Two Tips for Getting Clarity on Tough Decisions

Decisions I just breezed through Decisive by Dan Heath and Chip Heath (I’m on a Heath kick – John and I just listened to Switch and I have Made to Stick waiting on the bookshelf). It was another fun read! These guys tell great stories and also pack a ridiculous amount of practical advice into their books. Decisive is all about helping you develop a good process for making decisions.

I just want to give you two of the great tips they suggest when you’re agonizing over a decision. Heath and Heath talk about how our short-term emotions often tempt us to make decisions that aren’t good long-term. Maybe we’re scared of being embarrassed by failure, insecure about our talents, anxious about money, angry at our boss, infatuated with the person we just met or obsessed with an exciting business idea. Whatever the emotion, it can blind us. Distance helps us gain clarity which hopefully leads to a wiser decision.

Tip one for getting distance: 10/10/10

The authors suggest asking yourself how you’ll feel about your decision 10 minutes after making it, 10 months after making it and 10 years after making it. They use a simple example that also illustrates how short-term emotions can blow the importance of the decision out of proportion: A guy can’t decide whether to call a girl he met. Maybe you can imagine the agony of trying to get up the courage, wondering if he’ll be rejected, worrying about what to say etc. If he decides to call her how will he feel about that decision in 10 minutes? Maybe he’ll still be nervous but he might have gained some confidence about the fact that he’s taking action. How will he feel in 10 months? If the call goes well, maybe he’ll be so grateful he did because they’re now dating. If the call goes poorly, will he even remember it in 10 months? Probably not. The same can be extrapolated out to 10 years. Potentially the happy couple looks back at that phone call as the thing that started it all. More likely the momentary panic about whether or not to call the girl will be long forgotten.

This kind of distance helps us put our decisions back into proportion and can show us the “worth it” factor in our decisions.

Tip two for getting distance: “What would I tell my best friend to do?”

Simply switching shoes mentally with a friend helps us create distance from the emotions of our decision, allowing us to be more objective, just like our friends usually are when we spring crazy ideas on them. Maybe you’re tearing yourself up trying to decide whether or not you should take a job offer. Ask yourself, “What would I tell my best friend to do?” If you automatically think “I would tell her to go for it!” then consider whether you have your answer. Ask yourself why you would give that advice to your friend and what’s keeping you from giving that same advice to yourself.

If you have some decisions to make that feel daunting, this book is chock full of great ideas to make sure you’ve thought everything through as best you can. If you don’t have time to read the book, you can go over to their website, and register to access the first chapter, a one page summary and workbook (all for free!).

Do you have a favourite method for making decisions that helps you? What do you normally do to seek clarity?


A Different Kind of Courage

courageThere are so many quotable quotes from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I was surfing through my bookmarks and highlights this morning and was having trouble even knowing where to start – there’s just so much good stuff to talk about! This book talks about what it means to live wholeheartedly and how we have to talk about the things that get in the way (shame & fear) before we can even think about living wholeheartedly. The problem is that none of us want to talk about shame and fear – these emotions are often intensely painful and we prefer to keep them shrouded in secrecy.

I know I have a really hard time being vulnerable about these things – even with myself. I prefer to view myself as competent and wise, more used to helping other people than needing any help myself. Case in point: I’m still not sure I really “needed” this book, but I think the material is fabulous for other people. Ha! Needless to say, I read the book through twice and now I should probably chew on these concepts for longer than I think necessary.

For example, let’s look at a few things Brown says about courage. Courage is a major part of the book – obviously, it takes courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and work toward more authenticity. Brown writes that,

“the root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today [She’s comparing that to our common definition of courage as fearless action]. Courage originally meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart.'”

I love this definition. It sounds like something I like to think I already do on a regular basis. However, Brown turns the tables a bit with this illustration:

“Do you know how incredibly brave it is to say ‘I don’t know’ when you’re pretty sure everyone around you gets it? Of course, in my twelve-plus years of teaching, I know that if one person can find the courage to say, ‘You’ve lost me,’ there are probably at least ten more students who feel the exact same way. They may not take the risk, but they certainly benefits from that one person’s courage.”

I know I’ve been the one relieved that someone else asked the question but wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been the person to ask a teacher to re-explain themselves. I’m pretty sure I’ve always done my best to act like I know exactly what’s going on and look down on those poor slow people who don’t get it yet. Ouch!

