My son and I went to visit the University of Waterloo yesterday, the first in a series of university visits. He has been given early offers of admission to all of his university choices and soon he will need to make a decision.

During the drive to Waterloo, we talked about decision-making and its purpose. Some decisions are very basic: what drink will I have with my meal? what movie will I watch tonight? Other decisions have significant and potentially devastating impact if the wrong choice is made. For example: will I buy a PC or a Mac?

In my own experience, I have come across many different decision-making styles. Perhaps you recognize your own style in the following list:

  • Impulsive Decider: one who takes the first alternative that is presented: “Decide now; think later. Don’t look before you leap.”
  • 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 someone else’s plan rather than making an independent decision, especially when that plan doesn’t agree with one’s own beliefs: “If it’s OK with you, it’s OK with me.” “Anything you say.”
  • Delaying Decider: one who delays thought and action on a problem: “I’ll think about it later.”
  • Agonizing Decider: one who spends much time and thought in gathering data and analyzing alternatives only to get lost amidst the data gathered: “I can’t make up my mind. I don’t know what to do.”
  • Intuitive Decider: one who decides based on what is felt, but cannot be verbalized: “It feels right.”
  • Paralytic Decider: one who accepts the responsibility for decisions, but is unable to do much toward approaching it: “I know I should, but I just can’t get with it. I can’t face up to it.”
  • Escapist Decider: one who avoids a decision or makes up an answer to end the discussion.
  • Play-it-Safe Decider: one who almost always picks the alternative with the perceived lowest level of risk.
  • Planner: one whose strategy is based on a rational approach with some balance between the cognitive and emotional: “I am the captain of my fate; I am the master of my soul.”

I told my son that the best approach for making a decision about university is to follow a basic process:

  1. Clearly identify the decision to be made. The choice of which university and which major is not the same decision as which career and which company.
  2. Assess yourself: look at your values, your skills, your interests and your character.
  3. Identify the options.
  4. Gather information.
  5. Assess the options.
  6. Select one of the options.
  7. Make a plan and implement the decision.
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