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COLUMN: It is time to make a decision

By Ty Aller
On April 14, 2014

Robert Frost once wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Unfortunately, Frost forgot to tell us how he went about making this brilliant decision. Why didn’t he choose the road everyone else was travelling? What made the road less traveled by more appealing? Did he perform a risk-benefit analysis before he made his decision? Which decision should I make? Am I completely missing the point, Frost?

Decision-making in life is inevitable, but we often try to avoid it like the bubonic plague. Whether it be deciding what courses to take in an upcoming semester, what boy you should commit to dating, what jobs you should apply for, what graduate school you should attend or what cereal you should eat in the morning, decision-making can cause varying levels of distress. Decisions are further complicated by the reality that our choices can impact the remainder of our lives and our available options are often seemingly equal.

How is it then that we are supposed to make these tough decisions? Is there a genie in a bottle who will grant you do-overs until you make the right decision? Most likely not. Can you just flip a coin and hope George Washington smiling up at you is a positive omen for a specific choice? You could, but there is a 50-percent chance you are making the wrong choice. Or, is there a magical mathematical formula that can weigh the options against each other?

Actually, there is just that: a magical formula to help you make the hardest decisions in life without breaking a sweat.

The first step in using this magic is to list each choice at the top of a piece of paper. After this, you do what we have all been taught for years: make a list of pros and cons for each option. To address the pros, think of what attracts you to this decision. Has it been something you have always wanted to do? Will it help you advance in your goals? Will it help you invest in your future? To address the cons, think of what is holding you back from making this choice. Will it move you away from family? Will you have to sacrifice pieces of your life you aren’t willing to give up? After doing this, you might be thinking, “I’ve done this for years, and it hasn’t really helped.”

Well, here comes the magic.

First, take your pros list and rank each by how important it is to you by using a scale from 1-10. Use a 10 to rank a pro as extremely important, a five for a pro that is of medium importance, and a zero for pros that hold no value to you. Now, take your con list and rank each item using another 1-10 scale. A 10 represents a con that is an extreme disadvantage, a five is a con that is a medium disadvantage and a zero is a con that has little effect.

Next, add up the point total for all pros on option one, then subtract the point total of the cons for the same option. This creates a rating for this choice. If the sum is negative, it is a decidedly bad idea; if the total is around zero, it is a so-so idea; and if it is a plus 30 or plus 40, it is generally a wonderful idea.

By practicing this process, a clear winner between your choices will appear and you will elucidate the bad ideas.

Ty Aller is a master’s student in marriage and family therapy at Utah State University. If you have topics relating to mental health that you want covered, send him your suggestions via email:

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