by Jay Bransford
If you’re like me, you’ve made more than a few mistakes in life. When you think about it, most of the mistakes we make in life are a result of using a poor decision making process. We don’t make poor decision intentionally, of course. But there a number of mistakes that we all tend to make and this article focuses on six of the most common.
To make things more fun, let me share with you a poor decision I made about 20 years ago, and compare my mistakes to the 6 most common mistakes of decision making.
Here’s what happened…
It was a Saturday, and I had just finished working yet another tiring 60+ hour week. I was a 25-year-old single guy working as a management consultant, living out of hotels in various cities, and jumping from plane to plane each week. For some reason on this particular Saturday, I felt like driving a convertible. So on a whim, I called up my best friend and suggested that he join me in test driving a brand new, beautiful 2-seater convertible at a local car dealership. My only goal for the day was to have fun driving a cool car.
The dealership was more than happy to let me test drive their convertible. However, since it was a 2-seater, my friend couldn’t join me on the drive. It was just me and the salesman. I had a blast driving that car around! The sun was shining and the wind was blowing through my hair (yes, I used to have some). And then the most unexpected thing happened. I turned the stereo on. The word ‘amazing’ doesn’t do justice in describing the sound that came out of those speakers as I drove down the road. The car had Bose speakers built into the headrests of the seats, right at your ears. As I sped up and slowed down, the volume automatically increased and decreased. (It was impressive new technology back then.) As a young person who loved listening to music (can I hear an ‘amen’ from the rest of you young YWAMers?), I was mesmerized by the driving and listening experience. By the time I drove that convertible back into the parking lot of the car dealership, I had told the salesperson that I would buy the car. The decision was made!
Now, please humor me for a moment, because I don’t want to focus on whether the decision I made was the ‘right’ decision or not. Instead, I want to focus on the process I used to make the decision and what mistakes I made. Sometimes in life we use a terrible decision making process but still end up making a good choice. So it is important not to get those two things confused. It is possible to luck out and make a good choice despite the fact that you used a horrible process.
In no particular order, here are 6 common mistakes we are all occasionally guilty of when making decisions, and how those mistakes played out in my story above:
1. Moving Too Fast
It’s quite clear in my story that I made a very fast decision. I didn’t go to that dealership to buy a car. There wasn’t even supposed to be a decision to make. But all of the sudden, the salesperson asked me if I wanted to buy it, and I answered ‘yes’ right away!
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5
Rushed decisions are often some of the worst decisions we make in life. Sometimes we feel pressured to make a decision, sometimes we just don’t have the patience to analyze the decision further, and sometimes we simply don’t see the need to think the decision through in more detail. So we jump in and make a quick decision. Here is something we all need to remind ourselves of… rarely do we really have to make a split-second decision in life. It is almost always better to take more time to think through a decision and its implications before making your final choice. Slow down!!!!
2. Proving Your Favorite Choice
As soon as I experienced the exhilaration of driving that sporty convertible down the road with my favorite tunes blasting in my ears, I was sure that little car was the best and only car for me. In that moment, you could have given me a list of other cars to consider, but I wouldn’t have really given any of them a moment of thought. I was already sold. I would have quickly made a list for you of every reason why a different car wasn’t perfect for me, and just as quickly I would have listed for you every reason why that convertible was faultless. I wasn’t thinking rationally. I just wanted what I wanted and I would make sure that my logical argument proved it.
That is often the mistake we all make when we go into a decision with a pre-conceived idea of what we think the best choice is. Instead of being open to the pros and cons of other options, we spend all of our time and energy defending our choice and proving how it is best. Guess what? When you go into a decision with the mindset to prove your choice is best, you are not really engaging in the decision making process. Instead, you have already made your choice and you just want others to agree with you. So before you start a decision making process, ask yourself if you may already be biased toward a particular choice. If so, challenge yourself to truly be open to considering any and all options.
