Decisions, Decisions

I have faced some interesting and challenging decisions these past several months and observed others in the same boat. This got me thinking about how people go about making decisions. Is it rational? Is it emotional? Certainly both come into play. Which one should play the dominant role?

Decision making should include at least three perspectives: 1) moral, 2) risk vs. reward, and 3) probability. I believe the first question should always relate to one’s moral standards, that is, whether something is morally right or wrong. This is often all that is needed to make the correct decision.

“In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.” — Thomas Jefferson, Third U.S. president

If a course of action is neither right nor wrong in the moral sense, the next step would be to compare the risks and the rewards. Here’s a method that might help. For each alternative, make a two-column list. Write down rewards in the left column and risks in the right column. Are the potential rewards more valuable than the risks? People play the lottery because they value the remote chance of becoming rich more than they value the money spent on lottery tickets. This is a risk vs. reward decision.

“What you risk reveals what you value.” — Jeanette Winterson

Finally, look at the choices from the probability perspective. From your list, cross off the ridiculously improbable risks. Also eliminate those with consequences you could live with if they did occur. Circle the rewards with the greatest personal value. Compare the remaining risks with the circled rewards. Your best choice should be much easier to discern.

“Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” — George S. Patton (1885-1945)

I think people usually make bad decisions because they overlook one or two of these dimensions. Here are some reasons people make bad decisions:

  • They don’t know what they want.
  • They value pleasure more than their own integrity.
  • They prefer immediate rewards over long-term rewards.
  • They don’t see the potential rewards.
  • They don’t see the risks.
  • They don’t understand the probability of the risks and rewards.
  • They allow fear to dominate and distort their thinking.
  • They fear making a wrong decision above all else.

Before I wrap-up, reflect on these quotes about decisions.

“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.” — Ben Stein

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” — H. L. Hunt

“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.” — George Eliot (1819-1880)

“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, 1999

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” — John Dewey

“An executive is a person who always decides; sometimes he decides correctly, but he always decides.” — John H. Patterson

“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.” — Robert Fritz

Even though this decision-making process uses a framework of logic, it reserves plenty of room for emotions. How so? The moral perspective is possible because of emotion, which strengthens a person’s grip on his moral convictions. In the second perspective, reward is a value judgment influenced heavily by emotion. Good or bad, the third perspective will probably be colored by emotions. For example, fear can fool one’s mind into overestimating the probability of certain risks. This process is not perfect. But it can help achieve a healthy balance between logic and emotion.

God bless,

— CC

© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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Buying Bread

Before long, the television industry will have made a so-called reality series on every possible subject. So far, I haven’t seen one that takes place in a grocery store. As my contribution to the television industry I will offer this idea along with a storyboard for the pilot episode.

Imagine a woman going into a grocery store to buy bread. She picks up a loaf, squeezes it for freshness, checks the price, and makes the decision to try the bread. She has decided that the price is acceptable – she is confident that the bread is fresh and will meet her needs. The decision was made in a timely manner allowing time for the other decisions she will make before reaching the check-out counter.

“First weigh the considerations, then take the risks.” — Helmuth von Moltke (1800 – 1891)

The second shopper comes along and picks up two brands of bread, compares them, puts one in the shopping cart, the other back on the rack and proceeds to the check-out line. Suddenly he does an about-face, returning to the bread aisle to swap the first loaf for the second. There’s a pause. Indecision sets in. Will it be brand “A” or brand “B”? — then a blank stare accompanied by a cold sweat. Life is so full of tough decisions.

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.” — Jimmy Buffett

Shopper number three comes in for bread. He picks up the first loaf, reads the ingredients, weighs the bread, takes out one slice and performs a chemical analysis, computes cost per ounce, per calorie, and per grams of fiber, conducts a customer survey on taste, contacts Dun and Bradstreet for financial information about the manufacturer and rates the bread on his findings. Before he can repeat the process for the other 23 bread products, he is voted out of the store by the employees.

