That Is Not The Question


Not to decide is to decide. Harvey Cox

If you decide not to decide, you are still making a decision. If you don’t make up your mind, that is a decision to not make up your mind. And sometimes it works; procrastination sometimes turns out well. The real question of course is: How to decide?

Advice about how to decide has been around for many years; and a lot of it. However, it has never been considered important enough to teach in schools. We expect children to learn how to decide like they learn how to walk. Children learn how to walk before they go to school. Good walkers are easy to identify. If children learn how to decide before they go to school, how do we identify good or poor decision making children?  Or do we care? We offer decision making courses for adults but not for children.

But maybe the problem with decision making today is that no one is sure how to decide. Most of the decision making advice of the past is now obsolete, including my own. Once considered totally rational, then considered either rational or emotional, now considered partly non rational, emotional, intuitive and somewhat rational. This new, creative, multi-part decision making system is being characterized by various terms: thinking fast and slow; system 1 and system 2; switch; ambiguity; the art of choosing; the elephant and the rider, a growth mindset; positive uncertainty; the juggling act; bonded rationality; complexity matching.

Decision making is a human cognitive process, involving the brain, the mind, consciousness, the maturation of the physical and the accumulation of experience. Herein lies the problem. Learning to decide while growing up, and as an adult, involves the acquisition of personal beliefs and cognitive biases. This provides each of us with our point of view, our subjectivity. We learn our cognitive biases the same way we learn our culture and to speak the language we most often hear. We learn decision making from personally acquired experience.

Experience isn’t always the best teacher. And maybe a decision making curriculum won’t be the best teacher. Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art, Sheena Iyengar. This is one of my favorite quotations about decision making. But I am not sure what it tells us about learning to decide. Lessons are offered to become more skillful artists so what would lessons look like to become more skillful artistic deciders?

The question remains: How do we help children, students and adults become more skillful artistic decision makers? Although I continue to offer advice about better decision making, along with many others, I’m not sure this advice is better than learning from experience.


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  1. Eugene Unger says:

    I can’t decide if I decided? You Understand my not understanding , right ? See you over breakfast Tuesday if I can decide to come. 😱😄



  2. betsy collard says:

    I’m just not sure if we learn from experience.What do you really think?


  3. Carl Thoresen says:

    Are you game to meet @ Peet’s?
    I mean where you hang out! Could you send
    me Peet’s address?
    I really liked “To Decide Or Not To Decide? ”
    I want to use it with my Men’s Group
    here at the Terraces Los Gatos. Could you
    send a standard 8 by 11 pages
    I’m somewhat busy with family but I
    miss our talks. Can you send some dates
    that work for you? Best times for me would be on Mon, Tues, and Fri 1:30 to 3:30 but some are days and times can differ

    Be Peace,

    Carl E. Thoresen
    Professor Emeritus of
    Education,Psychology,& Psychiatry,
    Stanford University

    Senior Fellow,
    Spirituality and Health Institute
    Santa Clara University

    Chair, Board of Directors
    CPP, Inc.

    408 656 5628

  4. Eugene Unger says:

    I decide to do something, but can’t remember what it was😜



  5. Eugene Unger says:

    Or can’t find what I need to do it😱



  6. Eugene Unger says:

    I’m positively uncertain I didn’t do it already ! Getting old is not a personal choice! 🙏



  7. Marianne says:

    Sorry to say, after all the good ideas on making decisions I have learned from you—-I still mainly go by intuition–or what “feels” right. Now, I do pay attention to possibilities, and might even make lists of pros and cons. But ultimately, the decision just happens. As an example, one time I was planning on buying a car. I researched all the important issues like gas mileage, motor power, actual costs and how to negotiate them, etc. At the last I bought a car that was a color I really liked, it was 2 door to accommodate for a new grandchild’s safety. I felt good in it and liked it. I think it didn’t really get the best gas mileage, etc. but it worked well for me. Anyway, I try to do all the right things in researching, but my “gut” really takes over at the last minute.

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