Sometimes we make decisions in life. Sometimes decisions make us.
In my life, I can trace most of my failures and regrets to my ignorance of how to make good decisions. I want to give you a framework for making good decisions that I’ve learned over the years. The first thing is that there are decisions in life that are so monumental and destiny shaping for which you need a lot of due diligence and preparation. The sooner you do it, the better off you’ll be. Examples of major decisions you will make over the course of your life include:
1) Choosing a major in college
2) Deciding on a new career
3) Deciding where you will live.
4) Starting a Business and choosing the right industry
5) Making a big purchase like a car or a house.
Here’s a framework that can be used in evaluating the steps and/or phases of your decision making process. To make it memorable, let’s use an acronym called SCORE.
a) Study: do your research and obtain as much information as possible
Nothing is worse than activity without insight. As a rule, the weightier and bigger the decision, the more time and effort is required for preparation and information gathering. Some decisions are so major and life changing that you want to make them with as much certainty as possible. You may not be able to do all that you find but at least find out all you can do. Here is a list of questions to help spark a few ideas about how to research:
-What books can you read?
-Which conferences/workshops can you attend to learn about the area of your decision?
-Who are your counselors or the experts in the areas of your decision that you can consult with?
-Who is on your advisory team to help you work through the decision? Note: Be careful who you let on this team. Make sure the people you choose have your best interest in mind and at heart, a track record of making quality and healthy choices, and honesty about their limits of their knowledge during decision making process.
Going through this process will help you think through all the information, so you have more ammunition in making a wise choice. It’s not how much you know but how much you ask that arms you with the tools of decision-making. As a rule, you shouldn't take a leap of faith on something you can gather reliable information about.
b) Clear the way: get really clear on the decision to be made and remove any hurdles
I believe that in making these big decisions, you should be at your best emotionally. Never make a major life decision when you feel pressured, frustrated, angry, tired, fearful or rushed. Some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life were made in a state of fear, fatigue, and pressure with no time to process my thoughts and feelings. Remember, you are responsible for your life so don’t let anyone manipulate or force you into doing something that you haven’t concluded is right for you. Take some time to get away to sort out your thoughts if you have to. If you have a trusted and wise friend who can serve as a sounding board, you may want to enlist their assistance.
Both your head and your heart should come into play when making a major life decision. You need to look at the facts, but don’t discount the feelings. We shouldn’t be lead by our feelings alone, but we shouldn’t dismiss them either. Your feelings about a particular decision can be very telling of what you should do.
In 1977, there was a movie producer who started to see some success in making movies. He had a big movie idea, but he didn’t like the fact that the movie studio had the final edit rights to his movie. Contrary to the popular advice within the movie industry at the time, he decided to take way less money than was offered. Instead of re-negotiating and taking $500,000 or $1 million as his director’s fee which he could have gotten because of his early success, he took the original director’s fee - $150,000 with merchandising rights, sequel rights, and most importantly, creative control - the ability to make movies the way he wanted to make them. That movie is called Star Wars. George Lucas is someone who didn’t let the industry advice keep him from what he intrinsically knew was right. Here’s the thing – for George, it wasn’t about money. It was about serving the work in the way that honored his vision, and he was willing to bet on himself. This decision was not made without difficulty. Tom Pollock, George Lucas’s attorney, disagreed with him vehemently. It was a gut feeling. Some scientists have discussed the brain’s function in decision-making and how the best decisions made take into account facts, statistics, and data analysis but also life wisdom that can be felt in your body, specifically your gastrointestinal tract AKA your gut. The gut feeling can be very valuable in the decision-making process and can sometimes cause you to override the conventional wisdom or the traditional path.
George Lucas took a risk because it was consistent with what he inherently knew was right. Part of roadwork is knowing your values - knowing what really matters to you. I believe that having a strong sense of your values is a big missing ingredient in making key life decisions in our culture. Go back to chapter 3 to do the values exercise if you have not. Sometimes you have to go with the grain and other times against it. Sometimes you have to follow the common advice and other times you have to disregard it. This is part of the roadwork required in making major life choices.
c) Options: list your options and envision the future outcomes of each choice
After you have gone through the study and the clearing part, list the options available and do a cost benefit analysis. Here are a few basic questions to get you started:
1) What are the options available to you?
2) What are the pros/benefits of each choice?
3) What are the Cons/disadvantages of each choice?
Take some time to meditate on which choice is best. Remember, you want to look at the hard data and the intangible internals. Both your head and your heart are involved in narrowing down your options, which is the next step. It’s a good idea to journal your thoughts and feelings or sit with a counselor or coach to help you think through your options. Silence and Solitude are really important practices. Silence is being absent to the external and internal voices to discern which choice is for you. Solitude is being absent to people and things to discern which choice is for you. There are a lot of things that you may want to do but the real question is what are you called to do. That is the question that you have to find the answer to. Let these tools guide you in the process of staying true to yourself.
d) Rank: decide which choice is best based on your value system (chapter 3)
After part C, what option is revealing itself as the one you should choose? When in doubt, go back and walk through A through C until you begin to get more clarity and confidence. This is not a one-time process. You need to keep studying, clearing the way, and listing your options. Trust the process. If you do the work, the best option will emerge.
e) Evaluate: use hindsight to learn the lessons and keep it moving
For many people, this stage ends up with many regrets because they skip the necessary steps. The process of studying, clearing the way, and listing options may not have been done thoroughly and in enough detail. To avoid getting to this stage and having regrets, be sure to go through this process. That being said, nothing is perfect and there will always be a level of risk and uncertainty in decision making. The goal in this chapter is to provide you with a framework for great decision-making and encourage you to do your due diligence with any decision you have to make. I want to invite you to reflect on all the destiny-shaping decisions you’ve made in your life up until this point. Please be honest with yourself about whether you went through a process like this and what lessons you learned. Take some time to write down these lessons and what you would have done differently or what additional lessons served to help you in your decision making process.