Making Big Decisions

Have you ever been downhill skiing, sledding, or tubing? Have you ever bit off more than you could chew (so to speak) on a hill and got that sick feeling in your stomach that it wasn't going to end well? That's the feeling I get sometimes as I fly down the "hill of life". Time moves quickly, and sometimes it seems like the decisions pop up like giant evergreen trees on the way down the hill. It's scary, but you can't stop. You might have uncertainty, but time won't slow down for you. Of course, the analogy completely falls apart here, because in life you want to hit the decisions head on with faith, reasoning, good counsel, and wisdom. In the skiing example, you might want to avoid the trees.



For my own personal gratification, I'll give you another analogy that might be more suitable--Tetris. The pieces fall so fast and every one is different. Every situation is different in terms of where the piece will fit; but when the pieces start falling a million miles an hour, you better put them in the right place--or else!



Or else what? Most decisions by themselves aren't destiny-altering, just like a mistake here and there in Tetris won't end the game; but if you make a habit of dumb decision-making, things can get sticky real fast like (aware of grammar failure).

How do you know what "big" decisions are?

You can't stress about every decision in life. Although I agree that our small, daily decisions matter in the grand scheme of things, it's really not THAT important whether you wear flip flops or sandals to the pool. Clearly there is a continuum of choices, some being very inconsequential and others being course-changing. In between is a large area of grey that is subjectively emphasized according to a person's personality.

But I believe one thing is non-negotiable--you should know what is important to you. If you treat big decisions too lightly, you might start jamming Tetris pieces in all the wrong places. If you treat small decisions too severely, you may develop a psychological disorder. 

Examples of big decisions:

a. If you will attend college and if so, where?
b. What type of job/career will you pursue?
c. Will you get married? If so, to whom?
d. Do you want children?
e. What will you place your faith in--God or man?
f. Where will you live?
g. How will you raise your children?
h. How will you manage your money?

There are many more, but I think that covers some of the major ones. Some of these decisions are one-time only, and some are decisions you make daily; but all are very important.

How do you make "big" decisions?

I believe in having a plan and a procedure (my wife might laugh out loud when she reads that) that can be used over and over again to guide in making decisions. I have come up with my own plan, and I thought it might be helpful to you--the reader. I make no claim to having a patent on being good at life, so feel free to pick and choose what you like from this post and tweak it to fit your personality and your situation. There is no "one size fits all" for these things!


Step #1: Learning


An uninformed decision is a bad decision. There have been times in my life when I got "lucky"--I didn't have all the information I should have, but things still turned out well. But I try to avoid it. Figure out everything you can about the decision you're making. This will require turning off the TV a few nights a week to read.


Step #2: Removing bias


You've probably heard people say, "Don't get married to that idea". It's important when you are making decisions to remain objective, or unbiased. If you bias yourself toward an option for the wrong reasons, you are more likely to shove a Tetris piece where it never should be! 

For instance, some people are biased toward a choice because it's easier or more convenient. I suggest you ignore that bias and stick to the facts. Some people are biased because they want to please other people with their decision. If you make all your decisions to make other people happy, how will you ever become happy? Some people are biased by fear. They are afraid to decide something because it's unfamiliar or intimidating. Fear should NEVER play a role in your decision-making. Ever.


Step #3: Seeking counsel


Once you have learned enough about your decision to make an informed choice and you've done your best to eliminate your biases, seek out people that can help you. I don't mean people who will tell you what you want to hear. These people are useless (not entirely, but for your decision making process).

I hope you have mentors in your life--people you trust and respect. I personally have several different types of mentors. I consider my current boss to be a mentor in terms of making career and professional decisions. My current and previous pastors are people I would go to for spiritual insight into a decision. My friends and my parents are other people I might go to depending on the decision I am making.



Oddly enough, sometimes you can get good advice from total strangers. Recently I contacted someone I did not know via LinkedIn to talk to him about his experiences with making a certain career choice. We had lunch, and he gave me some great insight and information. I chose him because we had similar educational and professional backgrounds. He had done something that I was considering, and I wanted to hear his take on it. He contributed to my decision, and I never met him before that day! I don't recommend you ask some random person at Wal-Mart for life advice. It won't turn out the same.


Step#4: Getting serious


By this time in the process, I have narrowed down my choices a lot. Now there is probably only two or three options. This is when things get real. 

Now I talk to my spouse. I bounce the ideas off of her, since she will be affected as much as me, if not more, by my decisions. I know I said that you should avoid making decisions to make other people happy, but your spouse is one exception. The Bible says that married people are "one". You MUST make decisions together if you want to enjoy life and be successful.

As a pervading theme, I pray throughout this entire process (steps 1-4). As a Christian, I never stop praying, but when a big decision approaches, my prayers become more focused. I bring my ideas, my conclusions, and my options to God and ask Him to point me in the right direction. No matter how much research and thinking I do, I cannot tell the future. I cannot predict exactly how a decision will affect me and my family ten years from now. But I believe God can. 



For you skeptics, I cannot prove that to you, that's why it's faith. Faith operates in the realm of things not seen or observed (Hebrews 11:1), meaning it is unscientific. I make no apologies for my faith being extra-scientific. 


Step #5: Waiting


This might be the most difficult step. After narrowing down my options and asking for input from those closest to me, I wait for awhile. The amount of time depends on when the decision needs to be made and how certain I am about my choice. I believe this is best because impulsive decisions are often bad decisions. Waiting gives my mind time to fully digest the ramifications and contemplate the thoughts that God directs me to. Sometimes thoughts arise during this time that change my mind.



Sometimes waiting is required. For instance, when I was in graduate school, I was thinking about what I would do after I graduated. But first, I had to graduate. I could wrestle with the decision all I wanted, but I had to wait until I got my diploma before anything really happened. Waiting is hard and healthy.


Step #6 Pulling the trigger


After exhausting yourself with steps 1-5, you ought not beat yourself up with second-guessing. You've gone through the rigor. You've opened your mind to the options. You've done your best to remove your biases; and you're in harmony with God and your spouse (if applicable). Don't hesitate. Bang! Pull the trigger. 



Enjoy the results of investing in your decision and making it a good one. Time spent on the front end will pay off infinitely by you not having to back-track as much in life. Back-tracking is expensive and painful.

So go out there and decide stuff.

Image credits:
Sled accident image from http://video.hmonghub.com/RGk2UDRkeEd0eVEz
Tetris image from http://www.edge-online.com/features/pay-as-you-go-tetris-how-ea-salt-lake-is-refashioning-a-puzzle-classic-for-todays-player/
Man reading on computer image from http://beernexus.com/champkind.html
Prayer image from http://www.memorialparkchurch.org/prayer-ministry
Waiting image from http://phillipkelley.net/the-worse-waiting-god-wishing-have/
Gun trigger image from http://www.ladodgertalk.com/2013/06/lets-make-a-deal-3/

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