Six doctors in white hospital coats approach your bed. No one is smiling. The results of the biopsy are in. One doctor explains that the cells were irregular in shape; they appeared abnormal. It seems that the tumor was not clearly malignant, but not clearly normal either. They probably removed the entire tumor. It's hard to be certain about these things. You have some choices. You could leave the hospital this afternoon and forget about this unpleasant episode, except for semiannual checkups. There is an above-average chance, however, that some abnormal cells remain and will spread and grow. On the other hand, you could choose to have the entire area surgically removed. Although this would be major surgery, it would clearly reduce the risk of cancer.
How do you decide what to do? Your first response is probably to ask the doctors what they recommend. But if you do, it's likely that you won't receive a consensus of opinion. Often physicians disagree about the best way to treat a disease, especially when there are many options as in the case of complicated diseases like cancer or AIDS. It is possible that some will believe that the risk of cancer is small enough to warrant the wait-and-see decision (Why rush to operate?), whereas others will believe that immediate surgery is the best decision (Better safe than sorry). Ultimately the decision is yours.
Of course, not all decisions are a matter of life and death. We are constantly making minor decisions without much thought, such as what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, which pen to buy, and when to go to sleep. Everyone is faced with a lifetime of decisions, and some of them have major and far-reaching consequences. In this chapter we are concerned with life's major decisions. Major decisions include medical decisions like the one at the beginning of this chapter, whether to marry, whom to marry, if and when to have children, what kind of occupation to choose, how to spend your hard-earned dollars, and so forth. These are all personal decisions that virtually everyone has to make. We also must decide on a host of political and business issues like whether to support off-shore drilling for oil, when to increase a company's inventory, which stock to invest in, how to negotiate a contract, which party to support during political upheaval, and how to increase profits. In this chapter, you will learn skills designed to help you make sound decisions. To accomplish this, we look at the way psychologists and others study decision making, examine common pitfalls and fallacies in the decision-making process, consider the risks involved, and develop a general strategy or plan that you can use when faced with a major decision.