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10.1: Making Decisions

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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How do you make good decisions?

You are entering an exciting time of life. Many new opportunities and situations will be presented to you. With these new opportunities come more decisions, not just about what clothes to buy, but more difficult and emotionally challenging decisions that can impact your life for years to come. Will you go to college or get a job, or maybe both? Will you spend the evening at your girlfriend's/boyfriend's ho use while her or his parents are gone? Will you tell someone about your friend's drinking problem? At some point in your life, you may be faced with a seemingly impossible decision, for which no option seems viable. Some health-care issues, such as abortion or drug use, involve deep emotional issues that are difficult to resolve.

For any kind of decision, it helps to have a systematic way of sorting out the possibilities and thinking about the consequences so that you can better anticipate the results. Everyone makes bad decisions occasionally, which not only teach you about yourself, but also motivate you to think more carefully the next time.

While there are a number of different ways to make decisions, good decisions can be made using these guidelines.

  • Use some objective system of taking apart a decision to identify all the parts and evaluate their importance. You may even have to make a decision that, although difficult, allows you to take control of your life.
  • Take responsibility for your own decision. Of course, you have many friends and family members who support you. However, knowing that you alone must accept the results of your decision helps you focus on the important elements of the decision.
  • Make an effort to think thoroughly and creatively in order to explore as many options and outcomes as possible.
  • Analyze both good and bad decisions you and others have made. Then learn from them. This will help you develop your self-confidence about making good decisions.

Hindsight Has Perfect Vision Think of a situation in which you made a bad decision. Write down the scenario, including how you made the decision. At what point did you go wrong? What did you learn from this decision?

The Decision Process

Suppose you need to make an important decision. You can think of any important decision you might be confronted with at this time. Or you can use the following hypothetical situation to practice the decision making process.

Suppose your boyfriend/girlfriend wants you to come over Friday evening while his/her parents are out. You and he/ she have been dating for a few months, and you feel some pressure to let the relationship become more physical. You know you're not ready for sexual intercourse, but you and he/ she haven't really talked about your relationship. You also know he/ she is not inviting you over to bake cookies. Should you go? Should you suggest something else? Should you talk to him/her? Should you invite other friends to come over too? Try making a decision about this hypothetical situation by following this six-step decision-making process:

1. What are your goals?

Write down your thoughts and goals. In the case described, the goals might include further developing your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend, maintaining your self-esteem, and having fun. As you make more and more decisions, you may notice a pattern of goals-goals that reflect your underlying values at the time. Goals can be abstract such as having fun or developing a relationship, or they may be concrete such as baking cookies, kissing, or getting an A on tomorrow's science test. Whether they are abstract or concrete, they can change over time.

2. What options do you have?

Consider all of your alternative options and write them down. Be creative and thorough. Identifying all the alternatives is difficult, but again, with experience you'll get the hang of it. Think of these options on a spectrum-a line. At each end of the line, list the extreme options. In the case described, one end of the line would be “Going to his/her house.” The other end of the spectrum would be “Not seeing him/her at all on Friday.” Now it's a little easier to think of other options that fall somewhere in between, such as going out instead, talking with each other about each of your expectations for the evening, or inviting other friends over too.

3. Where would each option lead?

Consider each option and think of all the possible outcomes for each one. Identifying your options and recognizing their possible outcomes are the most important elements of any decision-making process. From buying shoes to choosing a mate, slowing down and thinking about the choices available to you in a systematic way helps bring out many issues you might not have thought of otherwise. And it is a skill you will use throughout your life. In the situation described, your outcomes might include developing your relationship, exploring your physical relationship, having fun, getting in trouble if any parents find out, damaging what people think of you, or developing self-esteem. What are some other outcomes you can think of?

Now, construct a chart of your options and the possible outcomes. Keeping in mind the goals you have set for yourself. Evaluate the outcomes for each option with a plus or a minus. Add up the pluses and minuses in each option column. Which option gives you the highest score?

You don't have to assign values to each option. You may find that it is enough just to write down and analyze the alternatives and outcomes. The numbers provide an objective evaluation of the options.

Looking at the result may surprise you, and you might wish it had come out a different way. This process helps you identify what is important to you, what your goals really are. You can weight the pluses and minuses to reflect the importance of certain outcomes. Since self-esteem, having fun, and developing your relationship are really important to you, multiply those pluses or minuses by 3. Now count up the pluses and minuses.

Outcome Be with Him Not See Him
Developing relationship + -
Exploring physical relationship - -
Having fun + -
Getting in trouble - +
Reputation - +
Self-esteem - +
Total pluses +2 +3
Total minuses -4 -3
Totals -2 2

Figure 9.1

4. How do the results compare with each other?

If you have a tie, you have several choices. You can weight each option with additional pluses or minuses (Figure 9.2) depending on how important that issue is to you, or you can add another option that lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Sources of Advice Who in your life would be a good source of advice about big issues in your life (friends, school, sex, money, future, and so on)? If you can, think of five possible sources of advice and write them down. Share with the class what categories these sources would fall into, for example, friend, parent, relative, other adult, teacher, counselor, or clergy.

