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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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Navigating Choices & Decisions

Navigating Choices & DecisionsChoices are all around us. The small and large decisions we make are influenced by our perspective, experiences, and way our brain processes. The complexity of how our minds work means that some decisions we make are logical and some are not. Some are healthy and some are anything but.

Decisions can be made boldly, carelessly, doggedly, creatively, emotionally, logically, laboriously, or freely. We can toss a coin or spend days deliberating about options. Decisions can be made in solitude or collaboratively. Simple choices like, “What color shirt am I going to wear?” are juxtaposed by more challenging questions such as, “Which room should I organize first?”

According to the Time article, “Making Choices: How Your Brain Decides,” neuroscience journalist, Maia Szalazvitz, said that each day we’re asked to make thousands of small and large decisions. She refers to a California Institute of Technology study that examined how the brain decides. The study indicated that there are two distinct networks for decision-making. One network analyzes the overall value, the risk versus the reward of a specific choice. The other network guides behavior.

Sometimes the decisions we make are obvious and sometimes quite gray. This past weekend, I had the honor of being on a “Professional Ethics” panel, sponsored by the NAPO-NY chapter. We talked about the NAPO Code of Ethics and also shared various scenarios and sticky situations, which required discussing the ethical choices we might make. It was fascinating to hear the diversity of ideas, perspectives, agreements, and disagreements. But again, it all came back to choice. Do we take action, and if so, what? Or, are there times when it’s appropriate to do nothing, and taking no action is the choice?

What I love most is that we have the ability to choose. These choices are available to us at every moment. Our yeses, nos, and maybes of today, define our tomorrows.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you decide? What allows you to be comfortable or satisfied with your decisions? What have you learned from making decisions? Come join the conversation.

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Reader Comments (16)

Wow! What an essential organizing topic! Decision making is at the heart of what we do with our clients and what we each do every day. In our time there are more choices than ever. My personal decision making comes down to limiting choices. As simple as it sounds, I use the number 3 as a way to make decisions. Cull down to 3 options and make a decision.

I am looking forward to learning from others on this topic. Thanks Linda for bringing us all into this conversation.

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

Ellen- What a great parameter or boundary you set with your personal decision-making options. The rule of 3! I also find that the more options there are, the more overwhelming the decision becomes. This is so important to remember when working with our clients that can be overwhelmed by the decision-making process, especially during the organizing process. There was an interesting article in the NY Times a while ago about "decision fatigue." Something to be aware of that at any given point, we could get decisioned-out…making it almost impossible to choose one more thing. When that happens…time to take a break!

November 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

My way of taking choices is weighing risks and rewards, joy or pain, but without taking too much time, because if you give a decision too much thinking is harder to make it.

Life is about choices always, even if you decide not to choose, you are making a choice, remaining in the same (mental of physical) place. If you choose right everything will be fine. If you choose wrong you always can making it right by choosing the other way, is called learning.

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

Nacho- Oh yes…the "learning" factor is a biggie with the decisions we make. Like Ellen, it's interesting how you also put a parameter around your choices. However, instead of setting the number of choices as the boundary, you set a time limit for choosing. The variety of methods we use for making choices is so interesting, isn't it?

November 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Decisions are choices. They are one in the same, don't you think? When we choose X, we decide that option is our best course of action. Like Nacho said, even if we decide NOT TO decide just yet, we must realize that too, is a decision in of itself. I believe that "learning" is a positive consequence of any decision-making, right or wrong. Second guessing is counterproductive.

Personally, before I make an important decision, I need to talk it out or write it down. The first helps me clarify and validate my thoughts, and the latter takes the emotional component out of it for me. On paper, I can evaluate with a little more objectivity.

We are all so unique, it is fascinating to learn about how others process decision-making. Thank you Linda for inspiring this conversation!

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Nancy- You started me wondering about the difference between decisions and choices. I viewed them as distinctly different, and found one definition from the Out Of The Box blog that explained it well. Dana Malave said:

"A DECISION means a conclusion made after having a consideration. A CHOICE means an act of selection from two or more possibilities." So the choice is the specific action taken after a decision to do something is made.

