Friday, April 19, 2013

Steps To A Wise Decision

by CWK

Ever find yourself regretting a decision? Then, wondering how you might have proceeded differently? Or, struggling to know how to make a decision? Ever find yourself in a decision cul-de-sac -- going in circles around a decision, with no off ramp?

KNOW what you are doing.

Many a bad decision is made based on an error in knowledge because we literally don’t KNOW what we are doing.

Two kinds of knowledge are involved in a bad decision:

1) Insufficient knowledge: we don’t know enough; we don’t know the whole story.

In making a good decision we don’t have to know everything, but we do need to know SOME things. We need to get to a point where we have sufficient knowledge on which to make THIS decision.

2) Wrong knowledge: we have been misled; we have misunderstood.

So, in making a good decision, we need to know the truth; we need true knowledge. That is, the real, honest-to-goodness facts.

Once we are in a place where we have both sufficient knowledge and true knowledge we can combine those two into DECISIVE KNOWLEDGE – knowledge upon which we can make a good decision.

If we ever find that we lack DECISIVE KNOWLEDGE we should, if possible, postpone the decision.

Think about the decision for as long as you need to.

We make a lot of bad decisions because we are in a rush; we are in a hurry; we are imprudent. We never stop to look around and ask, “What am I doing.”

So, making good decisions involves waiting, stopping, taking a deep breath, sleeping on it, talking to others about it. Good decisions take time.

We will often come across people who try and pressure us into a rushed decision. We shouldn’t let such people manipulate us into bad decisions. If we do let someone pressure us into a bad decision, we must remember that we, not they, have to live with it.

Example: Several years ago I went car shopping. At the very first lot I went to I found my ‘dream’ car. The salesman tried every trick in the book on me to get me to buy that car immediately. I was rather naive, and so his tricks were working. Then, I remembered a vow I had made earlier that year which went like this, “I vow that I will take at least 24 hours to make any major decision.” I told him as much. He kept pressuring me, but I just repeated my vow. I would later learn that my vow saved me a lot of money (the car was overpriced). In the end, I bought another car (better, newer, and cheaper) from a different dealer.

Think FROM the future.

Thinking from the future means: time warping yourself to a later date and looking at the decision from that vantage point. The confusion of ‘now’ often makes us choose unwisely. Years later we may groan, “I wish I had...” So, the only way to make decisions we won’t regret is to think from the future.

Think about your wedding day.
Think about the birth of your first child.
Think about how you will look at your life when you are 85, in intensive care, with 5 minutes to live.

Think ABOUT the future.

This means: think about what consequences will come of your decision.

Here, we ask, “What will happen if I do this? What are the likely consequences? What will happen if I don’t do this? What are the likely consequences.”

Think about others.

Ask, “Who else will this decision effect? Is it really best for them?”

A helpful exercise is to think about your children (born, or yet to be). How might this decision impact them?

Consider your motives.

Here we ask, “Why am I doing this? Are my motives pure? Am I doing this for the right reason?”

Remember T.S. Eliot’s immortal words, “This is the greatest treason – to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

Think about your options.

Weigh your options. Ask, “What choices do I have?”

Often, when we are stuck in decision overload, we forget that we have more than one option. We focus on the decision and think, “I must either do this, or not do this.”

Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe you have more than one option.

Manipulative people will often try to put you in a corner where you only have one option: Act now!

For example, the car salesman I described earlier tried to get me to believe, “You must buy this car today, or the car of your dreams will be gone.”

To which I could’ve responded, “No. I could buy this car today. I could also buy it (or one like it) next week. I could buy another car from someone else. I could take the bus. I could walk. I have a lot of options.”

Think in terms of good, better, and best.

This is involved in the previous step, “Think about your options.”

Once we have determined what are options really are, then we need to classify them into: good, better, and best.

Here is another reason why we make bad decisions: we choose something good, when we might have chosen something better. We choose something better, when we might have chosen something best.

So, some things are good – they are OK. Still, that doesn’t mean they are the absolute best.

When we are thinking about our options, then, we need to think about them in terms of good, better, and best – then, reason with ourselves, “I could do this. There may not be anything wrong with it. Still, is it the best? Is it profitable for me?”

Think in terms of bad, worse, worst.

This applies to times (often after bad decisions) when we have only 3 options: bad, worse, worst.

The danger, in such situations, is that we will opt for ‘worst’ because we can’t see that, while one thing is bad, another thing is much worse.

For example, one of my dear friends, a genuinely honest man, cheated on a paper. He was caught up in the hurry of the end of the semester, and he didn’t take time to think (this is not a good excuse) about whether it was right/wrong to plagiarize from his roommate. He turned the paper in and got a good grade. However, in the week following, his conscience was killing him. He felt he couldn’t live with himself. He made a bad decision, and he was in a bad situation.

Now, in this situation he had 2 options:
1) Bad: Go to the professor, confess his wrong, and take an “F” for cheating.
2) Worst: Live with his guilty conscience and the knowledge that he didn’t earn his grade.

He chose, wisely, to go to the professor. In doing so, he had to face bad consequences (humiliation, a bad grade), but these consequences were nothing compared to the agony he would have experienced if he had lived as a ‘cheater.’

It is painful to be in a situation where the options are only: bad, worse, worst. All the same, the right decision is to choose ‘bad.’ The real problem in such situations is that we don’t want to face anything bad. We would rather do nothing. However, this doesn’t make the situation better; it only means we will get the ‘worst’ option by default.

Think about the ‘how.’

We not only need to consider ‘what’ we should do, we also need to consider ‘how’ we should do it.

The ‘what’ is a destination; the ‘how’ is the road map – how we will get to a certain destination.

Here is an example. You need to confront someone. It is the right thing to do. You are sure this is ‘what’ you should do. The question now becomes, “How should I do it?”

I say all this to say: a good decision considers not only ‘what,’ but also ‘how.’ Thus, a good decision usually involves a plan. We map out the right ‘how’ so we can arrive at the right ‘what.’

Seek good counsel.

If you are stuck with a decision this in an indicator that you need to look beyond yourself for guidance. You need a ‘guidance counselor’ (not the kind you had in High School); you need someone to give you clear guidance, to be your ‘guide’ through this decision.

Remember: the quality of the counsel is related to the quality of the counselor. So, you must choose a counselor carefully.

When looking for a counselor, you generally want to find someone who is:
-older than you
-knows more than you
-has experience/expertise in this particular area
-has your best interest in mind (they love you)

It is unwise to get counsel only from your friends, or those in your peer group, because: they are NOT older than you; they DON’T know more than you; they DON’T have any more experience than you do. So, even if they really love you, they don’t have the necessary tools to help you.


When making a decision: Weigh. Ponder. Consider. Debate. Contemplate. Deliberate.

A lot of the above suggestions include the word “think.” There is a good reason for that. Thinking is absolutely critical to good decision making. The more important the decision, the more you will need to think about it – the more time you will need to give yourself to really ponder all that it involves.

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