Skip to main content

Things they didn’t teach you at school: decision making

Things  they didn’t teach you at school: decision making

You have made quite a few decisions today already. You don’t leave the house in the morning without negotiating choice of breakfast and clothing. If you have reasonable income, you have the privilege of choice, certainly compared to many parts of the world. You can generally figure out what you prefer to do and do it.

But what about the bigger decisions in life: What job should you take? Where should you live? What voluntary work would suit you? How could you use your  finances? Where should you send your  children to school? How might you care for elderly parents?  Many find that its agony working out what is the best option, and sometimes indecision means that circumstances overtake them.

Thankfully there is help at hand. Here’s some approaches to take, next time you are not sure what to do.

  1. Widen your options

We may be struggling to choose because we haven’t stepped back and asked what we are trying to accomplish with the decision. Once we have the goal, we may discover that we have more options than we expected.

If you are buying a house you go to estate agents to find what’s on the market.  Use this principle with other decisions: gain more information yourself, or learn from someone who knows the scene – a medical professional, a coach or mentor in the field, a careers advisor,  On the internet there are chat forums and special interest websites that will cover your area of concern.  Thinking and looking more widely might open things up for you.

  1. Learn from fellow deciders

Chances are you are not the first person to face this dilemma. Jeff Lestz became a millionaire in the financial services sector, before he was thirty years of age, having been on the streets in his teens. He was mentored by a man who advised him:  ‘find the smartest person in your  field and copy what  they do exactly’.  Maybe you know someone who has faced your situation? (eg. They had teenage children, elderly parents, faced financial challenges.) You could follow what they did to be sure about their decision, especially if its unchartered territory for you. You might send an email to five friends outlining your dilemma and see if they know anyone who has faced that issue, and can offer suggestions.

  1. Ask yourself how you would advise a friend

Point 3 is a psychological trick – but it seems to work. We can be too close to a decision and may be thoroughly unsure of our own mind. We need to give ourselves distance from ourselves by asking, ‘If it was a friend who had this same situation, what would I say to them?’ It’s not failsafe, but can make the decision very obvious.  One woman was wondering about moving to a new city to take up a new job and this question helped her to realise that exciting though the opportunity, she wouldn’t advise friends to leave their friends and family to do it.  And so she declined.

  1. Listen to your heart

If the foregoing advice sounds a bit too logical, don’t forget to ask what your gut is telling you. Many people have an intuitive sense of what’s right that they can’t always put into words. They are in a house and just know it’s for them; they sense a connection with a person who they go into business with, which they can’t quite explain; they know what would suit their son or daughter, better than they do.  Perhaps the reason for uncertainly about your decision is that you know deep down what to do but can’t justify it?  Those with Faith need to ask whether God has anything to say about the decision. There may be no chapter and verse, but a gentle sense, and peace about a course of events counts for an awful lot.

  1. Get perspective

Sometimes we prevaricate on a decision because it is awkward, perhaps because people’s feelings are involved. It’s worth asking, if I make this decision , what will it feel 10 days, 10 weeks and 10 months from now? You may have to make a tough decision about someone and yes it would feel uncomfortable in 10 days. But in 10 weeks, you will be glad you did, and in 10 months you and they will be in a better position.

  1. Make a tentative step

 We may assume that a decision requires us to burn our bridges, but it may be that there are ways of testing out the decision beforehand. You are not sure if you could do a particular job? Can you stay doing what you are doing and try the new option voluntarily? You aren’t sure whether to invest some money in a project: can you invest a little and see how it goes?  You are not sure about a nursing home for an elderly parent. Could they spend a week there to see how it goes, without having to commit? Many decisions won’t allow this luxury, but if there’s ways of clarifying how wise a decision would be – take it.

  1. Decide before you decide

I have found it enormously helpful to make a mental decision ahead of the actual decision. I then live with it for a day or two and see how I feel. Sometimes the extra time confirms my choice, on other occasions I am very relieved it was a mental choice, because I sense it would be wrong, and adjust accordingly.

Decisions regarding the kind of issues we have reflected on can be agonizing and there are times when you just have to do what you think us best at the time, unsure whether it’s correct or not.

The final thing to say, is that once you have decided, don’t look back. You have made the best decision given what you knew at the time – put your all into what you decide.  Indeed, a relatively poor decision embraced with vigour will trump a better decision that is half hearted every time.  So once you have decided, go for it!

You may like to check out the Small Group Tool box book, on ‘Guidance’, by Ron Kallmier (CWR)  It’s suitable for individual and Group Study