Researchers tell us that, on average, every person makes about 3,000 choices each day. Many of them are so automatic that we don’t even notice. The problem is, with so many options before us, how do we make good decisions about the choices that really do matter.
Chip and Daniel Heath have written a new book called Decisive. Their research points to a problem with “old school” decision-making. One such approach is the classic “pros and cons list.” According to the Heath brothers, when we limit our decision-making strategy to making a list of pros and cons, we are “narrow framing” or considering only one thing. All these lists serve is to construct a rational veneer for what our gut already tells us is the right thing to do.
Another problem with the old school approach is “conformation bias.” This is when we consult others for advice, but in actuality what we really want is confirmation for what we have already determined to be the right thing to do. This is what happens when the answer is already baked into the question. Much of the way we gather and process information is built on our own personal bias. At the end of the day, we all crave information for what we really want to hear.
A new strategy for decision-making the Heath brothers suggest, based on their research findings, is based on the acronym W.R.A.P.
W = Widen your options. Research has shown people are six times more likely to make a wise decision when they have opened the door to more than one option.
R = Reality check. Make sure your process opens space to overcome confirmation bias. Seek out and listen to dis-confirming information.
A = Attain distance. Decision-making is often clouded with fear, emotion, the temptation to maintain the status quo, and a myriad of worries and concerns. Take a step back so that you can see the trees for the forest. Often we are the trees and our friends are the forest. One really helpful technique – Imagine yourself advising your best friend about this decision. What would you tell them?
P = Prepare to be wrong. Set up a “trip wire” Ask “Is there a state of the world that would cause me to revisit this decision?” Here is where you can imagine failure or “the future death of a decision and what killed it.” In essence, here is where you chart the landscape of failure before you actually fail. What will it look like if you make this decision a certain way? What would cause you to fail?
I don’t know about you, but I often can use some help sifting through all the choices I’m required to make – especially when I aspire to be a person of character, ethics, and faith. I believe what W.R.A.P.is pointing to require that we take on a perspective mindset. This means we stop envisioning the future as a fixed point and more like a spectrum. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect a clear path or a train track to our next best or right decision. Maybe being decisive means “wrapping” our heads around the reality that choices flow from a vast network of roads and tracks and bridges, many of which lead to possibilities for serving, loving, and bettering our lives and the lives of those around us. The important thing is to widen our options, connect to reality, slow down and be open to risking failure as well as success.