Decision Criteria

When you need to make a decision, it is often hard to filter the information overload, negative influences, and other distractions. To cut to the chase in a decision, eliminate what you don’t need from your attention. What’s left crystallizes into clear decision factors. But it takes a clinical approach to focus on only the important decision-making elements. Here are two of my personal-life experiences.

First Example: The Car

I was in the market for a new car. Car salesmen, brochures, even Consumer Reports reviews, throw all kinds of information at you. Most people I’ve talked to will absorb all that information, and decide based on an overall impression, or how they basically feel about the car they finally buy. To me, there’s something wrong with that approach.

My two highest car-purchasing priorities in order were 1. reliability/low-maintenance/important-things-don’t break, 2. cost. From the pool of cars that met my standards in these two areas, I looked at gas mileage, engine size (not too big, not too small, say, 2.5), size of car (fairly small for maneuverability in tight spaces). I researched before I set foot on a car lot.

I explained my preference to the car dealer. He gave me the obligatory rundown of features in several models like sporty appearance, trunk space, smooth ride, cruise control, heated seats, blue tooth, media player, and others. That information was not relevant to me—I already knew which car I wanted, and he had one on the lot. I test drove it, and gave my offer. He said it was too low. He told me his lowest price, and I said it was too high. The difference was $1,500, so I went home and let it go.

A couple of weeks later he called and said OK on the price I had offered. My time on the car lot was about fifteen minutes (until the paperwork started, which takes forever). My time negotiating price was about five minutes, including the phone call. My time considering features not in my criteria list: zero. My car: a sprightly VW Golf, in “shark blue” (happened to be the color of the one on the lot). I bought it three years ago, and still love it.

Second Example: The Move

When my kids were 3 and 4 years old, I wanted to move to a better school district. Then I thought of beefing up the criteria. If I was going to move for the kids’ sake, why not consider everything. I analyzed data such as lowest dropout rate, highest college-bound rate, highest SAT scores, lowest crime, lowest unemployment, best ratio for median income vs. cost of living, and even threw in “outdoor living” ratings for camping, hiking etc. I didn’t care if it took me to Oregon, Maine, North Dakota, Arkansas, Ohio, or most anywhere else in the country—as long as the criteria were met. Once narrowed down, there were several options. From that pool, I could choose based on scenery, climate, and other secondary preferences. I subscribed to newspapers from those cities, and applied for jobs advertised in them (pre-Internet days). But there was a preference for applicants who were already local. So I had to decide on one city among them, and just go there. My top choice was 1,000 miles away. So I went there with no job, got a cheap room, and pounded the pavement until I found employment.

It took three months and more than 200 job applications, but I got a job and made the move. It took another year to find an ideal job, but I got my kids to the area, and they started school in a great environment. After a few years, the marriage ended. Even though it wasn’t a storybook ending in that respect, my kids had an enriching cultural and social atmosphere (compared to where we used to live), breathtaking scenery, a good education, wide varieties of activities, and made good friends in a nice setting all-around. It was a critical decision, and one of the best decisions of my life. There were a lot of obstacles and negative influences. I am glad I approached it with disciplined clinical decision criteria. The rest is just distraction.

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