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Decision making principles

Many things in life can cause us distress. Sometimes we can do something about it, other times there is nothing we can do. In life there are essentially four decision making principles that give us an idea about how much influence we can have in different situations.

The four decision making principles are:

  • Given
  • Input
  • Negotiate
  • Self.


Decision making principles: Given

A Given, is something in life where we have no decision making power at all. An example would be the weather; we don’t negotiate with the clouds when it will rain or tell the wind to be at our back on every hole at the golf course. The weather is a given, and we just have to take it, good and bad.

If you think about places like home or work, there are some givens where we have no decision making power. We need to pay our bills or there will be consequences. We need to do the work we are paid to do. We have to comply with laws. With givens, you have no decision making power and no input into the decision.


Decision making principles: Input

Input is where we have some avenue for input but someone else makes 100% of the decision. Applying for jobs is a good example. We provide our work history, references, answer questions at interviews and provide a great deal of information, which is input. However, the decision making power is still 100% with the employer.

Sometimes decisions are made without any considerations of our input; just because we have input opportunities, it doesn’t necessarily mean our input will influence the decision maker.


Decision making principles: Negotiate

Negotiate is exactly that, each party has equal input and decision making power. In relationships, many things need to be negotiated. Parties can agree to allocate responsibility in line with the strengths of each person. Some areas can then be self-managed without consultation. For example, one party might be good with accounting/bookkeeping, cooking or car maintenance. In those cases, you can negotiate for one party to make all decisions within the area of their portfolio. Other decisions such as where to go on holiday, large purchases, education options for children, will need to be negotiated.


Decision making principles: Self

Self is where you make 100% of the decision. You may, or may not take into account input from others. With these decisions you decide what factors to take into account and you make the decision 100%. Look at what you’re wearing today, most likely you decided what to wear without consulting with others. Every day we make many decisions that fall into this category.


Why do we need to be aware of these principles?

Sometimes we get very caught up in how we are impacted by decisions that are “givens” or “input” and spend too much time and effort in attempting to have influence in areas where we have zero decision making power. We need to put more effort into the areas where we have real influence.


“We need to put more effort into the areas where we have real influence.”


A “given” might occur that makes us upset, such as an economic downturn resulting in a company closing and everyone losing their job – in this situation you have no input and no decision making power, the fact you are no longer employed with that company is a given. If we spend too much time trying to influence, bargain, complain and get upset about this event, then we are risking escalating our negative feelings about the situation. Yes, it is expected that you will feel bad, but you can influence how you are going manage your emotional response moving forward.

As adults we are responsible for our emotional regulation. We can accept that this potentially devastating event has occurred, give ourselves some time to process our emotions, seek assistance if required and then construct a plan as to how we can increase our chances of being employed somewhere else. We are then shifting our focus from the past, which we have zero influence, to the future, where we have some influence.


“We are then shifting our focus from the past, which we have zero influence, to the future, where we have some influence.”


The same idea can apply to relationship breakdowns.

Anyone has the power to leave a relationship at any time. You cannot force someone to be in a relationship with you, and no one can force you to be in a relationship with them. If someone leaves a relationship, then you are no longer in that relationship, and that’s a given. Once again, you can influence your emotional response to that situation and work on making any necessary changes to have a chance of reconciliation or work towards having a chance to commence a new relationship. You self-manage how you will act moving forward, you have the freedom to make decisions about your behaviour and you are responsible for the consequences of those decisions. It is never true that someone else made us behave badly, we choose to do that, and the consequences are ours to manage. If others choose to behave badly towards us, it is not a valid reason to behave badly back, we might be upset, even angry, but we do not have to choose to behave badly, we can choose to take other action.

If you have children, an understanding of decision making principles helps as they become teenagers and then adults. As parents we are used to making the vast majority of decisions for our young children. As children develop into teenagers, they are learning to become independent adults. This is obviously a gradual process and setting the appropriate boundaries through this development stage is very important. Relating this to decision making principles; a simplified view would be that parents want to keep decisions about their teenagers in the given/input categories, whereas teenagers, will want to negotiate or self-manage their decisions.

A simple example of the movement of decision making power for children, is bed time. Parents decide the bed time of young children; the time is a given, with the children having no decision making power. As they get older, children will have input into their bedtime but the decision remains with the parents. As teens start to become more responsible with their time management, bed times move to being negotiated, and ultimately self-managed by the young person.

The movement of decisions through the stages need not be permanent. If a young person has the responsibility of managing their own bed time but they are managing it poorly and to the detriment of their other responsibilities and the family as a whole, then that decision may move back to be negotiated. It can once again be self-managed once the young person demonstrates they have the maturity and appropriate level of responsibility to self-manage this decision again.

So, when it comes to making decisions, we need to be honest with ourselves about where the decision making power actually sits. Just like teenagers, we might want some decision making power to be in the negotiate or self categories, but we need to accept that there are just some aspects of all our lives where others make the decisions, and we just have to live with it. With greater decision making power comes greater responsibility, so what you manage yourself will have consequences.

What we can decide, is how we are going to manage our responses to those decisions outside of our control, and if we need help to manage our responses (anger, grief) it is our responsibility to access that help.


If you’re struggling with any aspect of your mental health and you don’t know what to do, pick up the phone and call MensLine Australia. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or access online counselling.