How to Make Decisions: Guidelines Vs. Rulesets

Train track

Peoples lives are governed by different values and perceptions.

For some, they are very strict. They may see things in terms of black and white, right or wrong, and good and bad.

Their decisions tend to be based on only a few of their perceived options.

For others, however, they prefer to allow more judgement to be involved in the process. What’s right is not always so clear, and there are several shades of grey involved.

For these people decision-making is a process, weighing each and every piece of evidence to all possible outcomes.

Personally, I tend to think in shades of grey. I will methodically look at every piece of reasoning and follow it to each possible conclusion.

My girlfriend Cammy on the other hand, thinks in black and white. She tends to only see a few possible outcomes, and uses the evidence to lead to one of those specific outcomes.

On more than one occasion our perceptions have clashed.

This has led to a certain question to arise: Are their benefits to thinking one way over the other when it comes to making decisions?

Black and White

Most people will tell you that black and white thinking is bad: I disagree.

Although my past self would have immediately dismissed it as an incomplete way of viewing decision-making, I’ve learned that it is actually people like myself who would benefit the most from it.

This is because it:

  1. Needs less data to act on
  2. Simplifies decision-making

Thinking this way means having only a select few options to choose from.

By limiting your options, you only need to weigh your evidence against those few outcomes. Thus, you only require a few major of pieces of information to make a decision.

For instance, if your options are either:

  1. Getting a dog
  2. Not getting a dog

Then you only need to ask yourself a few major questions, such as:

  • Do I want a dog?
  • Can I afford a dog?
  • Can I house a dog?

And that’s it.

But what if you are considering a cat as well?

Then you must ask yourself those same questions about cats as well. This leads to 6 questions to consider rather than 3, double the questions. Add one more pet to the mix and you’re at 9 questions to consider.

It should be clear that limiting your options speeds up the whole process.

Not only that, it makes it much simpler. Less options means less to consider, less to consider means less mental exhaustion.

Those two benefits in tandem are very useful for those who think too much before acting. It makes the decision process both faster and easier, very much a win-win.

But there is one major disadvantage with this style of thought process.

When thinking in black and white, you run the risk of only seeing 2 options when in fact there might be other better options available.

This means that you might pick sub-optimal decisions along the way, leading to sub-optimal results.

It’s a matter of whether your willing sacrifice quality for speed and simplicity.

Shades of Grey

In between all the black and white exists the shades of grey.

These are the less obvious options and outcomes, the ones which require a bit of work to reach.

It’s a systematic process, and it’s sensitive to every bit of relevant data. You’ve got to sift through all the info and follow it to its unique outcomes.

Consider the example from earlier:

  1. Getting a dog
  2. Not getting a dog

And the main questions you’d ask yourself:

  • Do I want a dog?
  • Can I afford a dog?
  • Can I house a dog?

If the answer is yes to all of those, then you can also probably get a cat as well. Now you have 3 options to choose from.

But if you can get a cat as well, then perhaps you could also get two dogs so that they can keep each other company.

After assessing the reasoning, your options might look like this:

  1. Get a dog
  2. Get two dogs
  3. Get a cat
  4. Get two cats
  5. Get a dog and a cat
  6. Not get a pet

All this work will lead you to a more accurate and overall better decision. This is good since that animal will probably be at home 24/7, possibly for several years.

There are, however, 2 main disadvantages to this line thinking, and it’s because:

1) It’s slower
2) It’s tedious

Instead of weighing evidence against only a few options, you must use it to come up with possibly many more to choose from.

This means a longer, more drawn out decision-making process.

And there will be times where you simply don’t feel like doing all that. It’s a lot of mental work to hash out, which you won’t feel like doing if you’re already tired.

With this thought process you sometimes run the risk sacrificing speed and simplicity for quality.

So which one is better?

Well, it depends on how you make decisions.

If you tend to be slow to make decisions, then a black and white style of thinking will benefit you.

It’ll speed the process up and make things simpler.

If however you find yourself rushing through the decision-making process and find them to be a bit short-sighted, then thinking in shades of grey will be more beneficial.

Your decision quality will be a lot better and lead to better outcomes.

So really it’s about balancing out the weaknesses in your current decision-making process.

One more consideration to make is how much of an investment the decision will be.

If you can back out of it easily then you might benefit from the faster black and white thinking style. Even if you abandon that decision, you can still cash in on the experience of it.

But if it’s something like purchasing a new house, then you should definitely make sure you consider all the options available to you. You don’t want to spend all your time and money on a home you don’t like.

Closing Thoughts

We can gain much from not limiting our perspectives to the ones we always use.

Whether it’s black and white or shades of grey… Both have their perks, and both have their flaws.

The one you use should be determined by how effectively it helps you make decisions.

When crunch time comes, the question you should ask yourself is this: what line of thinking will help me make my decision?

How do you tend to think, in black or white or in shades of grey? Which style do you think is better? Please leave a comment below!

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If you enjoyed this post, why not hire me to write for your blog? You can contact me at Ericson@onewaythoughts.com

 

 

 

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