Books on Work: Decisive, Part Three

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During the years I was home schooling my children, I threatened to quit nearly every year during the month of March. After spending seven months practicing math drills, grading tests, and correcting papers, I found myself emotionally spent. Having been trapped indoors together throughout the long winter months, we all began to experience cabin fever. There may or may not have been a few occasions on which I threatened to sell my beloved children to a band of traveling gypsies. Had the decision been solely mine, my children might never have finished grade school.

In the third section of their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, authors Chip and Dan Heath evaluate the role emotions play in the decision-making process. After detailing several strategies for making better choices, the Heath brothers consider the ways our emotions can trip us up and cause us to lose perspective. They suggest:

Perhaps our worst enemy in resolving these conflicts is short-term emotion, which can be an unreliable adviser. When people share the worst decisions they’ve made in life, they are often recalling choices made in the grip of visceral emotion: anger, lust, anxiety, greed.

The authors suggest several strategies for attaining distance before making important decisions. One tactic, referred to as 10/10/10, asks the decision-maker to consider: “How will I feel ten minutes after making this decision? In ten months? Or ten years?” While I may have experienced immediate relief, perhaps lasting even up to ten minutes after relinquishing my children to a theoretical band of gypsies, I’m relatively certain I would have regretted my decision within the following ten months.

Perhaps the most useful strategy which the Heath brothers suggest for attaining distance from a particularly emotional decision is asking the question: “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?” The authors claim that in offering advice to others, we tend to overlook short-term emotion and are better able to focus on the single most important factor. And, in talking with my best friend, I would no doubt remind her that gypsies don’t wander through this area as often as one might imagine.

The goal of these strategies—according to the Heath brothers—is not to eliminate emotion but, through the process of identifying one’s core priorities, to honor those which are most important. A food merchant committed to selling local, organic, and fresh produce, for example, would make very different purchasing decisions from one whose core principle was to offer the lowest possible prices.

Before we made the decision to home school our children, my husband and I agreed to a list of guiding principles detailing what we were attempting to accomplish and why. We listed: Accept the solemn responsibility of parenthood and our baptismal vows as chief among our priorities. Another guiding principle we identified was: Remain flexible in implementation, assessing resources, and opportunities which God provides.

The first principle removed giving up or giving away the children as options available to me, no matter how weary I felt. The second simplified our decision when our son’s math, science, and French tutor accepted a position at a nearby private school. Because we considered his tutor our most valuable resource at the time, we enrolled him at the school while remaining confident we were acting consistent with our priorities.

The Heath brothers point out that identifying one’s core principles does not obligate a person to follow them. Yet I’ve seen the value of this exercise in protecting me against my own emotions, particularly during some very cold, dark days in March.

On Mondays in June we’ve been discussing Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Join us next week as Glynn Young finishes up our discussion.

Also, we're giving away two copies of network member Billy Coffey's new novel When Mockingbird's Sing each week of our June book club! Just leave a comment to be entered to win. Winners will be announced in next week's book club post. The winners of last week's drawing are Nancy Franson and Deidra Riggs. Congratulations! Our book selection for July is The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz. Order your book and join us in July!

Image by Alena Navarro-White. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Nancy Franson.