Outcome Be with Him Not See Him
Developing relationship +++ -
Exploring physical relationship - -
Having fun +++ -
Getting in trouble - +
Reputation - +
Self-esteem - +++
Total pluses +6 +5
Total minuses -4 -3
Totals 2 2

Figure 9.2

5. Which choice will you make?

Sometimes making a chart like the ones in Figures 9.1 and 9.2 clarifies your options and helps you predict different outcomes in a decision. In the case described, however, you could tip the scales in either direction. You may need to think some more about your values and how they relate to sexual intimacy, friendship, and self-esteem. You may want to get other people's opinions.

What Do You Think?

Can you think of several situations in which your intuition is a better judge of what to do than a decision process?

Despite this very rational decision-making process, you still may not feel right about the outcome. Not feeling right about the outcome can tell you something about the goals you have set for yourself. For example, you may have come up with a score that supports going to your friend's house, but, in your gut, you just don't want to. That's okay. The process did its job. It helped you realize what is right for you.

6. Following through with your decision

When you make a decision, it helps to develop a plan of action so you can stick to your decision. It's often very difficult to stick to your decision when there are many pressures or surprises. One way to help you with these kinds of pressures is to be clear and strong in the way you express yourself to others. Communication strategies will not automatically solve your problems or make the situation easy, but they will announce to others what your decision is and demonstrate the importance of your commitment to your decision.

Another way of following through with your decision is to deal with stressful elements in your life. There are lots of ways to reduce stress or anxiety such as talking with a friend, spending time away from the problem, or just putting yourself in environments that make you feel competent, strong, and good about yourself. Sometimes the most stress comes when you're thinking about acting on your decision. At other times, stress comes after the fact, when you're dealing with people's reactions. Either way, it's important to recognize your stress and build a less stressful environment.


Sometimes, making good decisions isn't easy. Sometimes it seems like everyone is against you, and no matter what the choice is, you'll lose. What are some of the common obstacles for even the most rational decision maker?


Sometimes the older people in your life have a difficult time “shifting gears.” They are used to your comfortable and reassuring dependence and cooperation. Now you may be at a point in your life when you'd like to make some of your own decisions and choices. For both you and the adults in your life, it may be best to work through the process together the first few times. If your parents or other adults see how rational and competent you are, they will encourage your independence and congratulate themselves on a job well done. You may even benefit from the suggestions of these experienced decision makers. You may even find a way to get an objective discussion going with a parent or teacher, instead of the emotional or argumentative one you may have expected. Joint decision making often works out well.

Evaluating advice

Who is a source of advice? How much should you believe? Sometimes it helps to talk over a difficult decision with an adult or friend you trust. He or she may come up with ideas you haven't considered. Seeking advice from an objective source-someone who is not involved-is better than seeking advice from someone who may be affected by your decision. Learning who has vested interests, something to gain or lose from your actions, will help you evaluate how objective that person will be.


Making a choice involves some degree of confidence. Trusting your own judgment comes with time and practice. It's easy to avoid a decision. You are at a stage of life when avoidance may tell you you're not ready yet for the activity, such as the intimacy of a sexual relationship, or that you don't know how to make the decision. Practicing a decision- making process for even the simplest decisions will help you gain confidence, know yourself, and be ready to make good decisions in important situations.

What Do You Think?

How might you handle a situation in which you reached a decision, after a careful thought process, but it went against the advice given to you by someone you trusted?

Peer pressure

Going against the flow is tough and takes a lot of self-confidence. You have to like yourself and want the best for yourself to make some of the tough decisions that may come around. From smoking to clothes to attitudes, you have to do what is in your best interest and trust that people will like you all the better if you stick up for yourself without being rude or insulting them for not doing the same.

Activity 9-1: Effective Decision Making


Decisions, decisions! Every day you are faced with making decisions. Some decisions may not be life altering.

  • “Should I get out of bed today?”
  • “What color socks should I wear?”

Other decisions can change your life.

  • “Should I drop out of school?”
  • “Should I try drugs just this once?”
  • “Should I be sexually active?”

Do you have a plan of action to use when you are faced with a serious decision that must be made?


  • Activity Report


Step 1 Your teacher will divide the class into groups.

Step 2 Each group will choose a problem that someone has had recently.

Step 3 Using the six-step process for effective decision making, apply these steps to your selected problem. Write out a full description of a way this problem can be solved.

Step 4 Your group will be asked to share its recommended solution with the class for discussion.

Describe a situation in which a teenager may have to make a high-risk choice (sex . . . drugs . . . drinking . . .) under peer pressure. Then go through the decision-making steps and write your suggested solution.

Review Questions

  1. What are three elements of good decision making?
  2. What are the six steps in good decision making?
  3. What are four obstacles to good decision making?
  4. In identifying your alternatives, what two choices should you identify first to help you think of others?
  5. What does weighing options refer to? Why is it important?

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
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Jan 30, 2016
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