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Plant City Observer Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 1 year ago

Decisions, Decisions: When to use a decision tree

Scott Toler explains the benefits of using a decision tree to make important choices.

By Scott Toler | Thinking Positive Columnist 

If you have ever needed to make a decision, you might be aware of the challenges sometimes involved. The need to decide about a course of action can come upon us in unexpected ways, and often with time limits attached. The longer we live, the more decisions we need to make. 

Doing a cost and benefit analysis can be helpful. This gives an overview of how deciding one way or the other will enhance or detract from our well-being. This can be done by using a two-sided decision tree, with the cost on one side of a line and the benefits on the other side. 

Exploring the pros and cons of any decision involves making short notes of the positives and negatives accrued by going in a possible direction. Knowing the potential circumstances and results becomes clearer after making this list.

We often hear that we need to heed our instinctual response when making decisions. If we do that, the need to make sure that a down mood or a less-than-gratifying day has not interfered with making a choice becomes paramount. Waiting to decide something when we are well-fed and well-rested is often a better idea.

However, looking at some historical vignettes reminds us that some decisions are made under stressful conditions. As a general, Dwight Eisenhower needed to decide the optimum date for launching the D-Day invasion in June of 1944 while listening to contradictory advice. The weather in the English Channel and on the French Coast fluctuated between calm and storm-ridden. His decision to invade Normandy on June 4 turned out to be a critical maneuver for the Allies to win World War II.

While each of us may face our own D-Day-like scenarios on a smaller, more personal scale, the use of methods like decision trees act in our favor by helping us make beneficial decisions. Getting a good night’s sleep before deciding something also improves the ability to make a good choice and gives the fresh perspective of a new day.

If you have problems making decisions, that could be a symptom of depression. This condition limits the clear insights that you gain with brighter emotional outlooks. Even so, approaching certain decisions free of depression does not alter the level of challenge involved in making certain choices.

We have numerous decisions to make on a daily basis as Americans because our economy produces abundant choices about what to buy and do. What game do you want to watch or what concert do you want to attend? Having some indecisive moments is understandable given our range of options.

It can also be true that we decide how well our day goes. Interpreting events in a more amenable way motivates the perception that it has been a good day. Our only real control comes from the way we see and process daily life.

Scott Toler is a licensed mental health counselor living in Plant City. He can be reached at [email protected].

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