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Decision Making

Did you ever wish you didn't have to make decisions?  Learning to make decisions and solve problems is an important part of our mortal existence.  The way we use our God-given freedom to make decisions is of eternal significance. 

What Style of Decider are You?

Eight styles of decision making were identified by researcher Lillian R. Dinklage.  As you read through these styles, try to identify your own decision-making strategy.

  • Impulsive decider.  One who takes the first alternative that is presented.  "Decide now; think later."
  • Fatalistic decider.  One who leaves the resolution of the decision up to the environment or fate.  "Whatever will be will be."
  • Compliant decider.  One who goes along with the plans of someone else for oneself rather than making one's own decision.  "If it's okay with you, it's okay with me."
  • Delaying decider.  One who delays thought and action on his problems until later.  "I'll think about that tomorrow."
  • Agonizing decider.  One who spends much time and thought in gathering data and analyzing alternatives, only to get lost amidst the accumulated date.  The "I can't make up my mind" type.
  • Intuitive decider.  One who decides on what he or she feels but cannot verbalize it.  This is the "It feels right" type.
  • Paralytic decider.  One who accepts the responsibility for his or her decision but is unable to do much toward approaching it.  The "I know I should, but I just can't get with it" type.
  • Planning decider.  One whose strategy is based on rational approach with some balance between the cognitive and emotional.  "I am the captain of my fate; I am the master of my soul."

Generally the Planning type of decision making is the most effective, but some people are able to effectively rely on the Intuitive type.

Obstacles to Satisfying Decision Making

Roadblocks to making satisfying decisions can originate either within ourselves or from outside ourselves.

Internal Obstacles

  • Fear of making the wrong decision
  • Fear of taking a risk
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of change
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Ambivalence (that is, having conflicting feelings about the decision)
  • Procrastination (putting things off)
  • Stereotyping about self and other with respect to age, race, sex, etc.  Example:  I can't do that; I'm too young! (or, I'm too old, or I'm black, or I'm not smart enough, or I'm a woman, etc.)*

External Obstacles

  • Family expectations and responsibilities
  • Societal stereotyping with respect to age, race, sex, etc.*  Example:  You can't do that; you're too young! (or, you're too old, or you're black, or you're not smart enough, or you're a woman, etc.)  

*Note the difference between societal stereotyping and self-stereotyping.  In one, others do it to you; and in the other, you do it to yourself.

The Lord's Decision Making Instructions

In Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9, the Lord told Oliver Cowdery that he should:

  1. Study it out in your mind.
  2. Ask the Lord if it is right.
  3. If it is right, your bosom shall burn within you
  4. If it is not right, you shall have a stupor of thought and forget the thing which is wrong.

Guidance from the Holy Ghost doesn't always come in the form of a burning in the bosom or a stupor of thought.  The Lord can guide us in other ways.

  • The still, small voice (1 Nephi 17:45)
  • The voice of the Lord in the mind (Enos 1:10)
  • Peace in the mind (D&C 6:23)
  • Received in the mind and in the heart (D&C 8:2)
  • Mind becomes darkened (D&C 10:2)
  • Enlighten the mind and fill the soul with joy (D&C 11:13)
  • Line upon line, precept upon precept (2 Nephi 28:30)
  • Enter the heart with great force (Joseph Smith-History 1:12)

Studying It Out

Depending on whether you are a planning decider or an intuitive decider, different decision-making processes will work better for you.

Intuitive Decision Making

Intuitive deciders often just need to ask a lot of questions in order to make decisions.  The follow questions may be helpful in this process.

  1. What are the most important personal considerations about myself that will influence this decision?
  2. What personal values do I possess that will influence this decision?
  3. What experiences do I have to draw upon that will influence my understanding of how to proceed on this decision, and what does my experience tell me?  What experience do others I know have that could help me in this decision?
  4. What other resources can I use to help me with the decision?
  5. What do the most significant people in my life think about how I am proceeding on this decision?
  6. What possible solutions to the decision exist?  Am I clear on all reasonable possibilities?
  7. What would happen if I actually did solution a, b, c, d, . . .etc.?
  8. What are my greatest strengths/weakness in decision making?

Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, with his "on the other hand" strategy, is an example of an intuitive decider.

You can apply this strategy in the follow way:

Set up two chairs facing each other.  Sit in one chair and discuss all the reasons for deciding in one way.  Then move to the other chair and talk about the reasons for making a difference choice.  Move back and forth between the two chairs, each time telling the "you" in the other chair why the option represented by this chair is the right one.  Eventually you will find that this discussion helps you to clarify the issue and come to a conclusion that "feels right."

Planning Decision Making

Planning deciders work well with a step-by-step process, such as the following:

  1. Identify and state the problem.
  2. Collect data.  Look at alternate ways of defining the problem.  Redefine the problem if necessary, but defer making a judgment at this time.
  3. Formulate all possible alternative solutions or decisions.  Defer judgment
  4. Evaluate tentative solutions or decisions in light of your self-evaluation (goals, values, abilities, interests, etc.).
  5. Analyze the course of action in terms of risks and consequences of the tentative solutions or decisions.  Consider all possible outcomes, with the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  6. Decide on the most preferred solution/decision or strategy.
  7. Counsel with the Lord.
  8. Implement the decision.
  9. Evaluate and revise if necessary.

The following slideshow demonstrates a value-based decision-making matrix.

When Answers Don't Come

Sometimes as we study out a question and pray about it, answers come but we do not recognize them until later.  Sometimes it seems that we are not getting answers to our prayers.  President Boyd K. Packer stated: 

Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer.  What could be wrong?  It may be that you are not doing anything wrong.  It may be that you have not done the right things long enough.  Remember, you cannot force spiritual things.  Sometimes we are confused simply because we won't take no for an answer. . . .  Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives.  Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.  The answer may not come as a lightning bolt.  It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, "line upon line, precept upon precept."  Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers.  And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration.  The promptings will be clear and unmistakable.

Sometimes the Lord asks us to proceed without a clear confirmation.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:

Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answer to our prayers.  This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard.  It only means that we have prayed about a decision which, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation.  If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our own best judgment.

Elder John Groberg suggested that sometimes we will find the right path only by "eliminating the wrong decisions."  He advised:

Because [the Lord] knows we need the growth, he generally does not point and say, "Open that door and go twelve yards in that direction; then turn right and go two miles. . . ."  But if [a decision] is wrong, he will let us know -- we will feel it for sure.  I am positive of that.  So rather than saying, "I will not move until I have this burning in my heart," let us turn it around and say, "I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it."  By eliminating all of these wrong courses, very quickly you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going.

It takes time and effort to develop righteous decision-making and problem-solving skills.  We don't need to feel discouraged when things are not immediately clear to us.  It's important to go forward in faith, praying and fasting for the influence of the Holy Ghost in our daily lives.

If we learn to "counsel with the Lord in all [our] doings," having faith that "he will direct [us] for good" (Alma 37:37), our spiritual discernment and wisdom will increase.