Making Good Decisions

How do you make decisions? Are you a muller—someone who does careful research, considers all the consequences of every decision, weighs the options and then moves forward? Or are you more impulsive—someone who makes decisions quickly, based on intuition and without a lot of data? Do you suffer from analysis paralysis, waffling back and forth until the opportunity has passed?

Most of us make hundreds of decisions every day. We make small choices—What will I have for breakfast? Will I need an umbrella today? Should we paint the walls blue or green? 

We also make bigger decisions on a daily basis—Is my child too sick to go to school? When can I get my car into the garage for service? Should we buy those plane tickets today or wait for a better price?

Many of these types of decisions can be made without a lot of research. You have the information you need readily at hand. And generally, the consequences, while important, are not critical. A bad choice may result in some regret but is not likely to affect the path of your life.

Life-Changing Decisions
Then there are the big decisions. Should I buy a house or continue renting? Is now the right  time to start a family? Should I turn my hobby into a business? Can I afford to retire this year? Can I make a living from self-employment?

These types of decisions are much more complex. Decisions which have a major effect on your life are referred to as life changes. Life changes generally result in: a long-term impact; a significant level of risk; an increased level of stress; and the need for some careful research. Life changes are often a comparison of at least two alternative actions and frequently involve more than just one individual. For that reason, life changing decisions often lead us into conflict with the very same people whose support we need most.

The decision to start a farm business is definitely one of these life changes. Deciding to start a business is not a right or wrong type of decision. For some individuals it is the very best decision, and for some it is the worst possible decision. The result depends on individual circumstances and how carefully the decision was made. Too often, people make a choice based on a whim or in reaction to a current situation. For example, a bad situation at work with a supervisor can result in someone thinking that all their problems would be solved if they worked for themselves. Or a really great vacation in the country can start someone thinking about how much fun it would be to live that way all the time.

How individuals make decisions varies with different personality types. Some people are naturally conservative and really agonize over making the right choice. Some individuals are, by nature, more impulsive and make choices quickly and without fully thinking through the consequences. Because our personalities are, in part, determined by our values, it is important to involve our values and goals in our decision making. If you regularly make a habit of reviewing your goals before you make big decisions you will, over time, begin to better choices because you will be using a single reference point as your guide.

The Critical Questions
There are six critical questions that can help you through the decision making process. Each of these questions will require you to think about the issue from a slightly different perspective.

    • Will taking this action move me toward my goal?
    • If I choose this action will I be creating a new problem?
    • Does this action address a root problem or a symptom?
    • Have I considered at least two alternative actions?Am I comfortable with this action? How about other within my circle of influence?
    • What are the best and worst outcomes that could result from this action? Can I live with that outcome?

Identify Your “Red Flags”
After you have made a decision you have committed to a particular course of action. That should be the end of the decision-making process, right? Wrong! Successful decision-making requires that there be a feedback loop that can continue to measure whether this was, in fact, a good decision or whether you are now off-track and should consider adjusting your course.

Red flags are those indicators that we should be watching. They are early warning signs that the decision may not be working out as planned. Identifying a few red flags ahead of time is a key principle to good decision-making and one that you should practice with all major decisions.

Red flags should be tied to your goals and your core values. For example, if financial security is a core value expressed in your goal statement then some examples of potential red flags might be chronic cash flow problems (not having enough money to pay all the bills in a single month), or reducing your monthly contributions to retirement plans or savings, or trying to save money by reducing insurance coverage. These are all activities that might point to a problem. If you expressed leisure time as a core value then a red flag might be finding yourself passing up social invitations because you have “too much work to do“.  Or it could be comments from friends and family about your decreasing availability. If you expressed health and wellness as a core value then red flags might be things like increasing stress-related symptoms (headaches, sleep problems, digestive problems, being unusually short-tempered, etc.).

These are just a few examples, the point is that you need to identify these red-flag issues so that you can monitor the results of your decisions. Like the gauges on the dashboard of your car red flags will help you know when a decision is heading you into trouble.


About Mary Peabody

Working with beginning farmers since 1994.
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