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Decision Making is Educational: Making Our Own Rules

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Recently a friend asked me whether there’s a general rule of thumb that applies to all decision making. From what others have shared with me, from what I’ve read and my own experiences, I’ve consolidated a list of general principles to follow/things to be aware of when making most decisions.


1. Decide on what it is we want.

We are the best judge of our own needs, capabilities, beliefs, values, and preferences. Based on our understanding of ourselves, we can make up our own mind as to what it is we want.

Sometimes we may bravely admit that we don’t really understand ourselves. But most likely, it’s not that we don’t, it’s that we refuse to see those characteristics that don’t nicely fit our own story of ourselves.

Once we’re willing to match fantasy with reality, then we can begin our journey to making all decisions, based on self-knowledge.

Deciding on what we want is not a simple decision. But it can be. Most of the time, what makes the decision difficult is that we want to simultaneously answer two questions at once, i.e., the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. By focusing on the ‘what’ first, and not on the ‘how’, the decision will come more easily. If we dwell on the ‘how’ before the ‘what’, fear or laziness may deter us from creating a starting point.


2. Decide how much we want it.

If we want something badly enough, chances are we’ll have to make some sort of sacrifice. Most of us expect to get 100% of what we want, with the full excitement and benefits, without needing to trade off our ideal. But what we neglect to see is, that by striving to achieve our ideal without being willing to lower our standards, that we’re really “stealing” others’ ideals to get it. Somewhere along the process of that seemingly easy path, someone else may be paying for that 100% outcome. So, if we have in mind a serious goal, we need to try to be conscientious of our actions, to ensure that the burden of perfect outcomes is not unintentionally passed on to others.

If we’re really committed, and we’re fairly sure that we’re not “stealing” from others to take the win, then a good rule of thumb is to keep in mind that crossing the finish line will always take courage and the proactive adjusting of many decisions in the process. Sometimes, we may even need to relinquish our goal altogether by deciding that it’s not worth our effort or that we’re not yet equipped to withstand the journey. And there’s no shame in that. Most of the time, if we keep educating ourselves, we can create our own second chance.

In a different scenario, if a decision needs to be made based on an injustice that we believe was inflicted on us, those are the types of decisions that could drain us emotionally and physically. Therefore, we need to be especially careful not to fall into the trap of financial, emotional, or mental entanglement. A helpful perspective that may lead us to decide when to stop going full speed ahead is to consciously ask ourselves whether we are partially at fault. It’s easy when we get so worked up that we blame others without being fair to the situation. To assess a case clearly without being clouded by our anger is not easy, but it will give us peace in the long-run and shorten the decision-making process. Of course, there are people in this world who will intentionally cast spells of injustice as an attempt to compensate for their own inadequacies or wrong-doing, even if we had not played a part in provoking their unethical behaviors. Ironically, decisions intended to conquer such violations of basic human decency are the easiest to make.


3. Ask ourselves, “Will it make us look like the bad guy?”

We all want to look good in the eyes of others. And we all want to be liked. There are those occasional few who don’t seem to care. But the majority do care. This desire for approval is rooted in evolutionary origins where belonging to a group or tribe will keep us alive; those who are favored will more likely be fed and saved.

Sometimes, by deciding to do what we believe is right, we may risk offending others. This will go against all our instinctual needs for attachment and bonding, but like I tell my daughter, “Sometimes we just gotta do what we gotta do.

Because the most important decision that we’ll ever need to make, and this decision will continuously creep up on us, and it will seem to get more complicated throughout the progression of our life stages, but in hindsight it will be one of the simplest decisions to make. And that decision is, when we look in the mirror, will we be proud of the person looking back?

Most of the time, it doesn’t matter how others judge or perceive us, because no one will ever know the full story; it’s whether we believe that we’ve lived appropriately that matters. And sometimes, that may mean making a decision that will make us look unkind.

To conclude, how much we can handle, why we believe things should be done a certain way, how much we’re willing to trade off in order to achieve something, are decisions that should be based on self-understanding.

If we’re easily influenced by what is socially acceptable, or by others’ judgements and opinions, then it may be difficult to make a decision that would be fulfilling.

If we ever get stuck in a predicament between making a decision based on what’s right for us versus what others think is right for us, it may be helpful to remember that our social group only makes up one part of society. Our social group is not the one and only. Sometimes it helps to mentally remove ourselves from a group of friends, even family, to rethink things from an alternative perspective. There are other views and wiser people waiting for us to learn from.

If we base our decisions on our own rules of what is right for us, by being respectful to ourselves and to those who equally abide by the same rules of sincerity, integrity, and honesty, then making decisions with dignity will surely bring us closer to our ideal destination.

Flora Chan

Flora Chan was born in Hong Kong and raised in Boston, USA where she pursued a dual career in television and teaching..

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