This is a terrible attitude not only because it’s dishonest and judgmental but because it closes you off from actually learning. Have you ever had that experience? Where you get in over your head and instead of just admitting, “I really don’t know much about this – please explain it to me,” you get defensive and wreck the conversation? Yeah . . . I’m working on asking for clarification and telling people I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I know it’s better for me to ask questions and really learn but sometimes the pull to be viewed as “the smart one” still makes me do pretty stupid things. Go figure.

Do you relate to this?

Accidentally Making Homemade Mayo

It’s been my week to cook again. I’m delighted to tell you that not only did I make the mayo in the title (more on that in a second), I also made my first whole chicken and homemade chicken stock this week. So, it’s been a bit of an adventurous week for me. But this post isn’t really about cooking, it’s about a *cough* absolutely brilliant *cough cough* parallel or illustration that came to mind in the process of accidentally making homemade mayo.

Homemade MayoSo, today I was going to make avocado tuna boats for lunch. Didn’t sound hard. The ingredient list was basic. I just started following Step 1, putting an egg, apple cider vinegar, some mustard and salt in our food processor. Then I read the next bit of instructions and suddenly realized I was about to make mayo! This might not seem like a big deal for many of you. You might not have read a few blog posts about how difficult it is to make homemade mayo and how easily you can mess it up and how it often doesn’t turn out quite right. You might not have written off making homemade mayo as too likely to fail.

Needless to say, I suddenly felt very nervous. But the instructions just seemed so basic and relaxed and I had already put all those ingredients in the bowl – it seemed like a waste not to go ahead and try it. So I did. And it actually turned into mayo! It wasn’t quite as fluffy but that wasn’t a big deal considering it was going straight into a tuna mixture.

Ok, so that’s the story. And what are the brilliant parallels I want to draw from this experience? Maybe you can guess:

1. We often don’t try things because they sound too hard.

Sometimes, we overthink things. We read way too many reader comments, overload on variables and possibilities and ultimately discard ideas because we feel overwhelmed (this is often me researching recipes by the way). But it applies to all kinds of decisions in life – projects we want to do, ways to volunteer, whether or not to adopt or foster children, where to give our money. Even much more basic decisions about our consumer choices or activities often fall by the wayside because we think changing just sounds “too hard.”

2. Sometimes it’s better to not know the destination before starting on the journey because if we did, we would never go.

Which brings me back (as I feel like so many things do) to Lord of the Rings. Did you see that coming? Yup – I’m talking about Frodo again. Initially when he agrees to take the ring out of the Shire, he thinks he’s only traveling to Bree to meet Gandalf and then figure things out. If he had known he would take the ring all the way into Mordor, he might have never agreed to the journey at all.

This is a big reminder to me that our desire for certainty gets in the way. We want to know the whole plan before we start. We get frustrated with God when he doesn’t “show” us where we should be going. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe we’d never agree to start the journey if we knew each step before we took it. By digging in our heels and refusing to go, we would never find out if we could do it. I think the courage only comes in the moment, not before. The resilience to continue, the wisdom for decisions, the skills we need to learn and grow – these are supplied as needed, on a “give us this day our daily bread” kind of basis.

Which leads me to my conclusion:

3. Just do it!

You learn by trying. Faith becomes real in action.

(Obviously for those of you that tend to be the opposite of me and leap before you look, maybe your job is to stop and assess a little more before you jump into action – nuance, people, one message does not fit all!).

Have any epiphanies of your own in ordinary moments this week?

Overcoming Fear

In our Christian communities, we have an unfortunate tendency to begin focusing on the rules of Christian life rather than on Christ. We easily spend more time on what we should do than who we should follow and why because, let’s be honest, getting the hang of following a checklist is usually easier than building a deep friendship. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this mentality and the lack of a deep relationship is fear. We want to do things right and while it’s easy to see the “right” way in many of the specific commands of the New Testament, when it comes to following the prompting of the Holy Spirit or taking steps to pursue our callings, we might not be so sure. We may be nervous of taking the wrong way, of having the wrong motives and of not hearing God correctly because we’ve had so little training in how to listen and discern.

