The Art (and Science) of Decision Making 

I picked up a couple of books on philosophy and psychology awhile back from the local library and I came across a chapter on decision making. While we do know vaguely how decisions are made (or at least, how we make them), I don’t think the majority of us would delve into the technicalities of how we reach certain choices or how we make up our minds. I didn’t manage to read a single sentence from that chapter the night I chanced upon it; just the chapter heading (“How We Make Our Decisions”) itself got me thinking already.

When faced with two or more options, we are likely forced to, or would instinctively, make a choice or decision between the various options. Whether it be between a pair of Adidas and Nike sports shoes, or choosing between different political viewpoints, or even between two tomatoes to pick up at the supermarket.. We all have to make decisions every single day. (Just staying alive is a decision in itself.) It is possibly the most important thing we do everyday, and we sure do a lot of it.

There are many levels in this seemingly simple process. The first level that we consciously or subconsciously make our decisions on is called instinct, or better known as intuition. Something inside us tells us that A makes more sense than B, and choosing A is definitely a better idea than B. It is something that operates on a subconscious level and it makes the decision something that is not deliberated by a conscious thought process. This level is usually the determinant in urgent situations where the decision to act (just to act, or act in a certain way) is made within a spilt second that offers little time for thought, such as whether to dive and push someone out of danger, or whether to pull the trigger or not. 

In less pressing situations with more space and time to think, our rational minds become a larger factor in the decision-making process. We tend to consider various external factors such as the circumstances surrounding the decision, as well as the possible short and long term repurcussions that could result from making the choice. Depending on your personality, you may either consider first the short or long run. Spontaneous and outgoing personalities tend to consider the short run as more crucial, while individuals who prefer planning and are generally more systematic and meticulous (and likely more reserved) would see the long term as more important. 

It’s something like voting for Party A because they dangle a carrot of cash incentives and rebates (short run) over Party B which offers long term solutions to possible problems (long run) which could occur in the future (maybe like providing an alternate voice in government), and vice versa depending which you consider more important. This example shows it the short and long runs form the bedrock of whether you choose instant gratification, or delayed gratification. Of course, this is very general because most of the time the short run interest and long run interest coincide, where the short run benefit over time leads to the long run (economically, we live in the short run and I quote, ‘in the long run we are all dead’ (Keynes)). Economic theory aside, deciding and planning for the future is still inevitably important.

That being said, there are definitely many other factors that contribute to the process of decision making. Our emotions make up a huge chunk of this process, as how an angry person loses most of his rationality while a sad person tends to make a random decision given his emotional state. The process is also influenced by the words of others, whether it be by friendly advice or political directives or so many other possibilities. Circumstances certainly play a critical role as well.

As we have discussed, there are so many factors that affect our decisions (whether directly or indirectly) that we have to know which factor is most important to that decision. Now that we know a few of these factors, we can thus consider if one of these factors (say, emotions) is overbearing on our ability to make a sound decision. We thus have to balance all these factors out before we put our finger and mind on one of the various options facing us. 

Now that we have done some thinking, I think it is time for me to start reading the chapter on Decisions. I guess we pretty much have control over how we decide and what choices we make.. Unless we believe in predestination and fate, which would effectively remove us of our free will and our ability to choose. That however, is a story for another day. 

Til next time, have fun with making decisions!

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