Should I move out of my parents house? Should my child repeat Kindergarten? Should I get married? Should I accept the new job? Should I get divorced? Should I make-up with my friend? Should I go away to college? These are only a few of the big life questions many of us are faced with at some point in our lives.
What about some other, more common questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis? What should I make for dinner? Who should I ask to go to the movies tonight? Where should I park my car? What time should I wake up tomorrow?
Opportunities for making choices are all around us. How effective are you at making choices? This may sound like a simple or minor question, but it is more important than you might think. One of the most common reasons people seek therapy is trouble with decision making. Either they are not sure about a major life decision or they experience daily distress regarding making choices.
What do we know? Problem solving is key. Effective problem solving starts with specifically identifying and describing the problem (e.g., "I want a raise at work but I don't know how to ask for one"). This gives us a clear picture of what we are dealing with and helps to focus our thinking. Next, consider all of the possible solutions to the problem without evaluating whether or not it is a good choice or a bad choice. It is good to list even the outlandish options (e.g., "push my boss down the stairs and demand he gives me a raise"), since this is an option you could feasibly choose (but hopefully won't!). This step is important to keep your mind open to various choices and not become limited by crossing off choices before effectively considering them. Third, consider each option individually. List the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Try to predict the outcome of each option. Note-you will never be able to predict every possible outcome! Fourth, choose the best option for you and try it out. Fifth, evaluate your choice and re-evaluate as needed.
During this process, work on accepting the outcome and avoid punishing yourself if the choice turns out to not be the best one. Try again. Good problem solving takes practice.
This process may seem time consuming, and it can be. But I challenge you to this. How much time are we spending with our problems anyway? Why not use the time more effectively?
If you find that you are struggling with daily decision making, please seek the support of a mental health professional.
How effective are you at solving problems and making choices?