Contemplating choices

The art of making decisions

Making decisions is an important part in our everyday life. Decisions can vary from what you’ll wear in the morning, to choosing your major in college. Some of these decisions have minor impact on you, and others are life-shaping decisions. But what can you do when you’re faced with so many options and you can’t seem to decide which one is the best for you? When you’re in this situation, you quickly realize that more is less when it comes to choices.

The way I like to deal with this scenario is by reducing my options through the process of elimination. In order to better understand how this process works, let’s take a simple example. Imagine you’re celebrating your first date anniversary with your significant other, and you’re trying to figure out where to go. It could be a cafe, a theater, a park, or maybe a trip to the Blue Lagoon! The choices are endless, but they can be narrowed down with these 3 simple steps.

1. Finding the major and minor variables

Your first step is to figure out all (or most of) the things that change because of the choice that you plan to make. Let’s call these changes ‘variables’. There are two types of these variables:

  1. The major ones. They are usually your top priorities and you want to make sure that in whatever decision you make, they are taken into account.
  2. The minor ones. These are the variables that are of a less importance than the major variables, but still should be taken into consideration.

Spoiler: The major variables will be used later to eliminate most of your options while the minor variables will be used to narrow down the remaining list of options that you still have left. Stick around to know how.

In our example, we can extract the following variables:

  • Major: how your significant other likes to spend their time (since it’s a special day and you want to make them happy).
  • Minor: how much it will cost you, will you also enjoy it, will it be memorable…

2. Classifying the options into big categories

When trying to make a decision, you will usually notice that many of the choices have things in common and can be grouped together. This allows us to make what we’ll call a decision tree. Here you can have as many subcategories as you like, depending on how many things your choices have in common. So what are your anniversary options that you want to consider?

Decision Tree

3. Eliminating choices

Now that you have your decision tree, what’s left is to apply your variables to it in order to narrow down your choices starting with the major variables. Let’s say for example that your SO likes nature and would prefer spending the time with you alone. This would eliminate the “Owned private places” branch since you’ll have company there, and would make the “Sporty” branch seem plausible.

Moving to the minor variables, let’s start with them one by one:

  • Cost: You’ve been saving up money and you really want to make this day special, so you don’t want to eliminate anything based on it, even though some options are more expensive than others.
  • Your preference: You don’t want to just eat and head back home. You want to spend some quality time together, so you’ll eliminate restaurants and cafes from the choices.
  • Will it be memorable: Probably not in a hotel because it would be too boring. You’re left now with the picnic, hiking and chalet.
  • One more thing: You check the weather and there’s a possibility of rain on that day. You don’t want the rain to run your day, so to stay safe you remove the picnic and hiking trip from your tree.

What are you left with now? The chalet, where you can have both the nature and a place to hide if it rains.

Filled tree

Final words

This example might seem trivial, but it’s just an illustration of the process that can be applied when making decisions. When you have more and more choices, you’ll start seeing the effects and how easier it can make your decision. And last but not least, have fun on your anniversary (unless you are single like we are)

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