I enjoyed reading about the strategy you use to make decisions (important ones,) by talking or writing about it first…removing the emotion, to focus more objectively. You've added another great tool to the list.

November 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I tend to make decisions quickly. MOST of the time, this is a good thing:) I think the key to breaking free of decision paralysis is to remind yourself that a bad decision may lead to a less than desirable course, but you can always choose again and reset your path. Being stuck is worse than taking a risk.

November 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Interesting post. Decisions: it's where the rubber meets the road when it comes to organizing. I completely agree with Ellen: limit the number of choices. Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less explores this topic. For me, tough decisions need to be talked out with a trusted advisor and hashed out with a classic pro vs. con list.

November 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDenise Lee

So impressed that you thought to look up the definitions! I obviously had not made that particular distinction but it certainly clarifies the two. At first thought, it felt the same to me when I considered the "deciding to choose" as one integrated action. Appreciate the clarification. This will be useful for sure :)

November 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

I have been battling with a decision about when to go visit my mom. She has an abnormal brain scan/tumor. I'm choosing to wait until there is more information so I can be with her when she needs me most (just before and immediately after treatment). My decision rules of thumb are to rely on God and get feedback from those I love. Additionally, my husband and I have developed a culture through the years of making decisions that make room for the inevitable changes along the way.

November 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShelley

Love the depth of conversation going on here. As we make so many decisions in a given day, it's no wonder that we need a variety of strategies to approach them.

@Seana- Do you know Gladwell's book, "Blink?" In it he proposes that if we listen to our "gut" we know the answer in just a moment. If we deliberate, very often we will still come to the same conclusion as our initial thought. He makes the case for listening for those flashes of instinctual knowing.

@Denise- Thanks for the great resource. I don't know Barry's book and just added it to my "Books to Read" list. I'm with you on "hashing" things for difficult choices with a trusted advisor. The talking out loud and listening to alternative perspectives is so helpful.

@Nancy- And for the definition I found, there are so many more. There are quite a few interpretations. I picked one that made sense to me.…makes for interesting ponderings.

@Shelley- Sending extra love, hugs,prayers, and healing thoughts to you and your mom. I'm sure whenever you visit, you will bring her great comfort.

November 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

This is a fascinating topic, and I'm very interested in the science behind decision-making. I often find that decisions that should be easy (e.g. should I order a chicken wrap or a burger?) are more difficult for me than those that are more important (e.g. should I buy a Hyundai or a Toyota?) I hope to someday learn the reason for that.

December 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

Janet- I found it fascinating to learn that there's neuroscience behind decision-making. There's a book by Jonah Leher, "How We Decide" that goes into more about this. You might enjoy reading it. I remember finding it in a book store and immediately picked it up when I saw three ice cream cones (a chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla) on the cover. It said it all, and I bought the book.

December 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

When deciding where I should live (after being laid off from my corporate job and starting my organizing business) I used a weighted decision matrix. I compared 3 very different places against several criteria such as family/friends, cost of living, natural environment, business opportunities, access (airport), etc. Some criteria were more important (heavier weighted) than others. I was actually kind of surprised that Albuquerque won, but I've never looked back.

January 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

@Linda - I have read "How We Decide" - my sister bought it for me, also lured by the ice cream cones. :) I found it very insightful.

@Hazel - I always find it interesting to learn why people end up in different areas than where they started out. Thank you for sharing!

January 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

It's wonderful to re-engage in this conversation about decision-making. It comes at the perfect time when I find myself in the midst of having to make many difficult decisions.

@Hazel- Using a decision-making matrix is a great way to go, especially with the type of decision (moving) that you were making. I remember using something like that when I was making the decision to leave my "secure" job or go full time in my organizing business 22 years ago. I've also used "Pro/Con" lists as another way to decide. And sometimes, I listen very carefully to what my inner voice is saying.

I'm curious why you were surprised that Albuquerque won out. Can you tell me more about that?

@Janet- So glad you read Jonah Leher's book. And so funny to hear that your sister was also "lured" by the ice cream cones. The power of marketing and a great book cover, right?

January 19, 2015 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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