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Shortcuts: How to make a decision

By Alison Daniels for CNN
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(CNN) -- Thinking of changing job? Getting married? Decaf or regular coffee? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

If modern celebrities have any purpose at all, it's showing the rest of us how bad choices can lead to financial loss, humiliation and ridicule. For example, spending less than five minutes choosing your life partner can backfire spectacularly as pop princess Britney Spears knows only too well.

So when faced with a daily litany of potentially life changing choices, what techniques can you employ to help you make the right one?

Use logic: For those who want to take the emotional element out of decision making and apply some logic, check out new publication, "Geek Logic." Written by American academic Garth Sundem the guide explains how to use algebra to reach a decision. Any decision. All you need are Sundem's formulae and a calculator and hey presto! A definitive answer to life, the universe and everything.

So how does it work? You're tired and feel like a day in bed. Trouble is you have a job to go to. What should you do? Call in sick or pull yourself together and get up? Using a Sundem equation you assign a value to a number of factors such as: Do you have a doctor's note?; the number of days you've already taken off sick; how much responsibility you have; your daily wage and your chance of being fired.

Punch all the numbers into your calculator and you'll come up with a numerical answer. If your answer is greater than one then, sadly, it's off to work you go.

I'm rubbish at math... any other suggestions? The self-help section of any bookstore offers a bewildering selection of "gurus" promising to help you take the right path. It might be wise to select one whose decision to write such a book has led to fame and fortune.

Spencer Johnston's seminal work, "Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and Life," has sold over five million copies since its publication eight years ago. In summary, the book uses the analogy of four characters -- mice (Sniff and Scurry) and little people (Hem and Haw) -- searching for cheese inside a maze. The cheese symbolizes what people want in life while the maze is where you look for it.

The book's seven steps to dealing with change has been credited with helping countless corporate types make sound business decision. And there's even a version for indecisive children called "Who Moved My Cheese for Kids."

What if I'm an impulsive person: No problem. Impulsive decisions made with the heart have better results than those made with the head according to recent research by Dr. Jamin Halberstadt, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

Dr Halberstadt says: "Subjective decision making is an enormously simplified and potentially superior tool compared with the more effortful analytic strategies."

This theory is also at the heart of another American bestseller, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," by New York pundit Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell advocates the benefits of making an instant decision.

He says: "As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: Haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don't think this is true. There are lots of situations -- particularly at times of high pressure and stress -- when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world."

Okay I've decided! No more self-help books ... How about a nice life-affirming chat with a life coach? Ten years ago no-one had heard of life coaches, now there are over 100,000 of them in the UK alone, counseling everyone from City high flyers to anxious teenagers. According to one, "a good coach helps the coachee find the answer from within." Mmm ... maybe it's cheaper to ask your mom.

Any other options? Fortune-tellers, tarot cards, rolling dice, flipping coins and astrological star charts are all centuries-old, tried and tested methods of reaching a decision. The advantage of flipping a coin over a Sundem theory is that if you don't like your first answer you can change the rules. Did I say best of three? I meant best of five. However it might be best to steer clear of witch doctors, tantrics or voodoo spells due to their propensity to advocate animal sacrifice (or worse.)


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Trust your fate to the cards ... or see a life coach. It's your choice.

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