How to Make Wise Decisions

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Decisions are the hardest part of life, the times when we set out and take fate in our hands. The word is stark – it comes from the Latin decidere, meaning to cut off. No wonder difficult decisions put us on a knife’s edge. They are literally cutting off life directions.

So we work to understand our decisions before we make them, to be sure we make the right ones. We seek advice from friends and experts, we gather data, we read, we search the Internet. Many of us know to sleep on big decisions, and a few of the most disciplined among us may even apply statistical tools to the effort.

But in the end, after all that work, it is still impossible to make the right decisions, because no matter how hard we try, we can’t truly know what direction the world will take in the future. We have to decide anyway.

That is not an argument against understanding the decisions we face. We have responsibilities to ourselves and those around us to make the best decisions we can. But we should not do it to make the right decisions; we should do it so we can make our decisions wisely. The wise response to facing an impossible task is to look inside ourselves. We should understand our decisions as best we can, but we must keep in mind that we are building that understanding not to find the impossible right path, but to have confidence and peace of mind about the decisions we make, come what may.

Our instinct for empathy, for understanding how others feel, often drives us to seek people who have faced our decisions already. That is a valuable intuition. We ask about their experiences not just because we want to figure out what will happen, but because a wiser part of us wants to know how we will feel about the world after the decision. In this sense, empathizing with someone is an incomparable way to communicate. By putting ourselves in their shoes, we are not only seeing what they saw, but also borrowing their life for a moment to better imagine our own future perspective.

I believe this empathic perspective and the insight it brings is the essence of wise decision-making. It gives us necessary distance, what Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman calls the “outside view.” It gives us experiential weight and depth by putting us in our own shoes, as they will feel to us after we make the decision. It allows us to inhabit a world our decision may well create, and use that experience to better know our own mind.

This wisdom gives us confidence, so our motivations become winds at our back. More importantly, this wisdom also gives us peace of mind, so when the currents of the real world fail to obey our imaginations, we can calmly tack away from a direct heading without turning away from a challenge and heading back to port.
When we make wise decisions, we strive to fully imagine how life will be for our future selves and those around us. We do not talk about and study our decisions forever, returning again and again to a vain search for the right one. We diligently absorb the most important and valuable information we have. We step outside ourselves and look back to better accept the truth even when it hurts.  We inhabit the experiences of others to better know ourselves. And then we decide.

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Wahanegi App Tile LogoWahanegi helps people like you make wise life decisions.

“I feel happy. It made me realize the answer was already inside me. Wahanegi is extremely helpful, and I strongly recommend it. I like it.”

Are you facing a big life decision? Try the beta today, it’s anonymous, free, easy and effective!

3 thoughts on “How to Make Wise Decisions

  1. Pingback: Why is it so hard to figure out the right thing to do? | Wahanegi

  2. karencatlin

    Your phrase, “instinct for empathy,” is making me think more about how I make decisions, at home and in my career. I like the focus on trying to understand how others will feel after we make a decision, and at the same time we need to remember we aren’t trying to please everyone. The best leaders, the best parents, the best friends will strive to understand all perspectives, will make unpopular decisions when necessary, and then will be empathetic when they deliver these decisions.

    Thank you for the insightful article, Erik!

    Reply
    1. Avatar of erikerik Post author

      Great point, Karen. Walking in another’s shoes not only gives us a better perspective on our own state of mind before we make a decision, but also helps us relate our decision to others after we make it. Wisdom before _and_ after the decision. I like it.

      Reply

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