Monday, December 16, 2013

The Art of Making Decisions

Greetings World!

It's been a little under four months since my last post, which represents the time spent completing one semester of graduate studies on my MFA in Directing.  Lots to report, lots to think about.

This morning what I'm thinking about is the whole idea of decision making.  It's easy to say, "well, that was a bad (or good) decision."  Yet, I am becoming more aware of the extent to which the idea of a bad or good decision is extraordinarily more complex than a simple dichotomy.  We make decisions constantly, most of which are small and the consequences are enjoyed or endured quickly...often to be forgotten in relatively short order.  Some decisions become habits, with their own peculiar consequences.  Some decisions are made methodically, others in the context of emotional stress or under the influence of mood altering drugs or mood altering people.  Some decisions are dismissed as irresponsible, though those same decisions might be judged as adventurous or freeing.

There is a calculus here.  A complex set of variables interacting with one another to lead us down a particular path.

I recently described my decision to attend Minnesota State University and obtain my MFA in Directing as the best decision I ever made, and I believe that to be true.  At the same time, within the calculus of decision making, it is on shaky ground in the "Responsible" routine of that program.  The Responsible calculation is somewhat suspect, I think.  While it comes with a range of useful benefits, it has the potential to influence us in ways that need close examination.

Basic Needs + Cognitive Bias + Actualization + Other's Needs + Reality + Responsible = Decision

Hmmm...something like that, I guess.

Basic Needs -- Well, sure, you want to make decisions that ensure that you can pay your bills, whatever those are, so that you can live with a roof and have food.  For some of us, those basic needs are defined in ways that have an extraordinary influence on the decision.  If you include a large home in the suburbs in your basic needs, then the decision making path narrows considerably.  For myself, I want a comfortable place to live, though that can be small and unadorned.  It should be warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  Since I'm living in Minnesota it includes a garage, though that lives at the edge of basic and could be jettisoned in preference to a stronger element in the Actualization category.  Again, for myself, since I have been steadily downsizing in recent years the basic needs function is shrinking.

Cognitive Bias -- There are several elements here.  We come to the decision making process with a large repository of preconceived notions about what we should and should not do in specific situations.  These were foisted upon us by our parents, our friends, the world...and they are ridiculously difficult to unpack.  In some cases this element is so powerful that no other elements are ever allowed into the calculation...we make a decision because that is what is required and damn the consequences.  The other piece of this has to do with how our cognitive processes are functioning at the decision making moment.  Since the various Functions of the decision making calculator are differently affected by things like being angry or frightened or trashed or tired, the cognitive context of that moment of decision is rather significant.  This, I suppose, is the portion of the calculus that recommends a lengthy decision making process for more important decisions.  The wider the range of cognitive contexts within which a decision is considered, the less influential any given context will be.  Personal values also play a factor in this function though its hard to separate values as a concept from the first two elements.  To what extent do our values pretty much reflect what we've learned from others and by how we feel?  The distinction may be impossible.

Actualization -- I think this might belong first, or last.  Or maybe this is the external arbiter of whether a decision is good or bad.  This factor is the extent to which we make choices that help us BE HAPPY.  Of course, happiness is influenced by lots of interactions with the other factors and is not to be confused with BE SELFISH.  How do the things that we decide help us to understand ourselves fully and to maximize the opportunities to grow?  Actualization also includes that strange category of things that we often describe as WANTS, which is separate from basic needs but can be confused in that way.  Perhaps this category also includes the basic needs just above the need for safety...such as love and belonging, freedom, and personal agency.  Balance lives here as well.  When our decisions as a whole are balanced actualization is more achievable.

Other's Needs -- There are a wide range of influences having to do with the needs of the people in our lives.  This is not a bad thing.  As a parent, spouse, friend, lover, etc. we hold in our hands opportunities to strengthen relationships and support the people we love.  Sometimes this factor sits in opposition to our own needs, and yet if it is ignored there is the likelihood of significant cognitive dissonance.  Making decisions which somehow harm the people we love is very difficult.  Sometimes necessary, sometimes inevitable, but always painful.

Reality - So, deciding to get rich through a lottery is not likely to be a great decision.  You know, be realistic.

Responsible --'s a tough one.  Who gets to decide what are responsible decisions or what constitutes responsibility in a decision.  Sometimes its easy.  A parent is clearly responsible for the basic needs of their child.  First priority.  An employee is responsible to their employer.  There is a cascading flowchart of responsibilities that affect our decisions at all times.  Again, like thinking about the needs of others, our responsibility to others can easily be in conflict with the choices we might make that would benefit our own actualization.

Dunno.  It's complicated.

Anyway, that's on my mind this morning.  I am now officially between semesters, so I hope to post something every day for the next month or so.  Some of that time will be sitting here reflecting on the Fall...thoughts on theatre, work, play, friends, lovers, parenting, not parenting, poker, golf, weather, alcohol, dancing, writing, and more...and then from the 26th through the 10th there will be another round of travel journal entries.

Happy Holidays!

Snow Falling on Detritus
Out the window scattered remains
until snow fall
all is pure and unbroken again.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

interesting timing.