives. 

Self-Management -  Personal decision-making is closely linked to both self-management and time management. Each person is allotted the same amount of time each day.  How we choose to use that time defines our differences.  The rule of time management is that time cannot be saved, it can only be spent.   Deciding how to spend one's time must fruitfully is the most important contributor to success and happiness.  In essence, decision making is nothing more than deciding how to spend your limited time, energy, and resources to achieve the highest satisfaction of you wants and needs.   In a 24-hour period, you can only squeeze in so many activities.  The contribution of those activities to your well-being is what distinguishes the successful from the unsuccessful.   Bad decisions are those that don't achieve results or achieve the wrong results.  Each person must decide what activities to try and fit into their daily allotment of 24 hours.  The major decision are those dealing with what to do and the minor decisions deal with how to do them.  Both types of decisions are important to the results actually achieve.   

Time Management - Each person must decide how they will spend their 24-hours per day.   Activities are what fills our 24-hour time horizon.   Each person's life during a single day is represented by a flow of activities.   Each discrete activity could be represented by a thread that winds itself in and out of our day.   When a person is multitasking, it means that they are engaged in more than one activity simultaneously, like walking and thinking.  All activities are the result of a decision to one thing and not another.   Even not deciding is a choice, because it means they are electing to continue what they were last doing.   Most often, our time-management choices are made subconsciously.  But the better self-managers devote considerable time making these decisions - consciously.   

Bundles of Activities - Suppose that in a 24-hour day, each activity we engaged in was represented by a piece of thread.  Its length would be the duration of the activity, and the color would represent the type of activity.  For example, sleep might be represented by a single, long ( eight hour) blue thread.  If one were to lay these colored threads out along a 24-hour timeline, the visual display would represent you life.   These colored threads might have repetitive patterns, like sleep, eating, working, watching television, etc.  For each mosaic or pattern of threads, you would expect to get the same fundamental result.  For different thread patterns, you would expect to get different results.   The important point here is you need to match the thread pattern to the result you wanted.   Going out for dinner and dancing requires a different threat pattern than mowing the lawn.  If a person wanted to get a different result in one 24-hour period, they would have to vary the thread pattern, otherwise, they would get the same result they got the last time.   Different thread patterns create different results. 

What and How Decisions - Decisions don't create results by themselves, but they determine the general direction of your march.   It is the implementation of decisions that generate the results.  Thus, there are decisions that reflect the "what" you want to accomplish and decisions that reflect "how" you intend to manifest them.   The "what" decision is a strategic decision that selects the desired end-state.  It causes a second set of decisions called the "how" decisions, which are the tactical means for creating the desired end-state.  It is the combination of "what" and "how" decisions that fill your 24-hours with activities.    

Change - If you want things to be different, then you must either do different things or do the same things differently.   As stated earlier, you need a different thread pattern for each type of result you desire.  The results you are getting is completely determined by the threads (activities) that you fill your life with.  To get something different requires change, either 1) ending the existing set of "whats", 2) changing "how" you are trying to achieve them, or 3) starting new "whats".    Decision making and change are directly connected.   Change requires a change in activities and depends on decision-making to determine which of the three change options (or combination thereof) to use.    Decisions in the activities that fill the time ultimately produce changes in what we experience. 

Trade-offs - Decisions are tough when there is conflict between the ends sought.  Decisions are also tough when you have more goals you want to achieve than you time, energy, and resources to support.  Most tough decisions require trade-offs between the things the decision maker wants to gain from the decision and the ability to give up the lesser important choices that cannot fit into the limits of your resources.  Making choices between important values is what makes tough decisions tough.  For instance,  you have two choices for a new job.  One has good pay but the other has a better chance for advancement.  One has a long commute, but the other has a better work environment and friendly coworkers.  One has better health benefits, but the other has better retirement benefits.   Which alternative to you choose?   The answer is...it depends on what is more important to you.  Once you have completed the steps in the decision making process (shown below), the decision maker should be as prepared as they will ever be to make the decision.  If in the end, both alternatives score about the same, then you know that neither one is better than the other.  You either need to find a new, better third alternative or to flip a coin and pick either one of the two options.  Having done your homework, you will be less concerned with the regret that often accompanies a decision.  You will have examined the alternatives available, seen clearly what each offers in terms of what is important to you, and made a clear, examined choice.  Once you decide, you need to commit yourself to making that choice succeed my putting your best effort forward in its implementation.   The other aspect of this website that deal with implementing decisions once they are made.   There are both risks and opportunities that come from implementing a decision, which is what the decision maker has to do to take the choice from conception to reality. 

Decision-Making Process - The process steps for making good decisions is outlined in the figure below.  Following a proven, disciplined procedure for making decisions does not guarantee a good decision every time as there are too many variables that the decision maker cannot control.   However, a disciplined approach to decision-making should improve your batting average as more of your decisions turn out better than they would if you didn't.  The hyperlinks above will take you to a more detailed discussion of each of the seven steps of the decision making process.   

