One of the areas that we most often question ourselves in is our decision-making. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had decisions to make that you’ve analyzed to death, both before and after you decided, and a number you’ve regretted. When Leah and I moved to Texas, we had to fight against regretting it. We believe God called us to be here, but it took nearly five months for me to get a job (I just started a week ago, so I will probably only be able to post a couple times a week now.) and our money was running low. She missed her family and we both missed our friends and our church. As if that wasn’t enough, Houston traffic is ten times worse than Colorado and we had the added stresses of finding a new church and not getting lost.
Now that I have a good job at a respected company and we’ve found a church we like, it’s easier to believe that we made a good decision in coming down here. The problem with that thinking, though, is this:
It was always a good decision to move down here.
There are several principles of good decision-making. If you follow these, you can consistently make good decisions.
1. First and foremost, follow God. If it weren’t for this principle, moving to Houston might well have been deemed unwise. We had little in the way of a safety net and we had next to no connections down here. I have no oil and gas experience (Houston’s biggest industry). We could have blown all our money, had to sell one of our cars, and piled up credit card debt before limping home to live with her parents while we got back on our feet. But because we believe God told us to do this, we went, having faith in Him to take care of us. And you know what? He did.
2. Gather all the information you reasonably can before making a decision. Sometimes God is silent and expects you to decide. When that happens, find out what you can about the pros and cons of a choice. Don’t obsess over finding out everything you can, but do your homework. For example, if the decision is whether to go to college, find out what student loan interest rates are, how much you’d be in debt when you graduated, whether the school you want to attend is well-respected in the subject you want to study, how much people in your field generally make, the downsides of their jobs, and how readily available jobs are. Then find out what jobs are available to you with your current skill set, what kind of pay you can expect, and how high you can climb without a degree. Only when you have all the necessary information will you be able to make an informed decision.
3. Make a list of pros and cons. If your decision has only two options, one list will do. If you have multiple options, make a pros and cons list for each. To use the college example, a pro for someone looking to get into finance is, “Financial analysts can make over $80,000 a year,” while a con could be, “But in four years of being a bank teller, I could rise to the level of manager and make $50,000 a year with no student debt.” Then assign two numbers to each item you listed: importance to you (on a scale of 1 to 10), then a realistic probability that each will happen. I emphasize realistic because, while becoming a programmer could make you a billionaire, the world has millions of programmers who aren’t, so the odds of you surpassing millions of other good programmers are very small. If you wanted to be a vet, a con would be a good chance you’d get scratched and bitten on at least a weekly basis, but if you have a high pain tolerance, that might not matter much to you, so you could put 4 on the importance and 90% on probability.
Once you have your numbers, multiply them for each item, then add the results. The side with the higher total is the one that makes the most sense for you given your values and priorities. If you have multiple options, have the pro side be positive and the cons be negative, then net them together. The option with the highest overall score is the one that makes the most sense.
4. Think long-term. This may depend, of course, on the situation, but I highly recommend emphasizing long-term goals over short-term ones. For example, you can buy that big TV now, but what are the costs? Will it prevent you from being able to save enough money should you lose your job? Will your credit card interest bury you and hurt your credit? And how will lower credit affect any efforts to buy a house? Also, could you live with your current TV or get by with one that’s not as high-end? Will the one you want be cheaper in just a few months or a year? Multiple studies have shown that the people who do the best in life are the ones who think long-term and are patient.
5. Ask other people for advice. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” You may consider yourself very wise and prudent, but your friend may have a totally different take on your decision or think of a solution or possible outcome you missed. When possible, go to someone who you know had a similar decision to make. And for important decisions, I recommend asking at least three trusted friends, people who are willing to disagree with you, for advice. You don’t have to listen to them, but you’d be wise to hear them out.
6. Don’t forget your heart when doing this. Certain decisions should be made without the heart, to the greatest extent possible. Others, such as what career to choose, need your heart for your decision to be successful. Success in life is more than money or a good job; it’s being content with where you’ve chosen to be.
7. That said, accept responsibility for whatever the results may be. There are no guarantees with any decision. Moving across the country to accept a promotion sounds great…unless you get laid off three months later in a round of severe budget cuts. You may not have chosen to get laid off, but you chose that path knowing it was a risk. It may not be your fault that it happened, but you could have chosen to remain a lower-paid employee and had a greater chance of keeping your job. Either way, the sooner you accept the results of your decision, unintended or not, the sooner you can get to work repairing the damage or going down a new path. Every decision will have its cons, so don’t regret a decision just because something bad happened; realistically, you should know that something you don’t like will happen with every major decision you make. A good decision doesn’t get rid of all the bad results; it just has more good results than bad.
8. Know that the results of a decision do not determine whether a decision is good or bad. It’s the decision-making process you used that determines the quality of your decision. You can make a great decision, such as to go to work in the morning, and get t-boned by a drunk driver and end up in the hospital. Or you can quit your job, by a lottery ticket, and win. The quality of a decision isn’t affected by the results, especially the highly improbable ones. If you did your homework, weighed the outcomes objectively, and thought long-term, then your decision is good even if the results aren’t what you hoped for.
9. Most importantly, your decisions don’t affect your self-worth. You could make bad decision after bad decision and God will will still love you as much as He does right now, which is enough to sacrifice His Son for you. You can’t be either more or less valuable to Him and it’s His opinion that matters, so your value doesn’t come from your decisions. Realizing this will help you not stress about them, which will keep emotions out and let you think more clearly. The result will be both better decisions and less stress about them.