Daily Archives: April 18, 2012

The Decision-Making Process

I know I have talked a little bit about this, but I have some serious issues when it comes to making a decision about something.

It can be anything from which brand of canned pinto bean to buy at the supermarket, to big, life decisions.

Or even what to wear. What to eat. When to speak.

Imagine a big wheel (like on Wheel of Fortune) smattered with different emotional states and varying degrees of obsessive compulsive disorder. This wheel seems to be on a constant rotation sometimes, and others I can just land on “depressed” for a prolonged period of time, or “stable” (jackpot!) if I’m lucky. Even “mania” for the intensely pressured bonus round.

Each of these pieces on my wheel will have a different effect on how I make decisions.

Depression usually makes me feel like making any decision is entirely impossible. It is like my opinion is gone entirely, so there is no clear right answer, it is as if all of the answers are the same. At the same time, I know depression well enough to realize this isn’t true, so I generally feel an overwhelming amount of hesitation about choosing anything. Normally my brain will react with the best response on its own, so when that feature gets turned off, nothing comes out.

Mania has the opposite effect, where instead of no good decision, every decision feels like the right decision. I think that is part of the reason many people like mania so much, because each move (even completely outlandish ones) feels like the right move. Cosmically, everything seems to makes sense, and I often think I can see three steps ahead in the decisions I need to make. The trouble with this model is that many of these decisions turn out to be entirely irrational, impulsive urges that can lead to extremely dangerous or unforgiving situations.

OCD I haven’t really talked much about, but I’ve been thinking a lot more about it lately. When this is present and in high gear, I feel an overwhelming amount of pressure to make the correct decision. The correct decision will fit a set of arbitrary guidelines in my head, but still might be irrational. If left to my own devices, this is where I begin having trouble picking a can of pinto beans. I have spent hours in the grocery store reading every single label trying to discern which bean is the right bean. As you can imagine, this process definitely opens up its own can of worms (or beans).

So when it comes to my giant spinning mood-state wheel, degrees of each of these may be present, or they could be present in full, or none of them could be present.

That’s an awful lot of combinations and conflicting urges, so it seems only natural that I’ve gone about finding other ways to make decisions.

The most helpful, to me, is to have a series of people (like checkpoints) that I run any given big decision by and see how they react. These checkpoints might include my boyfriend, family members, close friends, my psychiatrist, or therapist, depending on who is available.

This might sound grueling, but I don’t run every single decision I make past these people. If I am trying to make a decision about what to wear, or what shoes to buy, or how to do my hair, I almost always make those decisions on my own.

The bigger the risk involved in the decision, the more people I generally include in trying to weigh my options.

For example,

That overwhelming urge I had last week to quit my job? – go to the checkpoints.

Choosing a can of pinto beans? – use an imaginary magic eight-ball in my head.

With this checkpoint method I usually have a pretty easy time knowing what impending decisions are completely and totally irrational. Usually I get a look with a mouth slightly agape, and that’s when I know I definitely shouldn’t do what I just talked about.

This is one of the reasons therapy is so important to me too. Many of my checkpoint people have specific perspectives about my life and how they fit in it, so their advice might be slightly (or moreso) skewed on any given topic. My therapist, however, I can rely on to give me her opinion without any slant, apart from helping keep up my well-being.

Apart from that method I also like using the pro & con list (weighing the good vs. the bad for each decision) but if I’m not careful that can backfire into a glob of unruly obsessive racing thoughts about all of those pros and cons.

Sometimes, if I am really depressed but need to, say, take a shower and clean the kitchen, I can rely on the divine wisdom of a magic eight-ball to motivate me about which to do first. There are times where I am so opposed to making a decision when depressed, I wont do anything at all, so having a small, even silly way to make simple decisions can help move things along a little bit.

I realize I am an adult, a human being, I have a brain, and that I am capable of making decisions by myself. That said, until you’ve made a series of self-destructive decisions because it seemed like a good idea at the time, you probably don’t need to worry about your decision making abilities, in regard to making sane, helpful, healthy decisions.

And you know what? I’m not proud. I can admit that this is an area where I could really use some help, so until I feel confident that I wont decide to run away and join the circus, I really don’t mind asking a couple of people what they think about a given situation before making a move.