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Making better decisions


Personal Best

Did I make the right decision, or did I just get lucky? Will I regret the course I took or the choice I made?

Plenty of us can point to at least one really bad decision that we've made. The fact that some things turn out badly doesn't necessarily mean that you made a bad choice. But if you find yourself regretting too many decisions, you may need to improve your ability to make wise choices.

To learn to make better decisions, you need to understand how you currently assess information-such as whether you're using too much emotion vs logic-and evaluate what helps and what hinders your approach.

To improve the quality of your decisions, practice with these two popular tools: SWOT analysis and weighted decision analysis. The first step in either tool is to state the decision that needs to be made. Let's say you live in New Jersey, and are deciding whether to take a new job in California. With the SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis, you'd list all the factors under each of four categories.

Strengths include the positive aspects of the new situation. Here, they would include better salary, and the prospect of living in California and enjoying the beautiful weather. Weaknesses: California is farther from your friends and family. Opportunities are positive possibilities that could occur in the new situation. For example, if the immigration law passes in California, Spanish-speaking patients will qualify for insurance and could rapidly grow your practice. Threats are the negative possibilities. For instance: If the managed care environment in California becomes more difficult, you may have trouble earning a satisfactory salary.

Listing these elements can often help you see the situation more clearly. A preponderance of items in one category may be so striking, the decision becomes obvious.

Still, the SWOT technique doesn't weigh the importance of the various factors, so the final SWOT result may not match your gut feeling about the decision.

A weighted decision analysis helps you compare two or more options. List the variables and assign each one a relative weight based on their importance compared to each other. Give each factor a percentage, with the total adding up to 100 percent.

Say that, for you, salary is worth 30 percent, future growth is 20 percent, managed care hassles are 10 percent, and proximity to family is 40 percent. Then, assign a score between 1 and 10 to each option. Multiply the score by the weight, and add the totals.

If your SWOT analysis and weighted analysis don't correspond, re-evaluate the scores and the relative weights that you assigned. Maybe you're not being fully honest with yourself about what's truly important to you. If your gut and your analysis still don't match, get further information and counsel from others. Over time, you'll achieve greater synchrony between your instinct and the more structured decisions.

Resource Center

For more information: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books, 2007)

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© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
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