When it comes to making important decisions, most of us can use all the help we can get. We have all made unwise decisions and have rued the consequences that come from such poor choices.
Johnson recommends that we adopt a process that focuses on two elements of decision-making. We ask the practical question that uses the rational side of our brain. And we also consult our hearts listening our feelings and our intuition about a decision.
The practical question involves three elements. We ask ourselves:
- Am I meeting the real need?
- Have I informed myself about the options?
- Have I thought things through?
Am I meeting the real need?
There is a difference between what we want and what we need. I may want a large Dairy Queen blizzard, but what I need is to eat a healthy diet. Allowing myself to have what I want every once in a while is fine. But my primary concern needs to be on whether I am meeting my genuine needs first.
When we face an important decision in our lives, we need to ask ourselves, what do I really need? A want is simply a wish. It may be attractive, but in the end it isn’t fulfilling. By contrast, a need is a necessity, something that is nurtures us and gives us a sense of success and fulfillment. Filling a need gives us life.
As we consider a crucial choice in life, it is important to identify our true needs and what will help us meet those needs. Truly successful people concentrate their efforts on meeting their needs first. They are able to say No to those things that don’t meet their true needs.
Have I informed myself about the options?
In my previous posts on the Heath brother’s book Decisive, I noted that expanding the number of options we consider can lead to better decisions. Good decision-making requires us to inform ourselves about the options that are open to us.
Johnson refers to a Japanese saying, “The slower I go, the sooner I arrive.” It actually takes less time to make a good decision that it does to fix a poor one. Others can often give us information we need for making better decisions, but we should always validate what they say for ourselves.
It isn’t necessary to exhaust all the options that are possible. Often it is sufficient for us to gather information we need to generate a several possible courses of action. The more information we gather, the better our options will be. When we start to settle on an option, we can ask ourselves again, is this the best way to meet our real needs?
Have I thought things through?
As I consider a particular option, it can be very helpful to ask myself, “If I act on this option, what will happen next?” Then what will happen? And what will happen after that?
Many of the poor decisions we make in our lives come from the fact that we haven’t thought them through. We may not be able to predict exactly what will happen next, but it can be vital to imagine what will be the most likely outcomes if we take a particular action. Often we fail to think things through because we believe that what we are considering is only a short-term decision. Nevertheless, many so-called short-term decisions have long term consequences. We need to think things through.
Taken together, these elements of the practical question help us move toward the better decision we know we need to make. In my next post, we will look at the private question as we consult our hearts.
If you want to know more about Spencer Johnson’s approach to decision-making, pick up a copy of his book, Yes Or No. It is a fast read, but is filled with much wisdom.