Investigating Your True Motives in Decision Making — Part III in the Series: The Only Questions
Part III: The Only Questions
Investigate Your True Motives in Decision Making
By Jane Tawel
November 8, 2019
As any good teacher knows, the crux is in learning how to ask good questions. The wisest of history’s recorded philosophers, rabbis, teachers, and world-changers have taught us that we may not know anything at all without a certain degree of nagging doubt, but that we can move forward if we ask the right questions. In Parts I and II of this series on “The Only Questions”, I try to illuminate the “Big Idea” questions that can and should be asked for decision-making, from earth-rattling decisions to small-morsel (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) type decisions. Now we will look at what should come first, which is, figuring out if you even have a real decision to make. It begins with investigating what the real motives are when you believe that you need to make a choice.
Always formulate the most specific question you can. The question that leads to making a good decision needs to have a basis in something other than feelings. For instance, trying to make a choice on a question like, “Should I move?”, will only lead you to make a rash decision or give you a constant sense of anxiety about not deciding. That is a question that may show you something about how you feel, like that you are unhappy where you are, but it isn’t yet a question for decision-making. A decision-making question involves something like, “Should I take that new job and move to Ann Arbor, Michigan?” or even when necessary, “Should I move out of my house that I can’t afford the mortgage on and rent a more affordable apartment?” or “Are my roommates making me so unhappy that I would be happier living with Mom and Dad?” Being specific will lead to others of what we call “Investigative Questions”, the Who, What, Where, and When’s that are the building blocks of not only good decision but also the supporting walls of curiosity and imagination. These in turn will all help to answer the BIG Investigative question of “Why”. “Why” is the ultimate answer to decision making, and is also the bedrock and foundation of character, belief, purposeful action, and hopeful assurance that the path one is taking is the best one — for now, at least.
If you can’t formulate a specific question, you aren’t ready for an answer, and should avoid making a decision if at all possible. You may just be dreaming about doing something. Nothing wrong with dreaming, but the consequences to jumping the gun on a dream and deciding something for the wrong “Why”, can have negative effects. For example, asking, “How can I be famous on YouTube?” is a fantasy-question; whereas, “Should I post this video of me falling into a puddle and embarrassing myself?” could lead either to fame (in some opinions, for all the wrong reasons), or perhaps, the wiser decision to show that video only to your best friends and family members. Dreaming, hoping, and imagining are critical components to the human spirit, but don’t make decisions based purely on your fantasies. This type of faulty decision-making might be called The Future Dilemma. We all like to imagine reconstructing our futures. This is a wonderful thing about being human; we can dream of what might be. But we often get bollixed up in The Present, by focusing on the Future as if it is worthy of a big decision right now. It usually isn’t worthy or even a real possibility and often merely indicates that we are ignoring decisions we really should be making in The Now.
The other fallacious thinking in decision-making is when we long for a change but do not have the personal power to decide on something. For instance, the question, “Should I get a big loan on this expensive new car?” is really not something to waste much thinking time on if the answer is, “I am only twenty, still in school with a minimum wage job, and living with my parents”. Wanting a brand new car, under less than ideal financial or practical circumstances, is actually an excellent way to lead to a truly valid decision making “Big Idea Question”, like, “Is the career path I am following ever going to give me job satisfaction?” That is something, you can work toward gaining power over in terms of decisions you can make in The Now. But, if your parents or spouse or boss or child or anyone is a real part of your power structure and is someone who also has a vested interest in a decision that you want to make, then you have not yet arrived at where your power and your decision-making ability intersect. This might be called The Past Dilemma.
Trying to make a decision now without considering the decisions that have already been made for and with you by other people in your life, will lead to unhappiness either with yourself or with them. It will not lead to making wise or best-case scenario decisions. Relationships are based on Big Idea Questions that were made in the Past. This included having a boss because you took a job, and your parents’ decision to birth and nurture you, and your decision to date that guy. These all have a major effect on your making decisions in The Now, and you can’t scramble out of relationships, just because you don’t like sharing power on your decisions. You can hightail it for other reasons, but that takes you back to formulating specific answers based on the Ten Big Idea Questions that answer everything, which you can find in Parts I and II of this series.
Ultimately, you not only need to figure out if you are ready to make a decision (The Future Dilemma), you also need to figure out what decision you actually have the power to make (The Past Dilemma). It helps to be specific not only with the question, but with the time frame. It is really important to recognize that everyone has someone who is in power over them. That isn’t a bad thing, most of the time. Think of those people as the counterweights on the other side of your steaming ahead Life-Ship. They can keep you on course and give you security in your decisions. They can slow you down or speed you up, and this is valuable in terms of smooth sailing in decision making.
Finally, in this Part III of The Questions that Answer Everything, it is always, always, always better to arrive at the Wisdom of answering “Why?”; than to keep company with “Why”’s doppelganger, “Why Not?”. “Why Not?” is all too often the question whose nickname might be ‘The Path of Least Resistance”, and it will often lead you to rash decisions and ones that will not make you feel good about yourself. Why Not’s answer is all too often, a surrender to either the path of least resistance or the path of immediate gratification sans consequences. For example, “Why Not, eat the rest of the family-size bag of Doritos?” Answered by, “I don’t want them to go to waste”. And as my grandma used to say, I will too late realize that “either way, the food will go to waist”. “Why Not have one more drink before I hit the road?” “Why Not marry this woman?” “Why not take this job?” You can see the slippery slope of basing a lifetime of decisions on “Why Not?”. “Why Not” is one of the Ten Big Questions, but it is always meant to follow “Why?”. If you can’t answer Why, then don’t use Why Not as an excuse.
It might be best to see decision-making or choice-making as Time-Sensitive. We rush and rush and rush about, without practicing listening. Make a habit of really listening to those who are in your life and letting someone’s relationship with you have whatever weight it truly deserves in your choices. Make listening to your own dreams for the future a way to either put the brakes on a rash decision or to shift into high gear better decisions now that will lead to the dream’s realization, later. Listen to whatever you call your “Higher Power” and see yourself as a hero, a saint, a protagonist in The Big Story of Life, whose decisions decide a bigger Fate than one’s mere momentary pleasure. And finally, practice daily listening to your own heart, soul, drumbeat, best self. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Then you can talk about making decisions.