How to think through a decision

One way of looking at how we make decisions is called the ‘story model’, or ‘explanation-based decision making’. When we face a situation that calls for a decision, we recognise some of its elements from similar past experiences and we create a story, or explanation, about what’s going on and what will happen. We do this intuitively, without really thinking about what we’re doing, and based on our story and how things worked out in those similar past situations, we make our decision. This can happen quite quickly.

The trouble with that is twofold: sometimes our stories are less complete than we realise and sometimes we overlook differences between our ‘previous experience stories’ and the situation we’re currently facing. Then we make a poor decision.

To avoid that, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What other information do I need?
  • Does any of my evidence or information conflict with other evidence or information or not make sense?
  • What other ways of looking at the information or evidence are there?
  • What could a different story, or way of looking at this situation, be? How does that compare with my first story?
  • What decision am I leaning towards and why?
  • What are the likely consequences of this decision?

Then it’s a good idea to write down why the decision you’re leaning towards is the best one, compared with your other options, along the lines of: Why is this a smart decision? (Yes, write it down.) This further helps you build a more complete picture of the situation and look at it from different angles and on top of that, it gives you more confidence in your decision.

When you think things through deliberately and thoughtfully like this, you generally make a better decision. Which, of course, saves time and tears in the long run.

Discussion questions

How does this compare with the way you usually make decisions?