They pondered the sublime -- Should I have an affair ? -- and the ridiculous -- Which presidential candidate should I vote for ? They covered the big ones -- Do I want a divorce ? -- and the small -- What should I order in a restaurant ? They considered the life altering -- Should I change careers ? -- and the barely significant -- Tea or lemondade ? *t"Decisions, decisions, decisions," summed up Nanette Hoffman at whose home 16 people discussed "Decisions -- How to Make Them" through Washington's Open University.
"Life is a series of decisions. Everything from what to eat for breakfast to who you want to marry calls for a decision. And as hard as it is to do sometimes, if you're not making decisions, you're not living."
Yet, despite the necessity of decision making, says the Northwest Washington artist, many people succumb to "decision-phobia."
"Every decision involves risk, and some people will do anything to avoid risk. Others just never learned how to make a decision and rely on bad decision-making habits" like fence-sitting, coin-flipping, procrastinating and choosing impulsively.
But making a well-considered decision "can be thrilling," says Hoffman who, with her husband, recently decided to adopt a child. "Trying to decide on something major like that can be an emotionally draining, very stressful experience.
"We went around and around in circles, and a constant state of tension began to pervade everything else we were doing. But when we made the decision, we felt immediate relief. Suddenly I felt completely relaxed and had a lot of energy toward acting on our decision (to adopt). I think that energy is a sign that the decision is right for us."
Some decisions have no right or wrong answers, she says -- "just a variety of possibilities."
And a few -- no matter what you do -- will be bad ones. "We have to have a willingness to fall on our faces once in awhile in life.
"And it's impossible -- not to mention boring -- to always take the safest course. Safety is a luxury human beings aren't entitled to. Life is like a keg of dynamite that could blow up at anytime."
One note of reassurance: "Most decisions are reversible. If the results of your decision aren't to your liking, you've learned something that can help you make your next decision."
Among the decision-making aids Hoffman and class participants proposed were:
Set a decision deadline -- Procrastinating to avoid making a decision often results in letting someone or something else decide for you. "By the time I decided to accept a job offer," said a 26-year-old participant, "they'd given it to someone else."
Get data. Check with a reference librarian for resource books, talk to experts in the area and to other people who've done what you're considering. t
Know when to quit gathering data . "Sometimes the search for information is a convenient hiding or procrastination place," said Hoffman. "There comes a time," added a real-estate saleswoman, "when you've got to close your eyes, hold your nose and jump."
List "pros" and "cons ". Write down all the positives and negatives surrounding an impending decision. "You're not necessarily going to want to pick the longer list," Hoffman notes. "But it's a good way to get everything aired."
Avoid letting others make your decisions . "To avoid the agony of decision-making," she says, "some people are willing to do whatever the other person decides. When you continually do this, you can begin to feel victimized because you're efectively letting other people run your life."
Catastrophize . "Ask yourself 'What's the worst thing that can happen if I do this?'" suggested a 30-year-old attorney. "That outcome may not be all that bad."
Consult trusted friends . "It's not that you want them to make the decision for you," said a 39-year-old professor. "But a good friend can be a sounding board to let you talk things out and help fuzzy ideas take shape."
Relinquish the decision to your subconscious . "Some decisions," says Hoffman, "are not wrestled with." Let your subconscious take over, relax and the decision might pop out when you least expect it.
Cooperate when making decisions as a couple or a group . "No one has to play the martyr in group decisions," she adds. "It's possible, by thinking creatively and being sensitive, to come up with a decision that everyone can live with."
Don't fear indecision . Rather than making an impulse decision "just to get it over with" consider remaining undecided. "After all," says Hoffman, "deciding not to decide is a decision."