You Are What You Decide

How to make better decisions.

Do We Make Decisions, or Do Our Decisions Make Us?

What roles do rationality and psychology play in decision-making?

     I met Dick at a party some two decades ago, and we became fast friends, motivated in part by the fact that we are both tennis addicts. We play several times a week, and often discuss tennis - and other matters. In particular, we discuss our wives , and the circumstances which led us to marry them.
    As they say, Dick and I went to different schools together. There are numerous similarities in our backgrounds - we both come from New York, we are approximately the same age, we attended Ivy League schools, we moved to California - and we both married women after taking into account our experience with our mothers. My mother would almost certainly have been classified nowadays as bipolar; when she was happy she was the life of the party, and when she was unhappy she would get extremely depressed.
    This emotional roller-coaster was extremely difficult for me, and for most of my dating career I dated women who were the antithesis of my mother - calm and emotionally stable. This satisfied whatever needs I had for emotionally stable women, but there was never the connection that would have led to marriage. Then Linda came into my life - not quite as volatile as my mother, considerably more Chinese, but after ten years of marriage I've concluded that she is the reincarnAsian of my mother.
    Dick initially married a reincarnation of his mother, but after it didn't work got divorced, and is now married to Barb, a delightful young lady whom Dick assures me does not even remotely resemble his mother. Dick has a much greater familiarity with psychology than I have - he was the head of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai -and he feels that we are programmed by our heredity and our environment to make many of the decisions that we make. In effect, our decisions make us because we cannot help but make them. Dick feels that only after we examine our programming are we able to overcome the adverse effect it has on us, and only then can we make critical decisions well.
    Too deep for me. I feel that we make our decisions, receive feedback from whether they work or not, and then learn which decisions to make. It isn't necessary to examine our programming to make good decisions, it's enough to see whether they work. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Always change a losing game plan.
    So do we make our decisions, or do our decisions make us? If you've read this far, you've probably guessed that the answer is both. Good decisions can be made either by approaching it from the viewpoint of rationality or the viewpoint of psychology. Ideally, you should look at both approaches if you have the ability to do so. If both give you the same answer, the odds are very high you're making the right decision.

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James Stein, Ph.D. is an author, but hanging on to the day job (math professor) in a trying economy.

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