A Recipe for Making Decisions: How to make an impossible decision in 7 easy steps
Information and Research
Gathering of knowledge from ‘the experts and specialists’
Weighing of Opinion
Evaluation of information
1. Gather as much information as you can through research. Mix this with knowledge and expertise from many sources (e.g. experts, specialists, others who have made a similar decision), placing an emphasis on those who are leaders in the area/topic on which you are trying to make a decision. Be prepared to search this information out internationally.
2. Mix all of this information, knowledge and expertise together and conduct an analysis by comparing and contrasting everything you now know. Where is the information similar, where is it contradictory, what are the gaps in your information, what other sources of information and expertise might be available, and find out what you do not know that you need to know. After this step in the process you can move to formulating your questions and identifying what more you need to know or who else you might need to speak to about your decision.
3. Your next step will require several discussions about the decision you are trying to make. The structure of these discussions will vary, and your recipe for decision making could include: 1 to 1 discussion, informal conversations with trusted friends/family/professionals, formal multi-disciplinary team discussions, discussions with specialists in the field. You might conduct your discussions over the phone, face to face, or over video-conferencing. You may also need to consider travel to other destinations in order to conduct your discussion in person. Consider the following when organizing and preparing for discussions related to your decision-making:
– Bring a friend who can listen and take notes. It is difficult to take all the information in when you are in a very important discussion/conversation. Having another person to assist in the task of listening and note taking can be very helpful to your decision-making process
– Ask if you can tape record the conversation. This can be helpful so that you can hear the conversation again.
– Prepare in advance. Write down a list of questions and concerns related to your decision and send them to the meeting participants in advance so that they are prepared to address them. (Sometimes sharing this list with knowledgeable friends or professionals in advance can help you to refine your list of questions).
– Bring a notebook and paper.
– Ask another person (social worker, nurse, trusted professional) to facilitate the meeting so that you can focus on the discussion and not on managing the meeting.
4. Analysis and Weighing of Opinion.
You will need time after the gathering of information and knowledge, analysis and discussion to weigh the information you have been provided with. A helpful tool in this step of the Decision Making Recipe is to develop a Pros vs. Cons list and then to add a value or weight to each of the Pros and Cons. An example of this can be found here, Ottawa Family Decision Guide.
It might also be helpful in this step of the process to engage a Decision Making Facilitator or Decision Making Services, a third party who guide you through this process. This is particularly important to ensure there is open communication and that all parties of the Decision Making Recipe are working together and communicating well. In intense medical decision-making, this can sometimes get lost – this is where facilitated sessions can help.
Professionals can help guide you through the weighing of opinions and information, and can help identify where your priorities lie with respect to the decision you are trying to make.
5. You may have to repeat Steps 1-4 more than once in order to feel decisive about your decision. It is important to know that important decisions cannot be rushed, and you should feel supported in taking your time to make a decision.
6. Gut Instinct.
Your gut instinct needs to factor into to your decision-making. If it feels wrong, it probably is. In my experience, my maternal instinct has been referred to by our medical team and decision-making team, and I have been told to listen to it and factor it into my decision-making.
But what if your gut instinct isn’t clear? What if it isn’t saying anything at all?
I call this the vortex of decision-making. Circling and circling because the information, expertise, knowledge that informs the decision you are trying to make is imperfect and incomplete. How do you make a decision with imperfect and incomplete information? You make the best decision you can with the information you have.
The vortex of decision-making, also known as “indecisiveness” can be debilitating. It can eat away at your soul. It leads to stress, anxiety, possibly even depression and should be avoided at all costs. You avoid it by asking more questions, asking repeated questions, clarifying as much as possible and eventually coming to a decision, even if you are making that decision with imperfect information. A recommendation for your Decision Making Recipe is to set a timeline for making your decision (if one has not already been set for you). Living with an ongoing decision is very limiting and difficult. Once it is made you will find yourself ‘unstuck’ and able to move forward. The decision can be changed, but at some point you will have to commit one way or another.
7. Once you have made your decision, sit with it. Let it absorb, start to live it and get as comfortable with it as you can. Shift your mind-set toward the decision you have made. Then push the ‘Send’ button and let the professionals know the decision has been made.
8. Once you’ve made your decision you will slowly need to start sharing it. Make it clear to others that you expect to be supported in your decision. Those that are not providing support need to play a more minor role in your life. They cannot contribute to the vortex of indecisiveness. They need to be ‘on-board’. Finding those people and giving the important role of supporting your decision is a last and most important step in this process.
Other Things to Consider:
– Others cannot and will not make the decision for you, but you can still directly ask your trusted team “What would you do?”
– Many decisions are imperfect because there is not enough information available or there is no obvious choice between the decision(s).
– Decisions can be changed/reversed to a certain point.
– You should never feel pressured about making a decision.
– Include others in supporting you once your decision is made.
Note: Our family has been going through the process of a very difficult medical decision for Kate for the past 2 years. The Decision Making Recipe is based on our experience. We have made our decision and it is imperfect and lacks all the information we need, but we are moving forward.
I wish you the best of luck with yours.
Julie Drury is on leave from the federal government to be at home with her 2 children, and to care for her 5 year old daughter who is a regular patient at CHEO.