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Seven Steps to Making Better Decisions

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Heads or tails? Have you ever agonized over a decision and wound up wishing you could just flip a coin for a quick yes-or-no answer? Or do you catch yourself twiddling your thumbs and hoping no one will notice you're stalling? Some decisions have life-or-death consequences-and some are even more important than that.
Education, career and marriage choices can affect the course of our whole life.
Character and spiritual choices can have an even more far-reaching impact.
Tough decisions and complicated choices can thwart us.
But just putting off a major decision doesn't solve anything, and may even be the worst choice.
Here are some commonsense strategies that can help you overcome an overwhelming choice.
Seek wisdom.
This includes prayer, study of the subject in the Scriptures and seeking wise counsel throughout the process.
Those who believe in God and the power of prayer know why this step is first.
Sometimes there isn't time to do anything else.
George Evans, a retired architectural engineer, tells of a time he was between jobs and praying for God's help to find a good one.
He made an appointment to meet with the head of a firm he was considering.
"We pulled into the parking lot together, and he asked for my resume as we walked in," Mr.
Evans said.
The boss offered him a job on the spot: to manage the complete restoration of the Statue of Liberty before the U.
bicentennial celebrations in 1976! "I'd prayed about it," Mr.
Evans said, but his answer was needed right away, so he couldn't formally go through any other steps.
To him, this was a clear answer to prayer.
Other decisions have a clear answer in the Bible.
If someone is asking you to cosign on a loan, Proverbs 6:1-5 gives a warning.
If your sales manager wants you to shade the truth to make more sales, the Bible emphatically tells us not to lie (Exodus 20:16; Revelation 21:8)-though exactly what to say or not say to the sales manager probably requires additional wisdom.
The Bible encourages seeking wise counsel.
For spiritual decisions, seek a wise, biblically sound minister.
For financial advice, seek someone trained and experienced in the field, and avoid anyone who has a conflict of interest-who has something to sell.
The temptation might be too great to try to fit a square financial instrument into a round hole.
Clearly state the problem/opportunity.
Usually this means looking at the problem from all sides, gathering as many relevant facts as possible, then boiling it all down to try to isolate the key issue.
Stating the problem can often be half the battle.
It's hard to aim at a fuzzy target, but when you have identified the bull's eye, your chances of success increase.
Part of stating the problem is to consider: How important is it? A critical decision deserves a major investment in research and time, while a day-to-day decision, not so much.
What blind spots might you have in clearly seeing the situation? For important decisions, get advice from someone you trust but who may not look at it the same way.
In the biblical story of the Exodus, it only took Moses' father-in-law a day of watching Moses judge long lines of people to see that this wasn't a long-term solution.
"Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out," he told Moses (Exodus 18:18).
Seeing the situation and a proposed solution through his father-in-law's eyes helped Moses avoid premature burnout.
What would the ideal outcome look like?
Consider it in the context of your mission, values and goals.
In the real world, it can seem pointless to consider the ideal solution.
Reality dictates decision making as the art of the possible.
But for important decisions-who you will marry, where you will go to church, where you will work, where you will live-why not make the time to imagine the best possible outcome? One that meshes with your mission in life, your godly values and your personal goals? Aim high! 4.
Brainstorm for options.
Your research and thought to this point have probably identified several options.
But often with difficult decisions it's good to apply your mind and enlist your family, friends and experts in finding a few more.
Or in those seemingly impossible scenarios, you may need to create some options where none existed before.
However, studies show we can be stressed out by too many choices, so there's no need to invent extra options just for good measure.
About options: In a crisis we may not have many or may not see many.
But a proactive approach to life-planning, setting goals, developing skills-generally gives us more options.
"To be lucky, you need skills.
" That's how Dr.
David Campbell put it in his vocational guidance classic, If You Don't Know Where You Are Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else.
If luck describes the probability of a good outcome, then choosing to develop a variety of useful skills can really increase your luck.
Wisely weigh the options.
How do you compare your choices? Only 16 percent of Americans base moral choices on the Bible, according to a 2005 survey by the Barna Group.
Those who do, however, have an easier time comparing.
Some options are easy to eliminate if they break God's laws or are obviously unlikely to produce the desired outcome.
After eliminating these, hopefully some options are still available (if not, you might have to reexamine those unlikely ones or to brainstorm some more).
Weigh the pros and cons of each option.
For a decision about which college to attend, for instance, you might make a table comparing your main college options based on factors such as:
  • Strength of academic program in your field.
  • Faculty/student ratio or class sizes.
  • Cost/financial aid packages.
  • Distance from home, etc.
Heather, 18, considered many colleges during her junior and senior years of high school but narrowed it down to two good state schools near her home in Ohio.
She looked through the stacks of beautiful brochures that kept coming in from around the country, but she said, "I knew it wouldn't change my mind unless they offered me a full ride.
" Often the complexities and number of factors involved can lead to analysis paralysis.
Once again, consulting wise counselors can give you fresh insights or reinforce your feelings at this stage.
For many of us, this is the hardest part.
The previous five steps may not have come to a clear winner.
When you are uncertain, it's easy to do nothing.
Not deciding is itself a decision, and generally not the best one.
Erica, 15, said, "The biggest problem I see is the people who don't decide-who let other people make up their minds for them.
" If two choices are equally good and your trusted advisers are split, it may require going with your intuition or even a coin toss.
One of the biggest problems with decisions-especially moral choices-is timing.
What's the ideal time to make a decision about a potential problem? Before the problem arises.
Such preparation allows you "to identify your potential temptations, weaknesses, vices, 'fatal attractions,' blind spots, cravings, addictions, etc.
, and you are able to proactively devise a plan of action that you will not, for any reason, deviate from when faced with any temptation, or other attractive alternatives or options" (Ken Lindner, Crunch Time: Eight Steps to Making the Right Life Decisions at the Right Times, 1999, p.
Once you have decided, develop a plan of action and a list of deadlines and get started.
No matter how much time we spent deciding, we can get cold feet.
To be effective, we have to get past this.
Decision-making expert David A.
Welch told this story: "A colleague of mine had to choose between offers of admission from Harvard and the University of Chicago.
'Relax,' said her mentor.
'No matter which you choose, you will regret it.
' There is timeless wisdom in that comment.
It is almost always possible to regret our choices, because we do not have to live with the consequences of the alternatives we pass by.
We can easily convince ourselves that we would have been better off if we had chosen differently.
In most cases, though, there is no good reason to believe that" (Decisions, Decisions: The Art of Effective Decision Making, 2002, pp.
However, if it does become clear that we're off course, we can make course corrections.
If we've made the wrong decision, we can go through the process again, factoring in the new insights we've learned.
Whatever decisions you face, may they be good and effective ones that will take you on the path God has for you.
For more biblical background about our God-given mission in life and how to achieve our goals, read, download or request the free booklets What Is Your Destiny? and Making Life Work.
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