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Difficult Decisions are Easier if Focus is on End Goal

April 20th, 2015

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – When making difficult decisions, people tend to become preoccupied with the many factors that make up the choice, often prolonging the time it takes to come to a conclusion. Now, a University of Missouri researcher explains how individuals can make complex deliberations efficiently by ignoring past decisions or events that are irrelevant and by focusing on the consequences of their decisions and end goals. Doing so, he argues, can help decision-makers come to efficient and meaningful conclusions.

“Evaluating huge quantities of information isn’t always practical when a decision-maker needs to come to the right conclusion in a short amount of time,” said Paul Weirich, Curators Professor of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Science at MU. “Through methodical study, I found we can simplify and streamline our choices by separating the parts of past events that we can’t influence as well as placing value on the goals we wish to achieve. This helps us focus on what is most relevant in the decision-making process and makes our deliberations more efficient.”

When making deliberate decisions, two things must be considered, Weirich says. First, individuals should independently consider factors involved in the decision—including those that are innate or deep-rooted within us, those that are outside ourselves, or those related to time and space. Therefore, we can assign value to each variable—regardless of what happens to the other pieces.

Second, individuals should assign value to the pieces involved in the decision-making process according to our basic attitudes towards the end results or basic goals. For example, each relevant factor must contribute in some way to an end goal. So, by only placing value on the relevant factors contributing to the ultimate end goal, the decision-maker can come to the best decision faster.

“This method, while mostly addressing academic arguments that come up in philosophy and economics, has practical, everyday implications,” Weirich said. “Someone in a leadership role, for instance, may have to come to the right conclusion quickly. With this model, we need only compare small parts of the options we face in order to make a rational, timely decision.”

Weirich’s peer-reviewed book, “Models of Decision-Making: Simplifying Choices,” was published by Cambridge University Press in February.