“You always second guess yourself. Just think of all the time you’d save if you just trusted yourself.” — Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005

— End of episode —

The second shopper was held hostage to indecision, fueled by the fear of the unknown and the imagined consequences of making a bad decision. The third shopper attempted to deal with the same fear by doing an excessive amount of research, research that had already been done. What shoppers two and three have in common is a total lack of perspective about the magnitude of the decision. Buying bread IS NOT a major life decision. How long will it take Shopper Three to select a car? Will Shopper Two begin hyperventilating if faced with a weighty moral decision?

“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.” — Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)

The first shopper made a timely decision using two simple pieces of information: freshness and price. The decision was made with confidence based on limited knowledge. The truth is, all decisions are made with partial information. No one ever has 100% of the information. Trust is required to fill in the information gap. Using a process that combines information with her intuition (i.e. faith), Shopper One was able to make a bread decision. Larger, more important decisions can be made the same way, including a decision about whether or not to take advantage of low-risk, life-changing opportunities.

“If I had to sum up in one word what makes a good manager, I’d say decisiveness. You can use the fanciest computers to gather the numbers, but in the end you have to set a timetable and act.” — Lee Iacocca

Most opportunities are missed because of fear, which leads to over-analysis and procrastination. Truthfully, opportunity is never missed. It’s just grabbed by someone else. What opportunities are standing at your doorstep? Perform your due diligence, then make a courageous and timely decision.

“Make a decision, even if it’s wrong.” — Jarvis Klem

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” — Elbert Hubbard

God bless,

— CC

© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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One of the biggest stumbling blocks to living a good life is the belief that comfort and happiness go hand in hand. We have been further deceived into thinking that wealth and material things are the path to comfort and happiness. So, we paint a mental picture of carefree living, void of pain and stress, relaxing peacefully in the hammock of life. This issue of “Clancy’s Quotes” offers a different perspective of comfort. True comfort is more emotional than physical. It is a sense of personal value through worthy accomplishments in pursuit of noble goals. Comfort is being able to go to sleep knowing you did your best, served your fellow man and made a positive impact in the world.

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. “ -– Charles Kingsley (1819 – 1875)

Making comfort the goal puts limits on achievement.  Instead, comfort should be treated as a bonus for accomplishing more worthy objectives.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” -– C. S. Lewis

Comfort can become a narcotic and destroy us with the very thing we thought would make us content.

“Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.” -– Charles Dickens

“Bad habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into, but hard to get out of.” -– Anonymous

With the idea that there are more worthy and satisfying pursuits than physical comfort and that this type of comfort can become a trap, we are ready for the following inspirational piece comes from ”Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts” by Peter McWilliams:

“Here’s the premise: We are all, right now, living the life we choose.

”This choice, of course, is not a single, monumental choice. No one decides, for example, ‘I’m going to move to L.A., and in five years I will be a waiter in a so-so restaurant, planning to get my 8-by-10’s done real soon so that I can find an agent and become a star,’ or ‘I’m going to marry a dreadful person and we’ll live together in a loveless marriage, staying together only for the kids, who I don’t much like, either.’

”No. The choices I’m talking about here are made daily, hourly, moment by moment.

”Do we try something new, or stick to the tried-and-true? Do we take a risk, or eat what’s already on our dish? Do we ponder a thrilling adventure, or contemplate what’s on TV? Do we walk over and meet that interesting stranger, or do we play it safe? Do we indulge our heart, or cater to our fear?

”The bottom-line question: Do we pursue what we want, or do we do what’s comfortable?

”For the most part, most people most often choose comfort – the familiar, the time-honored, the well-worn but well-known. After a lifetime of choosing between comfort and risk, we are left with the life we currently have.

”And it was all of our own choosing.”

Start by dreaming again. Dream like a child, without limits and with specificity. Big dreams about specific outcomes lead to passion and passion fuels action. Without the dream, decision and action are more difficult.

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” -– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” -– John F. Kennedy

Consistent, long-term action is required for life-changing results and is possible only with dream-inspired passion. A dream without action is a wish. A dream combined with action can lead to a better type of comfort.

God bless,

— CC

© Copyright July 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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