By Katrina Boguski
For many years, the phrase “better a bad decision than no decision” has been a motto that has provided me with some reassurance, especially when the outcomes of my decisions are as yet uncertain. The premise of this phrase implies that if you make a bad decision, you can always make another decision to help you correct your course. Making no decision, on the other hand, tends to put you at the mercy of fate, or more likely, at the mercy of someone else and their (often bad) decisions.
Remembering that life involves a series of decisions, can be helpful in developing stronger decision-making muscles. Additionally, considering that most decisions we make are mundane, and only relatively few are significant, can also help to put things in perspective. When we make small, seemingly insignificant decisions wisely, we are usually in a better position to face the larger more complex ones.
The verb to decide comes from two Latin words, which combined mean to “cut off from.” Cutting off implies a certain permanence. And, this sense of permanence is likely what frightens some people into avoiding making decisions.
Sometimes when we decide, that sense of cutting off is akin to cutting off a tree branch or a limb, however, there are also other understandings of “cutting off” that are less permanent. These can be very helpful analogies in improving our decision making processes.
Cutting off circulation, or cutting off the flow of water in a hose, can stop the blood and water from flowing through their normal course, but that cutting off can be temporary. We can decide to stop doing something temporarily and observe carefully the consequences of doing so.
Bending a garden hose can create a kink severe enough to prevent the water from flowing, likewise we can cut off the flow of our energy and resources to help ourselves and others better understand the consequences that are likely to emerge if such a decision were to be permanent.
If you are a gardener, you have probably used this technique of bending the hose at times when you want to make slight adjustments to the location of your sprinkler, but do not want to go soaked by its torrent of water.
We cut off the water flow temporarily, adjust the placement of the sprinkler and observe whether or not this change allows the water to hit the area where we need it to land. If not, we cut off the water again and decide on a better location. These series of minor acts of cutting off the water are all small decisions that do not have serious consequences; and this practice of temporarily cutting off the flow of water by kinking the hose can be done more quickly and with greater ease than running back and forth to the spigot repeatedly.
If you, your local business or organization is in a position to make some significant changes, but you are afraid that making the decisions will cut off other possibilities, try re-framing the problem. Maybe the question is not “Should I retire from my work or not?” Maybe the question instead could be, “What would happen if I took an extended vacation this year to practice being away from work?” Maybe the question is not “Are my kids ready to take over the family business?” Maybe the questions could be “What would happen if I stepped back from this project and let my kids run it for 90 days?” The temporary nature of such decisions not only makes them less threatening, it also opens up our minds to a sense of curiosity about what is possible.
We can become so fixated on what we would be losing when we cut off possibilities that we fail to consider what opportunities our decisions might be opening up for ourselves and others. What decisions do you need to make? How could you re-frame the problem?