We face choices all day, every day. Some minor, like what to eat for lunch. Some major, such as which house to buy, what career to pursue, or, if you are like me, what to eat for lunch.
The way we go about making those decisions will impact the outcome and, as a result, our lives. Or our lunch, whichever.
Often, the decision-making process is as trivial as the choice. Should I have a beef and bean burrito or a salad for lunch? Here, the immediate outcome isn’t important, so we do what we want to do. I usually go with the salad.
Not really. Beef and bean burrito with extra hot sauce, please.
But that is the same type of decision behavior we let creep into everything we do. I want to do this and I don’t want to do that. So I do this and I don’t do that.
Sometimes, we put more thought into the decision, but still get it wrong. For instance, you are about to go out and it’s cloudy, so you need to decide whether or not to take an umbrella. You check the weather app on your phone. I’m not sure why. None of them seem to get it right more often than random choice would. You look at the sky. Finally, you either decide I think it will rain, or you determine the chances are pretty slim.
More often than not, I will decide I don’t want to carry the umbrella, so I don’t.
Maybe I get lucky, or maybe I get wet.
Hopefully, as we mature, (still waiting, but I’m hopeful) our decision-making process matures as well, at least for more important decisions. We think through the choices and create lists of pros and cons, weighing them carefully. If we put these pros and cons on paper, even better. Frequently two choices we thought of as equal suddenly aren’t anymore. Either the pros or the cons quickly outweigh the other and the correct choice becomes obvious.
The problem is we are all susceptible to bias in our thought processes. There is still that nagging feeling. I want to do this and I don’t want to do that.
So the list gets skewed somewhat. We forget about some cons on the 'this' side and leave off some pros on the 'that' side.
So we end up doing this instead of that.
I’d like to think that we are more analytical than that. But it doesn’t work for me. Also, I’m usually too impatient (or hungry) to go through analysis and comparisons.
So I do this instead of that.
But a few years ago, when discussing a decision with a friend, they said something very simple, and yet profound.
What’s the worse that can happen?
I don’t recall the decision, or which choice they were referring to, but it doesn’t matter. What that led me to is always using that question when deciding.
What’s the worse that can happen?
I don’t mean what’s the worse that can happen if I make a particular choice, but using that question to weigh both, or all, options.
I apply that question to each choice. Going back to our umbrella, what’s the worst that can happen given both options? If I take the umbrella and it doesn’t rain, the worst that can happen is I’m carrying an umbrella I don’t need. If I don’t take the umbrella and it rains, the worst that can happen is I get soaking wet.
So, using the question, the worst that can happen the choice becomes I get soaking wet, or I’m carrying an unnecessary umbrella. Now, the choice is quick and easy.
If I apply the same logic to my lunch, the worst that can happen is I stay up all night with indigestion, or what? I can’t really come up with a worst that can happen scenario for the salad.
So, the decision is easy, and making the correct choice almost comes naturally.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it looks like rain and I don’t want my burrito getting wet as I make a dash for the car.