Making Decisions

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”Decision-Making – Acting v. Reacting?”


Dear Dr. Gelb:

I like to read and one idea I don’t understand too well that I have read about is the difference between acting upon our environment and reacting. Can you explain?


A: Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Choices:

For the most part, this is a simple concept. Reacting to one’s environment is a behavior without forethought. This means that one is responding emotionally without evaluating either the consequences for one’s behavior, or the results.

On the other hand, acting upon one’s environment means that we have given our intellect and the emotional component of the personality an opportunity to evaluate the results of our decision. Then our choice is made as a result of this evaluation. I believe there is a saying that following an “off the wall” idea (i.e., acting without forethought) will get a person in trouble, whereas a behavior that arises from careful thinking can lead one to find the goose that laid the golden egg.

”Responsibility – Why do I Feel Guilty for my Choices?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

Why is it that when a decision I make doesn’t work out the way I thought it would, I feel guilty for days?


A: Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Responsible:

In my studies of human behavior I have learned to believe that, contrary to what others may dictate, guilt is unnatural. Therefore, I developed a positive attitude about the errors we make as we learn and grow. To me, my mistakes, and I will probably make them the rest of my life, are a reminder of my ignorance. Our hunger to learn and grow can move us toward the awareness of our ignorance and we can adopt the principle of self-forgiveness. We can forgive ourselves for our mistakes and apologize to anyone who we may have harmed because of it.

Answers to questions in today’s column can be supplemented with excerpts from “Yesterday’s Children” (Q#1: p.11-12; Q2: p. 12) written by psychologists Marti Barham, R.N., Ph.D. and Tom Greene, Ph.D. For more information visit my Web site at

”’Suzanne J. Gelb, Ph.D., J.D. authors this daily column, Dr. Gelb Says, which answers questions about daily living and behavior issues. Dr. Gelb is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Honolulu. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Services. Dr. Gelb is also a published author of a book on Overcoming Addictions and a book on Relationships.”’

”’This column is intended for entertainment use only and is not intended for the purpose of psychological diagnosis, treatment or personalized advice. For more about the column’s purpose, see”’ “An Online Intro to Dr. Gelb Says”

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