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We make decisions every day. Though our decisions may be of varying importance, all of them affect our lives. More important, they affect other people’s lives. Other people’s decisions affect our lives. Our decisions, in this way, affect the whole world. 

Though decision-making is so important, studies have shown that most people are quite poor at it. At least, they are not as good at decision-making as they think they are! However, an understanding of the decision-making process can help us make better decisions. So let us consider how decisions are made and how they should be made.

What is decision-making?

Decision-making is identifying and choosing alternatives. 

“Should I study computers, engineering, medicine, or the fine arts?” 

If we have to make a decision, it obviously means that that there are (two or more) choices that we may consider.  

If you had a choice, how would you make a decision between studying computers, engineering, medicine, and the fine arts?

Would your decision not be based on your goals, desires, and lifestyle?

What are your goals?

What is it that you want to accomplish? While making decisions many people consider their choices and then ask, "Which should I choose?" without thinking first of what their goals are. Wouldn’t you agree that these people are not being wise?

Next time you find yourself asking, "What should I do? What should I choose?" ask yourself first, "What are my goals?"

If we have more than two choices, we would obviously want to identify as many of these choices as possible and then choose what suits us best.

What suits us best — and our decision to go for that ‘best’ choice — depends on our goals, desires, and lifestyle.

“Should I eat meat or not?”  

How will you make this decision — to eat meat or not? Will your decisions not be based on your preferences (say taste)? More important, will your decision not be based on your values? Will you not decide to eat meat or be vegetarian depending on how you feel about killing animals?  

You may debate in your mind that it is all right to eat meat “because animals are made for humans, because they are part of a food chain in which humans happen to be higher up, so it is all right to eat meat.” Or you may decide that you will remain a vegetarian throughout your life because one should not kill — not even animals.  

Decision-making depends on your values.  

Value refers to how desirable a particular outcome is, and the value of the alternative (say in terms of money, satisfaction, or other benefits).

The process of decision-making

How do we decide what we decide? Is there a process by which we arrive at our decisions? Let us find out.

Even though we may not always be aware of it, the decision-making process involves risk.

Imagine a person thinking: “Should I, like all my classmates, join an engineering college (but since I don’t like math, I might do badly in my exams and, therefore, not get a good job afterwards) or should I become an actor (which I want to be, but which may leave me poorly paid or even unemployed for a few years)?”

This person is obviously weighing his or her risks.

Since the decision-making process involves risk, we need to reduce uncertainty and doubt about the alternatives before us to such an extent that we can make a reasonable choice from among the alternatives, so that we can make a choice that involves minimal risk.

The person in the previous example may think: “I want to become an actor. The chances of my succeeding as an actor are better if I join the National School of Acting because many great actors learnt acting at this institute.” That way, he or she would be trying to remove uncertainty and doubt by mulling over the information that is available about the alternatives.

Uncertainty and doubt about alternatives can be reduced when there is adequate information about the alternatives.

Don’t you think that you would be able to make decisions more easily, and therefore make better decisions, if the information you had about your alternatives was precise?

Consider these examples:

“The National School of Acting produced 23 acclaimed actors from a batch of 30 students last year (so it is a good school, and I might become a good actor if I join it).”


“The National School of Acting produced only 4 acclaimed actors from a batch of 30 students last year. The rest of its students are hunting for jobs even now (so it is not a good school, and I might not be able to make acting my career, even if I join this institute).”


“Out of 363 students who joined the engineering college in my town, 360 of them got selected for prestigious jobs through campus interviews that were held immediately after the final examinations. A survey showed that of these 360 students 207 of them did not like math very much when they joined (so this is a good engineering college whose teachers make it easy to learn math. Moreover, if I pass out of this college I am likely to get a good job immediately).”

Do you see how information helps in decision-making?

The more precise the information about the alternatives, the easier and better decisions we can make.

Of course, if we have complete information about all the alternatives before us, we would be able to make a decision without any dilemmas. But, as you know, this rarely happens!

Ironically, often we are faced with information overload — too much, unnecessary information. We should, therefore learn to select and analyze information correctly and accurately.  

against our values if we exercise free will.


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