Jerry Martin: A decision-making primer |

Jerry Martin: A decision-making primer

Other Voices
Jerry Martin

Of all the millions of things we humans do throughout our lives, making decisions are among the most consequential.

Obviously, some decisions are more important and life affecting than others. Whether I choose a Pepsi or a root beer for lunch probably will not endure past tonight. But whether I choose to get a tattoo of a hippo on my forehead, or no tattoo, will definitely impact the remainder of my life.

Same is true for whether to buy this house or that, choose this career or that, move to this city or that and marry this person or not. Decisions determine pivotal, and sometimes irreversible, aspects of each human life.

We humans are fortunate in having many choices that other species don’t have. Clams, elephants and chimps are driven by more primitive survival instincts in their lives, but never have to choose between several universities or businesses or whether to leave their parents’ house or remain living in the basement for a bargain rent. Of course, these decisions make our lives more complicated, which can be very confusing and onerous, but that’s all part of being human. Whether we like it or not, decisions come with the territory, unless you are in a coma. You even have to choose whether or not to keep reading this.

All decisions are made on two levels, emotional and logical. I might buy a used car, attracted by its sporty looks, bright color and sexy interior, an emotionally driven decision. Later I realize it’s a clunker with a cracked engine block and defective brakes, problems my emotions ignored. Or I might buy a smart (but dull) car, with great dependability and good gas mileage, but never feel good driving it, later concluding it’s really dotty grandma’s boxy car that doesn’t fit my self image. Logical, but emotionally dissatisfying.

So the best decisions consider both levels.

We all have emotions, inherent with being human, and unavoidable. Emotions are often based on past teachings, experiences and values. If you were taught to hate violence, boxing and joining the army produce unpleasant feelings and are probably inadvisable. If you were taught, and developed a love for nature and the outdoors, spending 35 years of your professional life in a cubicle as an accountant probably is not a good choice, even though it provides a good income, something logic recommends. Our emotions, not quantifiable, and often unaware, so not controlled, always influence us, nonetheless. Anger, the emotion that is most wide spread in causing us to behave destructively, is much better handled with calm, rational, critical thinking that can mitigate damage, resulting in reconciliation, or at least preservation of the relationship.

I wish we had a “tool” for teaching emotional intelligence like we now have a “tool” for teaching logical intelligence. Created in the 1970s by an American architect named Howard Garns, who originally named it Number Place, Sudoku is sweeping the world, slowly contributing to the cognitive evolution of humanity.

Critical thinking, or logic, is an indispensable component of all good decisions. Logic is subject to deliberation and debate, easier than emotion to discuss, often with pros and cons, often with quantifiable information. Our abilities to use logic productively to maximum advantage can be impacted through education. Math and science also teach this, as does Sudoku.

Solo Sudoku trains us in the most basic features of logical thinking. Sudoku teaches how to think, not what to think. Sudoku is to thinking what walking is to transportation. If you don’t learn good logical thinking, later decisions will be inferior and sometimes disastrous.

Sudoku is like a tune up for the brain, a form of mental yoga that teaches us the basics of good decision making. Fundamental skills, like identifying all relevant information, requiring accuracy and forestalling decisions until adequate information is acquired, are all taught and trained by doing Sudoku puzzles. Once these three requirements are achieved, it’s important to be decisive, committing to an informed decision with confidence.

All erroneous decisions are caused by breaking one or more of these basic requirements of productive thinking.

Making these skills a habit results in strong critical thinking and deductive reasoning. It’s important to train children in these fundamental skills; this will produce formidable decision makers. Further, when puzzles are solved by small teams of 3 or 4, decisions are made in unison, necessitating calm communication and respectful collaboration in order to make accurate decisions. All of us, but particularly future leaders, must work together to make beneficial decisions, for ourselves and society in general. The successful cognitive and moral evolution of humanity depends on it.

Since Sudoku requires 100 percent accuracy for success, and since accuracy can be equated with truth, developing respect and need for accuracy will produce a larger recognition of truth. This is particularly applicable in today’s political environment, where fake news, and accusations of fake news (which is not fake) are common, undermine morality and trust. Learning to discern truth from untruth enables us to recognize mendacity, an invaluable skill when evaluating a politician and his/her statements and character.

Training by Sudoku will result in better voting decisions and choices in every aspect of our complex lives.

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley. Learn more at

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