3. Lack of Input
Whose input did I get before making the decision to buy that convertible? No one besides a slightly biased salesman!! My friend was sitting there in the parking lot and I didn’t even ask his opinion. Admittedly, it was my decision to make and not his or anyone else’s. So why would I bother getting input from another source? Well, there’s a very good chance that I wasn’t being totally rational with my decision. I didn’t have all the facts needed about the car. And I didn’t consider any reviews about the car, just to name a few obvious reasons.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14
It is easy to make the mistake of being overconfident. We think we know best. We think we have superior understanding of the situation. And we’re just sure that there is no additional information or perspectives out there that are relevant to this decision beyond what we have already considered. The solution? Humble ourselves. Remember that two heads are better than one, which means that getting numerous perspectives is probably even better yet. Ask people for their input, questions, ideas and perspectives. Do some research. And even consider asking people who seem to have little to do with the decision, because sometimes getting input from a person who is totally uninvolved or even uninformed can provide just the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that you need.
4. Disregarding Your Team’s Thoughts and Feelings
In my example, I didn’t ask anyone, including my good friend, about their thoughts or feelings about my decision to buy a new car. However, just a few weeks prior to that the senior partner in my consulting firm had actually suggested for me to consider buying a new car. And he specifically challenged me to get a car that I would be proud to drive my clients around in. So you might be thinking, “Who in the world wouldn’t love being driven around in a convertible?” I totally concur. But evidently there are actually people out there who hate getting their hair blown around and messy. My apologies if that describes you! More importantly, though, what I didn’t consider was how I would transport more than one client at a time. Ooops! Now that was a real problem that I didn’t consider.
Often times the decisions we make in life and ministry have impacts on others. Not only do we need to ask those people for their input (see Mistake #3), but we need to actually consider their thoughts and feelings when making our final decision. Just because you don’t care if your hair gets messy in the wind, doesn’t mean that people who do care about that are wrong or are idiots. Decisions usually involve trying to accomplish multiple objectives and priorities. Be careful not to disregard other people’s objectives nor minimize the priority they put on those objectives. You might not agree with their priorities, but demonstrating understanding and concern for them will go a long way in getting support and commitment for the final decision.
5. Ignoring Risks
“What are the risks of owning a convertible?” you might ask. Ah…. It’s so much easier to see when we have the privilege of hindsight. At the time I bought my convertible I can honestly say that I didn’t consider a single risk or problem that I might encounter. Here are a just a few of the many risks I wish I had considered up front:
- The cost of insurance
- How likely you are to survive an accident
- How dangerous this convertible is to drive in the snow
- How to transport more than a few grocery bags
- How fast it would encourage me to drive (sorry, mom!)
Forgetting to consider the risks of your top choice(s) is a common mistake. In the following bible verse, take a look at what decision Moses made in response to seeing a fellow Israelite being mistreated.
“He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” – Acts 7:24-25
What were the consequences of Moses not first considering all the possible risks of his decision?
Even if your top choice seems to perfectly meet every one of your objectives and criteria, failing to consider the risks could lead to disastrous, unexpected consequences. Always make sure to take a hard look at the potential downsides or risks of the top choices you are considering. Doing so can often make a big shift in your final decision.
6. Leaving out God
I wish I could say that I had a quick conversation with God while I was enjoying my test drive of that convertible and that God had said, “Go for it!”. But I’m pretty sure it never even crossed my mind to ask God what He thought. I was sure of myself.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
I must admit that leaving out God is probably the mistake that I make the most often. As you might guess, I enjoy analyzing decisions and thinking them through very thoroughly. My patient wife has endured countless long discussions with me about decisions we’ve made as a couple. I enjoy using a good decision making process and it makes me feel confident in the final decision. However, it is essential that we never misplace our trust. While it is important to get input from others, keep from rushing, and follow a thorough and rational decision making process, we must remember that God is our ultimate source of knowledge, wisdom and direction. He must never be left out of the decision making process. And He should never be considered less important than the process we use. When God speaks, we listen. And when He gives us instruction or direction, we should follow, no matter what our best decision making process or risk analysis tells us. Just make sure that you are seeking God together as a decision making group. He is more than capable of speaking to each person involved.
CHALLENGE: Which of these mistakes can you relate to the most? And what can you do to avoid them?
* For more resources from the ALLC to help you with Decision Making, click here.