My view is that our decision making processes are governed by Thomas A Harris’s PAC (Parent-Adult-Child) model; see my article on Perspective for a brief overview of the PAC model. As I indicated in my article on Termination our decision making processes are based on a number of factors chief among which are the trinity of:
- Belief – which is everything we have experienced or are experiencing, permanently recorded and stored in the Parent
- Logic – which is our thinking process taking place in the Adult, also often referred to as ‘the inner child’ or ‘who we really are’
- Emotion – which is everything we have felt or are feeling, permanently recorded and stored in the Child
It’s worth noting at this point that conflict within and/or between the Parent, Adult and Child results in a very uncomfortable psychological state known as cognitive dissonance (read more about cognitive dissonance at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance).
Ideally our decision making process should be dominated by the thinking, or evaluation, that takes place through our Adult with input from our Parent and Child. As shown in the diagram below, this results in decisions based on reality. Unfortunately where the Parent, Child or both dominate the decision making process we make less than ideal decisions. As the diagram shows, this is because the decisions are based on distorted reality, or indeed pure fantasy.
In the cases where the Parent, Child or both dominate the decision making process the reality based evaluation of the Adult is suppressed in favour of satisfying the perceived superiority of the Parent or basic instincts of the Child. This may result in particularly severe cases of cognitive dissonance sometimes not manifesting themselves until many years later.
A classic example is the seemingly heartless march of the corporate career builders among us leaving many others hurt and damaged on the way to achieving lofty corporate ambitions. We justify the hurt and damage with unreasonable Parent input e.g. admonitions we have experienced that exhort us to be ambitious and successful whatever the cost and/or unreasonable Child input e.g. getting what we want regardless of who gets hurt or damaged in the process. The other side of the coin is the ‘too nice’ people-pleasers among us. As people pleasers we develop deep resentment as a consequence of deferring to unreasonable Parent input e.g. the experience of being encouraged to do pleasing things to/for others in order to obtain acceptance, praise etc. The consequence of this is a constant, permanent recording and storing of feelings of upset and disappointment in the Child when the expected acceptance, praise etc are not forthcoming ultimately resulting in the resentment.
Then there are those decisions we make that should clearly be driven by logic (Adult) but are unfortunately driven by emotion (Child) such as:
- The termination of an employee due to prejudice, professional jealousy, dislike etc
- Dumping a partner to see if the ‘grass is greener’
- Letting a friend down for a ‘better offer’
All this can make decision making an extremely daunting prospect causing confusion, concern, worry and frustration. However we are all extremely capable of effective decision making. As Susan Jeffers very eloquently puts it in her excellent book ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’, regardless of whether our decision is ideal or not it is better to make a decision than enter a state of decision paralysis. She describes a ‘No Lose Decision Making Process’ and says of it that:
“There really is nothing to lose, only something to gain whatever the choices you make or actions in life. As I stated earlier, all you have to do to change your world is change the way you think about it. This concept works beautifully here. You can actually shift your thinking in such a way as to make a wrong decision or mistake an impossibility.”
Furthermore, paraphrasing Stuart Barnes, a British rugby union commentator:
Indecision is unacceptable. Players must make decisions. A bad decision can be turned in to a good one. Non-decision cannot be turned in to anything other than a gain, often significant, for the opposing team.
A useful collection of methods for making decisions are decision gateways. These are, in effect, quality checklists for making decisions and found in many self help books and websites. In my opinion decision gateways should be entirely positive as opposed to the traditional, functional, but limited, pros and cons lists we are so fond of. Even negatives such as inconsideration have positive aspects. For example if we think a family member, partner, friend, acquaintance or workmate is being inconsiderate, the positive aspect is the opportunity to gently bring it to their attention and help them improve their behaviour. If they choose not to listen and we decide to end our relationship with them e.g. breaking up, ceasing communication, no longer going for a drink after work etc, the trauma of the change may well shock them in to better behaviour regardless of whether reconciliation occurs. Conversely it may well not and, indeed, possibly may worsen their behaviour!
A critical issue with decision making is our perceived need for certainty demanded by our Parent and Child. In his landmark book ‘I’m OK – You’re OK’ Thomas A Harris says:
“One of the realities of the human predicament is that we frequently have to make decisions before all of the facts are in. This is true of any commitment. It is true of marriage. It is true of voting. It is true of signing a petition. It is true of the establishment of priorities. It is true of those values we embrace independently – that is, with the Adult.
“The Child in us demands certainty. The Child wants to know that the sun will come up every morning, that Mother will be there, that the ‘bad guy’ will always get it in the end; but the Adult can accept the fact that there is not always certainty. Philosopher Elton Trueblood states:
The fact that we do not have absolute certainty in regard to any human conclusions does not mean that the task of inquiry is fruitless. We must, it is true, always proceed on the basis of probability, but to have probability is to have something. What we seek in any realm of human thought is not absolute certainty, for that is denied us as men, but rather the more modest path of those who find dependable ways of discerning different degrees of probability. Source – Elton Trueblood, General Philosophy (New York: Harper, 1963)”
In summary my view on decision making is that we should:
- Always trust our Adult to make decisions taking input from our Parent and Child while at the same time curbing their urge to dominate the decision making process
- Use decision gateways that accentuate the positive especially in relation to negative aspects
- Let go of the need for certainty and embrace the exciting new possibilities of uncertainty all the while being aware of the risks
Stay strong and serene.