Crisis Decision Making 101

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I remember having to go back and clean up my messes or apologize for saying something out-of-line. Being impulsive in the heat of the moment never worked in my favor.

I may have learned it the hard way, but eventually I figured it out. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state (whether we are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but (where possible) wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day. Often, with the perspective from time and reflection, I change my decision for the better.

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Being in a stressful situation messes with our brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities.  A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we’re stressed-out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can, or at least defer it until you’ve settled down and can think clearly. Ask for more time if you need it. Learn to recognize and release your stress.  Here are 3 quick tips to help unwind and cool you down:

  1. Reach out to your support system. You don’t have to go through hard moments alone. Their wise counsel and perspectives can help immensely.
  2. The endorphin rush you get from exercise will up your mood and help chase away the blues.
  3. Practice conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. Meditate, pray, do yoga, or all of the above. Connect your mind, body, and spirit for a holistic de-stressing.

Also, think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? Which young people in your life can benefit from this lesson when facing stressful situations?

6 Steps to Help You Become a Masterful Decision Maker

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Some days (like maybe during this month!) your biggest decision is no larger than what gift to choose for that hard-to-buy-for person on your Christmas list. Other days, it seems the weight of the world is bearing down on your shoulders and the impact of YOUR decision could be life changing—for you or for others.

Often, people make important decisions impulsively and based on emotion rather than on a thorough and objective evaluation. However, you needn’t be this way. Making tough decisions is never easy, but if you practice the following six decision steps, your odds of making the right one will be significantly greater:

Step 1: Get the facts.
Gather all of the facts you can, along with any accompanying assumptions. In some cases, you’ll have to use your best guess.

Step 2: Determine your key decision criteria.
Identify the key factors in making your decision, prioritizing your criteria from most to least important.  
 
Step 3: Identify all of your alternatives.
Consider all realistic options without prejudging. No choice is a “bad choice” at this stage.

Step 4: Engage wise counsel.
Solicit the views of experienced and insightful people who know you well and understand the decision at hand. (If you’re a person of faith, this is a good time to pray!)

Step 5: Conduct an objective pro/con analysis for each option.
Record the advantages and disadvantages and weigh them by importance. This is a particularly valuable step for visual learners since the right decision often emerges when the pros significantly outweigh the cons.

Step 6: Consider your “gut instinct” or intuition.
Chances are, by the time you’ve completed the fifth step, your best choice will have emerged. However, the final test is what your intuition is telling you. If, after completing steps 1-5, you have a nagging feeling that your preliminary choice isn’t right, sleep on it.

If you’re still uncertain the following day, have a heart to heart talk with yourself and your most trusted advisors. This will either reinforce your preliminary decision (which will provide the needed conviction) or it will compel you to more seriously consider your other alternatives.

When I look back on my own life, I can honestly say that I’ve never made a major decision that was personally wrong for me. I think this is one reason that I have very few regrets—and that’s something I’m forever thankful for!

How have you approached major life decisions up to this point: Are you diligent and methodical or are you more casual in your approach? How might the six-step approach identified here help you make wise decisions? Share your responses below; we’d love to hear from you!

Take Risks – Even if You Might Fail

I’ll never forget the day I assembled a brand new basketball hoop for our son Michael on his fifth birthday. He was already a good dribbler and I knew he’d love shooting baskets even more. To my chagrin he responded with, “I don’t want to! Let’s go ride bikes!”

 

I offered to ride bikes after we shot baskets, but he wanted no part of it. I wouldn’t budge either. Finally, after about ten minutes, he relented (or, at least I thought). When I gave him the ball, he just stood there refusing to shoot despite my repeated words of encouragement. Finally, it occurred to me to ask him why. His answer?

 

“I might miss.”

 

Eventually, Michael gave in, and predictably, he missed his first three attempts (giving me the evil “I told you so” stare each time). But, once he made the fourth shot, he was hooked! That was the start of a half hour of shooting and, come to think of it, we never got around to riding bikes that day.

 

There’s a lesson in this story for all of us: Be willing to take risks.

 

In the decisions young people need to make at this stage of their lives, on the brink of adulthood, the risks can seem a lot higher than in a backyard basketball game. However, so are the stakes! That’s why it’s important they learn to overcome their fears and hesitation.

 

Years later, I had a similar experience with Michael, only this time it involved his college admissions process. He was hoping to attend a small private university in California with a great reputation and a major in film. After combing all of the websites and books, he narrowed his search to four candidates. There was one other university fitting the criteria that he excluded from consideration. His logic? It would be a wasted effort because his GPA and SAT scores were a little light. Hmm.

I kept encouraging him to consider this school but each time Michael gave the same reason—“I have no chance.” Finally, I offered to take him there on a visit, just to check it out (and escape the Seattle rain!).

 

During his visit, Michael met a professor in the film and broadcasting department (his intended major) for an hour. She was so impressed by Michael that she wrote a letter of recommendation to the admissions department the next day! Five months later, he received an acceptance letter that began with “Congratulations.” Pure joy!

 

This story had a happy ending because Michael was willing to overcome his fear of failure to achieve a goal. It paid off—and now he’s a confident risk taker.

 

In life, some people thrive on risk-taking while others are risk averse. I marvel at astronauts, missionaries, combat soldiers, and mountain climbers for their courage. These people risk their lives or their livelihoods because they put potential reward ahead of the risks. Others prefer to play it safe.  Sadly, the end result of the latter is missing out on many of life’s exciting adventures and opportunities, or failing to discover latent skills and talents. How disappointing to live with these kinds of regrets!  

 

If you’re risk averse, muster the courage to try new experiences and challenges, even if you might fail or look like a klutz in the process. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Not only will it spice up your life, but you might also find some hidden talents and interests that you never knew you had.

                                                         

Do you consider yourself willing to take risks? If not, why not? How differently would you approach taking risks if you didn’t care so much about the outcome? How can you encourage a young person in your life to step out in more confidence to try something new, adventurous, or courageous?

 

Decision-Making under Stress: Sleep on It!

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I don’t know about you, but that never worked for me!
 
I may have learned it the hard way (a few times over), but I did learn. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state. There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day.
 
Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.
 
Being in a stressful situation messes with your brain—and can impair your decision-making capabilities. Why? A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we are stressed-out.
 
Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)
 
When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can. Think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. Learn to recognize and release your stress. You’ll be glad you did!
 
Have you noticed your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? How can this lesson be good for young people who may find themselves in stressful situations—do you see how they can be influenced to make potentially life-altering decisions when they’re in the wrong frame of mind? Share your thoughts by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective and experiences.