Rewards of Good Decisions - People make decisions and work diligently to implement them so they can reap the harvest of their diligent labor as their reward.  If only life were so simple and that hard work always paid off with  the expected outcome we initially envisioned before we started.  But reality is a hard teacher.  We make choices, invest in them, get results,  and learn from the experience.  The reason our decisions don't always turn out the way we hope or expect them to is due to many intervening factors such as 1) the presence of uncontrollable variables especially if there is a long delay in implementing the decision, 2) erroneous assumptions made by the estimator, and 3) the impact of multi-decisions interplaying with one another.    As a result of  these intervening factors, the exact outcome of most decisions is uncertain.  Some decisions can be declared certain because the delay time is short, the decision maker is working with reliable information, and there is only one decision in play during the interval between decision and outcome.   Other decisions, especially those with  high investment (time, energy, and resources), complexity and interactions with other decisions, and difficulty of  implementations are subject to high levels of uncertainty.   Different decision making rules and tools are need to be used for certain and uncertain decisions.  This web site will deal with decisions made under both certainty and uncertainty.  

Choices - You need to invent more than one alternative to have a choice.   If you only have one alternative, you have no choice except "go" or "no go".  As soon as you are aware of options to do something different that what you are currently doing - the status quo - you start the decision making process.   Most of our decisions are made unconsciously and autonomously.  Only for major decisions is it worth the time spent thinking about our choices.  In fact, it is human nature to avoid making choices.   There is a propensity to stay with the status quo just to avoid thinking about alternatives and the hard work to implement them.   To avoid the necessity of making choices, we usually carry a high number of default options around with us - built from experience and personal tastes - so that we automatically know what choices we prefer as our wants and needs arise.  

Payback - When faced with multiple choices, the decision maker normally only gets to choose one of them, because most choices are mutually exclusive.   All the good alternative cannot be pursued or consummated at the same time.  For example, if you choose to dine at restaurant A, then you are not choosing (rejecting) all the possible restaurants you might have considered.   For each decision, there is an expected outcome (dining pleasure) and an expected investment (the bill) that must be expended to acquire that outcome.  In one class of decision making - decision making under certainty - the outcome associated with each choice is fairly certain.  Decisions made under certainty are decided by comparing the rewards to the investment.  Logic would suggest picking the choice that grants the highest payback per unit of investment.

Feedback - Decision-making is a multi-step process.  The decision-making model used in this website is shown in the figure below.  The first five steps involves making a decision.  The sixth step is implementing the decision and collecting the outcome.  There is usually a delay time between selecting a choice and collecting the outcome.  Once the decision begins to generate results,  the decision-maker must review the outcome with respect to the original unfulfilled need and ask the question, "Has my need been fulfilled sufficiently to move on to the fulfillment of other more important needs?"  If the need is not sufficiently satisfied, and the gap between the aspiration and realization is still large relative to other needs competing for the decision-makers attention, then the decision-making process continues for more rounds until the decision maker concludes that the need has been sufficiently satisfied.   

Uncertainty - Uncertainty adds a further complication.  If the outcome from a decision occurs in an uncertain future that is not under your control, then there are usually  multiple possible outcomes.  Some of the outcomes are better and some are worse than the expected.  Sometimes these multiple outcomes are determined by what are called "states of nature".  If one unpredictable and uncontrollable "state of nature" occurs, the decision maker gets one outcome.  If another "state of nature" occurs, the decision-maker gets another outcome.  In a condition of uncertainty, making the choice does not lead automatically to the expected outcome.  In-between the decision and the implementation, there is time for a divergence in what was expected and the final result.      In decisions under uncertainty,  the outcome is not under your direct control.  The outcome is controlled by "mother nature".   As stated earlier, these outcomes can be predicted and categorized as future "states of nature". Each of the scenarios or future states has an associated outcome, some good, some bad, and some ugly.   Which state of nature will occur, after the investment has been made by the decision maker, is the unknown part of decision making and is partially what makes decision making so difficult.  But uncertainty must be taken into account if you want to make an informed decision.     Thus, the final outcome of a decision is usually uncertain and dictated by mother nature (states of nature).  These states of nature can vary in terms of what the decision maker desires...some for better or some for worse.   In summary, given an uncertain future outcome, the eventual result the decision maker receives from any decision could end up better or worst than the expected outcome. 

Risk Management - With a little extra effort, the decision-maker may be able to increase his chances of getting more rewards and avoiding undesirable losses.  Avoiding the downside of decisions is the subject of risk management wherein the risks inherent in a decision are identified, assessed, and mitigated to ensure that the objectives of the decision-maker are achieved with the resources invested.  

Decision Classes - This website will eventually be expanded to cover each of the following classes of decision shown in the figure below.  Each decision class has a slight variation in how best to reach the decision that is most appropriate for a specific decision-maker.


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Website last updated on 10/19/08
Copyright 2005 Charles W. Sooter.  All rights reserved.