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Sometimes no decision is the worst decision

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Sometimes no decision is the worst decision

Scott Miker

Life is full of choices.  Every day we are bombarded by options.  We wake up and immediately have to decide what to do.  Do we eat first then shower?  Do we drive to work our usually route or change it up?

Then we get to work and more choices need to be made.  Do we take this new product to market?  Do we have the correct operational structure in place to tackle upcoming changes in the marketplace?

Then we get home and have more choices.  Do we want to go out to dinner?  Do we want to watch TV?  Do we want to get to bed early or stay up to finish that interesting documentary?

We have so many choices to make that we probably don’t even realize what we are doing.  We are simply making quick decisions, following patterns we have established, or letting someone else decide.

Because of the overwhelming number of choices we have, most of us stop realizing that we have a choice.  Most people point to something external as the justification for something without even realizing that they are the ones that chose to go in that direction. 

But most choices are actually limited.  When we wake up, we usually don’t have the choice of heading to the beach for a vacation or heading to work.  At least, we don’t think that way.  There are limitations and constraints that we have to work within.

In Welcome to Your Brain, authors Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D, and Sam Wang, Ph.D say, “Although the conditions of wartime were extreme, decisions are almost always constrained in some way.  You rarely have the luxury of all the time or information you want before you make a decision.  To take a mundane example, you usually don’t know in advance what route will get you to work through morning rush hour most quickly, but you have to pick one or you’ll never get there.”

While writing this article I heard an advertisement for the Ohio Lottery.  The message was clear.  They said, “You don’t need cash to play the lottery.  We accept debt card, credit card, etc.” 

I was a bit taken back by that message.  We say gambling is bad and we know that the odds are horrible.  If our retirement strategy is to win the lottery we will likely retire without enough money to survive. 

But this goes along with the theme of this article.  Do we hear that message and then go charge up our credit cards for a chance at millions?  If we go into debt on our credit cards then we end up paying high interest rates.  While this decision might sound like a good one for some people, going into debt to play the lottery is probably one of the stupidest investments you could make.   

Do we say we didn’t have a choice?  We wanted a million dollars and that was the only option so we did what we have to do.  It isn’t our fault.

This is why choice gets so tricky.  We frame our options in ways to justify what we did.  Our thought patterns are influencing our decisions all the time and we assume we see clearly but really see the world through our distorted perspective.

That perspective is driving our choices.  That perspective makes it so that the life we have is almost completely due to that perspective.  If we want something different, we have to do something differently.  But our perspective is likely locking us into the same way of choosing, so we end up making the same choices over and over. 

But Dr. Aamodt and Dr. Wang were on to something when they said we have to choose a way to work or we will never get there. 

They are absolutely correct.  We have to make choices in life.  We have to.  But how many of us actually evaluate our choices after we make them to look for better ways to choose in the future?

How many of us are capable of adjusting our perspective with new information and then re-charting our course through life?

The reality is that all of us are capable of this.  We can model the continuous improvement strategies for businesses and then make small, iterative changes that lead to tremendous growth and success.  Following the systems and habits approach to improvement uses this to help us change the patterns of thought and behavior and slowly get better and better.  This helps us make better and better decisions over time, slowly changing from who we are to who we want to be.