I recently read a book called Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. He chronicles his experience going from a skeptical cessationist (believing that there are no longer miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit) to seeing miraculous healings in his own church. What struck home most powerfully for me was one line he repeats a few times:

“Too much of the church has more confidence in Satan’s ability to deceive us that in Jesus Christ’s ability to lead us.”

We tend to have an attitude of wariness, rather than welcome, towards anything slightly outside our comfort zones, our norms, our status quos. In his recent book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman observes that this kind of thinking is one of the destructive elements of overprotecting young people and discouraging risk-taking,

“Instead of equipping them to make thoughtful, prayerful decisions and then to trust God for the outcome, the church has instilled a debilitating fear of sin or ‘stepping out of God’s will.’ How can we expect the next generation to move forward with confidence into God’s future when they are scared of making a misstep?”

Fear is a major inhibitor of our ability to do good work and it’s much safer to stick with the checklist, than to wander out into the unknown where we really have to trust God with what we’re doing and who we are becoming. This is one of the reasons that I think we don’t see more people actively pursuing their callings. John Ortberg notes that God’s most-repeated command throughout the Bible is “Fear Not!” Apparently he says this 366 times – one for every day of the year, including leap year!

One of my big steps of faith in college, was learning to trust that God would help me not get proud! I’ve always had what I call “hyper self-esteem” issues where I’m very aware of what I’m good at and not very good at seeing my faults. I have often been guilty of thinking my talents are the greatest solution to anyone’s needs. So, especially when I served in student leadership roles in the dorms, if I felt a prompting to help another student, I would sometimes be so worried about my pride that I wouldn’t go ahead and help. I was scared that I’d brag about knowing so-and-so needed some affirmation and wasn’t it great that I had written them a note? So no note, no affirmation, even though I knew it was needed. Silly, right?

I had to learn that if God was prompting me to act, I had to leave my fear of pride in his hands too. And when I started reaching out, I found that when I did act, I was filled more with gratitude for having been allowed to be part of God’s work than with pride in my accomplishment. Motives will always be messy, but as much as possible, when we sense God leading, we need to overcome fear and risk walking in faith. And we need to encourage others to stop being afraid of messing up too.

Becoming Visible

Our potential to do great things rests almost entirely on our ability to push through fear. Recently my husband got on a woodworking kick. He’s built about five beautiful Adirondack chairs and a lounger. When people come over, they sound incredulous, “You made these!?” John tells them, “It’s really not that hard.”

But it is hard! It’s hard to get past the paralyzing fear of the first cut. The fear of bungling, wrecking, failing at something new. Building chairs sounded exciting so John researched how to make them and then he started. He wasn’t scared to cut the wood he bought for the project. Voila, beautiful chairs in our backyard.

My friend Sarah paints. Recently a friend asked her to paint a wall mural in their home for their kid’s home school classroom. Sarah isn’t scared to start putting paint on a wall. In her mind, you throw some wet paint on the wall and you work with it, “If I mess up, I can probably fix it!” and Voila, beautiful trees or giraffes grace the wall.

Of course, failure is a possibility. But both have a realistic understanding of their own capabilities and assessed the worst case scenarios (wasting some wood and having to paint over a wall) as worth the risk.

Another key factor is that both are willing to produce visible work. When I was reading Crossing the Unknown Sea by David Whyte recently, I came across a thought that really struck me,

“To find good work, not matter the path we have chosen, means coming out of hiding. Good work means visibility.”

What does it mean to be visible? To have something we produce available for others to see? We put something out there – a word of encouragement, a different perspective, a crocheted blanket, a homemade meal. We paint a mural, compose a song, write a story. We create a presentation, an iPhone app, an excel spreadsheet. Are we willing to do work that invites interaction?

Being visible means people can critique, tear apart or trash just as much as they can be impressed, encouraged and inspired. Visible work has the potential to hurt us. That’s the risk. That’s what we fear.

In essence, good work means sharing who we are, putting some part of what we believe out there for others to see. Good work is a statement of what we value. It reveals a conviction that something is worth pursuing, that what we do has the ability to show us some measure of truth. Do we let the worst case scenarios keep us from doing this good work?

Being visible = being vulnerable. But, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth.” Change in our world happens when someone takes a stand, chooses to come out of hiding, commits with the first cut or brushstroke. The potential of being hurt is eclipsed by the potential we have to help and bless others with our visible work. Are we willing to take that risk?