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06.23.2015 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

3 Ways to Make Wiser Decisions

My work is all about human behavior, so I pay attention to how people respond to things that come up in their life. No matter the scenario, there’s often a decision to be made. The higher the stakes, the tougher the decision.

I’m also very interested in wisdom. What is it? How do we acquire it? Who has it and what does it look like when we live it out?

There are lots of ways to talk about wisdom. I like to think of it as the capacity to balance what is known—or even unknown—with appropriate actions that encompass ethical and social consideration for the greater good of all.

Wisdom, then, means that we’re capable of managing the details of our life well. We take action. A big part of how we do so shows up in our decision-making process. We learn to make wiser decisions.

Here are three ways to help you do just that:

1. Step Outside Your Emotions

Tough decisions usually involve some level of emotion. For example, accepting a new position across country might involve some level of guilt about having your kids change schools.

Emotions are part of the decision-making process, so we don’t want to ignore them. Yet, we don’t want them to rule the process either. Emotional decisions are a sign of immaturity. Also, when we get stuck in a cycle of emotions, it becomes difficult to examine the options.

When I’m working with a client who is facing a tough decision, I often find that they confuse emotions with facts. The conversation will typically circle round and round with emotions of guilt, shame, or fear bubbling up. Often the person struggling is so overwhelmed by the emotions, they’ve lost the ability to clarify the facts.

Start with noticing your emotions. Then ask yourself, what is the source or reason for this emotion? The answer to this question will get you one step closer to what you need to know before making the decision.

2. Gather the Facts

In order to make a good decision, it’s important that you have all the information. Negative emotions often produce fear-based decisions. Fear-based decisions are rarely based on facts.

It’s easy to have an emotional thought and jump to the conclusion that it’s a fact. We even make up stories about what other people are thinking and claim those thoughts as facts.

When facing a tough decision, try making a list of all the things you don’t yet know but need to know. Then, get busy doing your homework. Gather up the facts.

An amazing thing happens when we have the facts. When it comes time to make the decision, the decision is often already made.

Wise decision-making is a step-by-step process of discovery. You don’t want to be impulsive nor do you want to become paralyzed by your own circular thinking.

3. Make Time for Reflection

Another mistake I often witness is rushing the decision-making process. We find ourselves in a cycle of confusion that is emotional rather than factual, and then we try to make a quick decision when in reality, we may have time on our side.

Wise decisions require a reflective practice. Give yourself time to examine your emotions, gather the facts, and then be still. Walk away from the decision for a while if you can.

A recent example I can offer is a decision I’m facing on a book I want to begin this year. I have two book ideas I’m wrestling with, and I’ve decided to take my own advice. I’ve already noted the emotions around each book. I’m now in fact-finding mode, and I’ve decided to give myself until the end of summer to read and reflect before I make my final decision on which book to write first.

Stepping away from the decision, even if only briefly, will give you the opportunity to gain a broader perspective. During this reflective period, I also recommend prayerful consideration that does not necessarily include the opinions of others. Sometimes the rehashing of the situation with others is useful as part of your discovery process. There is also value in time for quiet reflection alone.

The point is this. Determine a process that works for you when it comes time for a wise decision. Whatever direction you take, you’ll feel better about your decision if you’ve given yourself the time to examine emotions, gather the data, and reflect on all that’s before you.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to second guess yourself or feel guilty or shamed. You want to know that you gave yourself the best possible opportunity to move your life forward by making the wisest choice possible.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. June 23, 2015