Questions to Ask when Decision-Making

blue sky with clouds
assessing the inner weather to make decisions

Margarita Tartakovsky writes at PsychCentral on 4 questions to ask yourself to make good decisions. I don’t know whether to be gratified or dismayed that the 500 year old wisdom of St Ignatius has the subject covered rather more effectively than the answers she reports.

The four questions, courtesy of Alison Thayer, correspond roughly to the Ignatius’ third time of election. She lists them as:

  1. What are my options, and what are the pros and cons of each option?
  2. A year from now, if I decide to do X, what might this look like?
  3. What’s the worst-case outcome?
  4. What would I tell a friend to do?

Ignatius envisages three situations or ‘times’ in which you could be trying to make a decision corresponding to three kinds of internal ‘weather’, each with appropriate ways to move towards a decision. The first time could be characterised as the bolt from the blue: sometimes we just know what choice to make–it feels as though the choice has made itself. Sometimes getting there happens spontaneously and sometimes it involves a deal of coming to balance and inner freedom. Either way, decision-making in this time is more about mopping up: checking that the feeling remains consistent and watching for signs of self-delusion.

The second time  of decision-making corresponds to an internal weather report that might read ‘changeable’. Often when we are faced with a decision we find ourselves quite stirred up: now we think the answer is A and now we are sure it is B… or A. It is not that we are simply uncertain but that the uncertainty sets our mood shifting from sunny to showers and back again. Under these conditions Ignatius says the way to make a good decision is by discernment of spirits. Crudely we can look at those moods themselves and see how they give life or sap it. A lot more could be said here!

The third kind of situation is when the inner barometer reads ‘calm’. Ignatius says when we have ‘full and free use of our natural powers’, when we are not pushed around by various spirits, we can fall back on some simple techniques. Tabulating pros and cons of each of the various options is one such. Others rely on insight and imagination: imagining how life might be if each option in turn were chosen; imagining what rule of thumb you would use to advise a friend; imagining how the decision would look from your deathbed; etc.

The key for Ignatius is to use the right ‘method’ for the right time.

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