To Hide or to Run: Tools to Help with Decision Making in a World with Too Many Choices

Did you ever play hide and seek, outside in the neighborhood, after dark? My cousins were the best at surrounding the good hiding spaces, causing me to freeze, leaning toward the corner of the garage – nope, Kathy’s there, leaning toward the cave under the stairs – nope Pam’s there. As a child I’d think: what’s keeping me from just grabbing a spot and hiding? Well here it is: to make one choice was to leave behind other, possibly better options. Worse, the number of hiding spots felt infinite, so any one choice eliminated an infinite number of potentially better choices. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know the difference between hiding spots at age 8 and where to move, where to work, whether to have children, who to reach out to at age 30 or 40 or 50.

Some people list pros and cons on a T-chart. That’s one way as long as the items on each side have equal weight and value. I tend to pick apart the items into smaller parts, taking lots of time making sure the smaller items are relatively equal.

Some people research and gather information from the internet, friends, and professionals, mull it all about and synthesize things into the one best choice. I try this one often. If nothing else, I enjoy learning more about possibilities. That said, I have a hard time making an actual decision.

Another thing I try is flipping a coin. Even for major decisions. Wait, hear me out. Say, for example I am trying to decide whether to move to Hawaii or stay in Oregon. I researched in a huge way, read books about the different islands, talked to friends I trust, and made a lengthy list of pros (all about beaches and sunshine) and cons (many more – pet quarantine, leaving jobs, no family or friends there, etc.).

In the end I flipped a coin. Heads, we’d live on an island; tails, we’d stay in Oregon. Now this is the beauty of coin flips: it’s a coin, not a judge or The Price Is Right. I flipped tails. My reaction was on of disappointment, sadness, “why not’s,” and “but I want to’s.” Coin flipping lets me gauge my reaction to the coin outcome and my decision becomes clear.

Another decision making tool I use, especially for decisions with more than two options, is eeny meeny miney moe. Yes, the childhood game. There are a couple of ways to do this. I like to touch a photo of each option or have some item that symbolizes each option and touch them as I go around, one touch and one word for each option.

  • Eeny (go to Hawaii this year), meeny (stay in Oregon), miney (move to Hawaii after retirement), moe (move to Florida instead),
  • catcha (go to Hawaii this year), piggy (stay in Oregon), by the (move to Hawaii after retirement), toe (move to Florida instead),
  • if he (go to Hawaii this year), hollers (stay in Oregon), let him (move to Hawaii after retirement), go (move to Florida instead),
  • Eeny (go to Hawaii this year), meeny (stay in Oregon), miney (move to Hawaii after retirement), moe (move to Florida instead).

If I land on Florida and I don’t want to move there, I toss that out and start again with just 3 choices. If I want Florida in, I cheat and decide that means I win and get to go to Florida. Either way I’m tricking my brain into making decisions.

Decisional Balance
Decisional Balance

For a broader, deeper, and visually relevant decision making method, I like the Decisional Balance Activity. It’s a grid that works a bit like the T-chart, but it includes scales of how important the choice (change) is and how certain you are that you can make the choice (change). It looks something like the graphic (click to enlarge, and thank you Miller and Rollnick).

How do you make decisions? Try one of these and let me know what works for you. Add others if you have ‘em. Thanks! We all need a little help with choices.