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Decision Making Shapes Your Life

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  1. Who you are and what you'll become (or have become) is largely determined by your decision choices.
  2. Decision Tips
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In this introduction to Decide and Conquer, Stephen P. Robbins explains that decision making is one of life’s most important skills.
This chapter is from the book
  • You know how it is.
  • You’re 21 or 22, and you make some decisions;
  • then—whish!—you’re 70.
  • —T. Wilder

Your typical day is full of decisions! What time do I get up this morning? Should I wear black shoes or brown shoes? What will I have for breakfast? Do I fill up the car with gas this morning or do it on the way home from work? When I get to work, what do I do first: respond to e-mail, go through my in-basket, listen to my voicemail, meet with colleagues?

Throughout your workday, you’re confronted with dozens more of these mundane decisions. And after work, you get no rest from making choices: Do I make dinner at home or eat out? When will I read the news online and go through my personal mail? Do I want to watch TV tonight and, if so, what shows do I watch? Should I make a few calls to family and friends?

Every once in a while, your unrelenting life of routine decisions is interrupted by the need to make a major decision. For instance, your car’s transmission goes out and you have to decide whether to spend $2500 to repair it or go looking for a new car. The person you’ve been dating wants you to give up your apartment and move in together. Your employer is making cutbacks, your boss advises you that your position is being eliminated, and suddenly you’ve got to find a new job.

Who you are and what you’ll become (or have become) is largely determined by your decision choices.

Few activities are more encompassing and characteristic of mankind than making decisions. None of us have the option to live a life void of making choices. In fact, one of the primary tasks parents have in raising children is preparing them to make decisions on their own.

Decision making covers a wide territory. It encompasses everything from major decisions, such as accepting a marriage proposal, to the routine choices of everyday life, such as selecting among food items at the grocery store. Interestingly, most people think of decision making in the context of the big choices—college, marriage, children, jobs, home purchases, and so on. Yet the dozens of day-to-day decisions we all make can be powerful forces in shaping our lives. The person who has trouble scheduling his or her time often ends up being chronically late to work, to meetings, and to social events. It begins to interfere with job performance ratings and personal relationships. What appears on the surface to be minor decisions—what time do I get up in the morning or leave for a date—leads to losing a job or alienating a friend. In many cases, a person “down on his luck” is really just a person who has made some bad choices. He dropped out of school; tried drugs, believing he couldn’t become addicted; made some foolish investments; failed to develop marketable job skills or keep those skills current; procrastinated too long and missed out on a great business opportunity; didn’t think it necessary to read the “small print” in the contract; or thought there was nothing wrong with drinking and driving. The choices we make—the small ones as well as the large ones—shouldn’t be taken lightly. To do so places our future in the hands of fate.

A lot of us overlook the obvious fact that the choices we make shape our lives. Who you are and what you’ll become (or have become) is largely determined by your decision choices. It’s not luck that Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, and Peyton Manning excel in their professions. And it’s not chance that smokers significantly increase the likelihood that they’ll die of lung cancer or that people who save money on a regular basis are less likely to be destitute in their old age than people who don’t. A lot of well-educated people, with talent and connections, have screwed up their lives because they’ve made bad choices. And a lot of people with average talent and minimal opportunities have lived full and rich lives because they learned how to make smart decisions. What we often attribute to luck is nothing more than making the right choice at the right time. A large component of luck is good decision making. The point is: For the most part, the quality of your life is a result of the quality of your decisions.

The good news is that you can improve your decision skills. Even though these skills are critical for success in life, and most of us have had little or no formal training in how to make decisions, you’re not captive to learn only through experience. The basic knowledge you need to have to become more effective at decision making can be condensed and summarized into a short, easy-to-read book. And here it is! In the following pages, you learn the steps toward making optimum decisions and the roadblocks you need to be aware of that can detour this goal.

One caveat before you begin your journey: Perfecting your decision skills doesn’t guarantee that all your decisions will come out the way you had hoped. Good decision skills focus on the means you use to reach a decision, not on the ends. You can’t control outcomes. You can only control the process for arriving at those outcomes. As the old adage goes, however, the race doesn’t always go to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet. Improving your decision skills just increases your chances of winning life’s races and battles.

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