The other day as I drove to work, I decided to eat a banana I’d left in my car overnight. That was a big mistake. The banana had frozen, and as I tried to strip the peel from the fruit, it became a gooey mess.
That made me think about how we make decisions. Are you someone who makes decisions with full knowledge? Or are you more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision maker?
Trying to eat a frozen banana was a bad decision, one I’ll never make again. Because the peel did not slide easily off, I drove with sticky hands for half my commute. In the scheme of life, that decision was a silly mistake, not a life-changing event.
But what about when we do have big decisions to make? Should I take this new job? Should we downsize our home or move near our grandkids? Should I marry? Should we have kids?
Pros and cons lists
In a January 14, 2019, New Yorker article, Joshua Rothman writes that people make choices in various, and often ineffectual ways. For example, Charles Darwin created a pros and cons list when he considered marrying. Benjamin Franklin used an algebraic equation, giving items on his pros and cons list a numerical weight.
Both techniques are “slapdash and dependent on intuition,” Rothman writes, quoting Steven Johnson’s book “Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most.”
In a New York Times article, “How to make a big decision,” Johnson, the author of “Farsighted,” writes that new research invites you to understand the “importance of generating alternatives to any course of action you are considering.”
Consider several scenarios
Seek out options other than those on the table: I move to a new home near my children, or I stay put. “Researchers have demonstrated a strong correlation between the number of alternatives deliberated and the ultimate success of the decision itself,” Johnson writes.
In other words, consider several scenarios.
Construct many stories about your future decision, and don’t make them fairy tales, Johnson suggests. If you’re considering moving from the city to the suburbs, “How does the story unfold if your children don’t like their new classmates, or if one part of the family loves the new lifestyle, but the other is homesick for the old friends and vitality of city life?”
Also, if you’re consulting your friends about your decision, diversify that group. Don’t go only to the ones who will give you the answer you want (confirmation bias). Consult someone with a different background and life-experience than yours.
At some point, you must decide. If a weighted list (like Benjamin Franklin’s) helps, do that, too. For any decision you make, pray, and ask God for guidance.
And if you slip on that banana I tossed out my window, stand up, brush yourself off, and get on with your decision.
Terri Lackey is director for communication for Women of the ELCA. She wants you to know, she didn’t really throw her banana out the window. She deposited it safely in the trash.