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Evaluating Patterns in Decision-Making

How can we determine the extent to which our decision-making is irrational? In the first place, our irrational decisions often will be those we make without realizing we are making them. So let us begin with an analysis of our subconscious decisions.

If you ask yourself how many decisions you made yesterday, you probably will be puzzled as to how to determine the number. In a sense, the absolute number is unimportant. What is important is to recognize the categories of decisions you made and find a way to begin to identify and evaluate patterns within those categories.

We all have basic human needs. Consequently, we all make choices as to how to satisfy those needs. In addition, we all have chosen values and made choices in relation to those values. We all assume that our basic values support our welfare and contribute to our general well being. No one says, to himself or herself, "I choose to live in accordance with values that undermine my welfare and harm me."

And we all make choices that have implications for the well being of others. When we make decisions that undermine or harm others' well being, we make unethical decisions. When we make decisions or choose values that undermine or harm our well being, we make irrational decisions.

Some common patterns of irrational or unethical decision-making are:

  • Deciding to behave in ways that undermine our welfare;

  • Deciding not to engage in activities that contribute to our long-term welfare;

  • Deciding to behave in ways that undermine another's welfare;

  • Deciding to associate with people who encourage us to act against our own welfare or the welfare of others.

These categories sound odd, for why would anyone make self-defeating or self-harming decisions? But there is a general answer to this query: immediate gratification and short-term gain. This becomes more apparent when we look at more specific categories within these categories. For example, under "Deciding to behave in ways that undermine one's welfare" are:

  • Deciding to eat foods that are unhealthy (foods that shorten our lives or lead to disease or negative qualities of life);

  • Deciding to smoke, drink to excess, or use drugs that are harmful;

  • Deciding not to exercise or engage in adequate aerobic activities.

Clearly, we make these decisions with immediate pleasure and our short-term satisfaction uppermost in our minds. Indeed, our mind is "wired" for immediate and short-term gratification. Taking into account the long-term requires reflection. We must raise our behavior to the level, as Piaget put it, of conscious realization. Of course, we can be conscious of a problem without taking the steps to correct it. Putting our long-term insights into action requires self-discipline and will power.

When we identify a pattern of irrational decision-making in our life, we have discovered what sometimes is called a bad habit. When we replace a pattern of irrational decision-making with a rational pattern, we replace a bad habit with a good one. The replacement is at the level of action.

Because habits account for hundreds or thousands of decisions over an extended time, we can improve our decision-making significantly by identifying our bad habits and replacing them with good ones. For example, we can make hundreds of rational decisions over time by making the decision to eat healthy foods and not eat unhealthy foods. Once that decision is manifested in behavior over an extended time, it results in a productive habit.

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