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?

Speaking of Risk and Micro-Management

I should maybe make a “Rant” category for my blog posts. Sorry this got a bit long. . .

In my post about the Parable of the Talents, I mentioned how the Master handed over a large investment to his servants without a lot of direction and then left them to it. No micro-management = huge risk. How would things turn out?

Now, I’m not saying that God doesn’t give us lots of direction and guidance in our lives – I think he does. But I think that when it comes to the gifts, interests and callings he has given us, he also allows a lot of freedom in how we end up expressing and using these gifts. We have to risk figuring it out on our own without a micro-manager telling us each step. I think it’s partly how God helps us learn to trust him more.

This started me thinking about how uncomfortable we can be with figuring things out for ourselves . . . and allowing others to do the same. I read a lot of blogs by Christian speakers/authors/pastors around the country. And I just wonder: are we trying to take Master’s place in other’s lives? Are we trying to micro-manage how they use their talents? In the absence of explicit direction, are we policing everyone around us to make sure that they’re using their gifts correctly and following their callings in the right way? Are we so consumed with right thinking that instead of giving others the grace and freedom to risk (and perhaps get things wrong!), we have to tear apart their work and actions and words at every opportunity to test for doctrinal soundness?

I’m not suggesting that we don’t test what we hear and be discerning about the teaching we absorb, but I am concerned about why are we so eager to pick people’s words and actions apart and prove them wrong. It seems like a lot of “correction” I see taking place isn’t polite disagreement over errors but personal attack. It smacks of pride and insecurity rolled into one.

If you’re wondering about some examples, here are just a couple that come to mind:

– Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage book recently came out with the usual stir of controversy. In a recent interview he questioned the interviewer’s wife spiritual capabilities as a pastor, using personal comparison. This inspired a round of upset blog posts. I wonder why Driscoll felt the need to say what he did, and also question why so many bloggers felt compelled to respond.

– Tim Tebow’s and his outspoken faith on the football field. There have been quite a few differing opinions in the Christian world about if and how Tim Tebow should be sharing his faith the way he does and whether this is helpful or harmful to the public at large. We’re not in his shoes, why are we all so busy trying to determine if he’s walking well?

– The Jesus Hates Religion video that went viral on Facebook this past week. While it inspired plenty of people, it also inspired several blog posts showing what was wrong with it.

While some blogs do an admirable job of responding well, many of us seem to forget that humans deserve to be treated with respect and dignity – even (and maybe especially) humans we disagree with.

Still – so much response makes me wonder if it’s all necessary? Are we really worried about the effects on the readers/viewers/listeners or do we just want to be right? Do we really think everyone else around us is less smart, less discerning, less able than us to discern what is wheat and what is chaff? Discernment and wisdom yes, but character assassination so easily sneaks in as hard as we can try to tackle only the “issues.” At what point do we cross the line from helpfully adding to the conversation to just adding fuel to a virulent fire?

It seems like it’s too easy for us to be so busy questioning everyone else’s ability to hear God, that we don’t focus on simply trying to hear him for ourselves. We’re so busy defending God, that we aren’t listening to him. We rarely acknowledge that we’re all practicing faith, which means lots of mistakes, attempts, backtracks, relearning, repeating. Who knows if the first servant who doubled his money actually lost a good chunk in first attempts and only figured out how to get it back as he went along? Do we assume he just perfectly executed a plan to double his money with no failure? How many of us truly understand what we believe until we put it into action? We grow in our depth of understanding and experience as we go along, and especially when we have to learn from mistakes. Doesn’t this hone our perspective and discernment?

Yes – there is a need for loving correction of bad theology and yes, we certainly need to be on guard about false teachers who are purposely misleading people. But God is bigger than our mistakes. This is something I keep taking to heart as I write. I’m sure my theology isn’t perfect and I worry that I’ll interpret something wrong and experience the same scathing rebuttals I tend to see all around the blogosphere. But if we’re going to walk the path, we’re going to have to be willing to make mistakes. I want to read more stories about people stepping out unsure, but trusting – I want to see more affirmation of risk and growth. I want to hear about all the amazing work people are doing in this world, instead of all the critique. Can we quit the micro-management of others that we seem to easily get addicted to?

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?