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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Significance vs. Success

What is success? Today’s view, in Western culture, defines success in terms of fame and/or fortune. For example, people are considered successful when they reach the highest levels of their chosen endeavors. Trophies, awards, bonuses, job titles, certificates, prizes and the corner office are treasured symbols reflecting success. Likewise, houses, cars, boats, and club membership are the trophies of financial success. You might recall a once-popular bumper sticker that read “The one with the most toys wins!”

I believe success in these terms falls short of true success. Brian Tracy, who is in the people-building business, wrote,

“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ’What’s in it for me?’”

However, since it is difficult to change the vernacular, let’s use a different word.  How about significant?  To me, being significant means living an unselfish life that puts others ahead of self. The result is a legacy defined by the number of lives impacted, rather than the size of a bank account. Tracy and others teach that fame and fortune don’t define success, but are the natural benefits if we don’t make them the goals. Even in the dictionary, “significance” precedes “success.”  I wonder how much better the world would be if more people focused on leaving a legacy of significance.

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance – and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” — Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, September 2002

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” — Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

“There are fine things which you mean to do some day, under what you think will be more favorable circumstances. But the only time that is surely yours is the present, hence this is the time to speak the word of appreciation and sympathy, to do the generous deed, to forgive the fault of a thoughtless friend, to sacrifice self a little more for others. Today is the day in which to express your noblest qualities of mind and heart, to do at least one worthy thing which you have long postponed, and to use your God-given abilities for the enrichment of someone less fortunate. Today you can make your life – significant and worthwhile. The present is yours to do with as you will.” — Grenville Kleiser

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” — Bible, Matthew 7:12

As we live our lives, it’s important to realize that everyone leaves a legacy and that we get to choose whether our legacy will be one of significance or something less.

God Bless,

— CC

©Copyright March 2011, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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