How To Make Decisions That Leave No Regrets

I think subconsciously we hope we don’t have to make our next big decision for quite a while.  The reality? You and I will make a lot more of them a lot sooner than we like, and often when we least expect it. We all want to make the best decision, but how?

I had to make four major decisions this year, two on the personal side and two professionally related.  In retrospect, I also made a lot of small decisions along the way that affected what happened with the big decisions.  A couple worked out the way I wanted, one turned out unexpectedly and another was a disappointment.  The one thing in common with all of them is that I have no regrets about any of them.

Making Decisions

You and I make a lot of decisions each day.  Most of those are small and occasionally some are big. While the results of our “small” decisions accumulate over time, the results of our “big” decisions  have a more immediate and larger impact.  Having a decision making framework won’t always lead you to the right decisions, but it will leave you with fewer regrets.

I like the following two-fold decision making framework because it takes the realities about ourselves and others into account:

Managing Yourself

  • In light of my past, what is the wise thing to do? What might not be an issue for another person could be a stumbling block for you.
  • In light of my current situation, what is the wise thing to do? What will be the impact of what your currently doing on your decision and visa-versa?
  • In light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should; what long-term effects will your decision have?

Managing Others

  • What is the real sum total impact of my options? Often you can’t answer this alone, so get insight and input from your inner circle.
  • What are my core obligations? How does your decision line up with your responsibilities; who else and what else will be affected by your decision?
  • What will work in world as it is? As my great-grandmother used to say, “don’t deal with life the way you want it to be, deal with it the way it comes.” Don’t be pollyanna and do stay positive while handling the negative.
  • Who are we? How does your decision line up with your core values, your team, your culture, home and community? There is often tension between these and knowing the answer to the first three questions can help you get clear when it comes to this one.
  • What can I live with? If you’ve given your decision the reflection time it deserves, processed it with  both your head and your heart, then commit….even though you may not have 100% certainty.46833006 - old wooden veranda and the cornerstone of natural stone

The first part of the framework comes from Andy Stanley (The Best Question Ever) and the other from an article by Joseph Badaracco (HBR, Sept 2016). The additional commentary is mine.  If you use all or part of this framework  or another, you’ll develop your own commentary to consider and share.

The truth is you already have a decision making framework, even if it’s one more akin to a “punt” or coin-toss. The difference is whether or not you’ve chosen your framework intentionally.

Your Decision Making Framework

Is your current decision making framework by design or by default? If you can articulate it, then your on your way to design; if you can write it out you know you are there.   The next step is to use it consistently.  Simple in concept and difficult to do, not just because we naturally bend toward default but because life is messy, hard and big decisions usually aren’t easy.

The good news is that when you practice filtering your decisions through an intentional framework, you get better at it and so does your framework; both you and it adapt toward a “best fit”.  And while you won’t always make the right decision or even the best decision, it’s a lot more likely you will.  And the best news of all is that  you’ll have few if any regrets.

Here is a challenge: write down your current decision making framework (literally). What’s serving you well and needs to remain? What’s not and needs to change?

Please leave a comment and let me know what’s working well for you.