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How to Make a Big Decision

Apr 17, 2012 // By Marcus Brotherton


In ages past, life required fewer decisions. You married Sally, the only eligible girl in the county. Your daddy worked as an oat farmer, and you did too. You drove a Model T and it was painted black.

By contrast, options abound these days. Your university offers 300 potential majors and 3,000 potential spouses. You can drive a Subaru, Scion, Saab, or Suzuki. With 200 TV channels, (not to mention TiVo, DVDs, Netflix, and Hulu), you can flip through reruns of Matlock until your remote control explodes.
Here’s a fundamental rule of decision making. When you say yes to one thing, you say no to another. That’s why decision making is difficult. One door opens and another shuts tight.
Having endless choices today means it’s easier than ever to become stuck in the mire of analysis-paralysis. A big decision lies before you, and you hope to leave your options open for as long as possible. So you hem and haw, dilly and dally, and delay the inevitable.
But by remaining undecided, you’ve actually made a choice. You’ve inadvertently chosen a big fat pile of…
 … and when you choose nothing, then nothing happens. For instance,
·        Your career stays stagnant.
·        The girl grows impatient and dumps you.
·        Your marriage suffers because you’re too chicken to get that vasectomy.
So how does a leader make decisions?
Below are 5 principles of sound decision making.
1.      Start with Prayer.
You might be a stringent atheist who thinks prayer is a load of dishwater. If so, skip to the next point.
Yet I place prayer in first place for a reason. If you’re a person with any modicum of faith, then you may find that sometimes you’ve positioned prayer dead last, and that needs to change.
Why? The epistle of James lays it out bluntly and boldly. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
            Start by praying, then proceed.
2.      Write out the Pros and Cons
Do your research. Chart the practical ramifications. Make your list and check it twice.
Each decision contains both opportunities and challenges. If you buy a house then you won’t be a renter anymore. If you marry a girl then you won’t be single anymore.
You’re a smart cookie. Ask yourself, when it comes to choosing either X or Y, which direction appears most prudent?
3.      Seek Advice
A wise leader seldom makes decisions in a vacuum. He invites input from a small cadre of trusted advisors. He purposely allows them to ask him hard questions before a decision is made.
            Ask yourself: What do wise people think is the right decision for me to make?
4.      Wait 24 Hours
Most big decisions don’t need to be made instantly.
This principle particularly applies to going to war, getting married, or having your girlfriend’s name tattooed across your chest. A wise leader knows when to walk out of the Lamborghini showroom. He refuses to buy on impulse.
Yet the principle of patience can also be carried too far. It’s best to give yourself a reasonable deadline to mull your decision—a day, a week, or a year. Then pull the trigger.
5.      Do a Gut-Check
Peace is underrated, particularly that intangible soul-deep type of peace that’s hard to describe other than by the phrase, “You know when you know.”
How does something truly sit in your stomach? Imagine yourself making a decision, and then imagine yourself living with it over time.
Ask yourself: Can I truly live with this choice?
Okay, you’ve got the principles. What big decision do you need to make?
Mull your decision. Then make it.


Question: What’s an important decision you made, and how did you make it?
Read Marcus’ new novel, FEAST FOR THIEVES
  • Tobias (GER)

    if my girl and me wanne have a baby. and the decision was love!

    Your five priciples are alomst the same one I use for big decisions.
    The next one for me would be to buy a car. What the car should have, what is mandatory, what is luxery what is crap.
    The huge variety makes it more difficult these days. back than in the GDR (~1970] you just had the choice between three cars and brands and which color they have. And after you made the quite easy choice you had to wait 13 years for the Trabant. hahaha


  • Rick

    Great thoughts, Marcus. Wow, I love this blog.

  • Wise words, Marcus. And a great list to keep handy for future reference.

  • Steve1984

    Excellent advice, thx.

  • An important decision that comes to mind is putting my career as a lawyer on hold, possibly permanently, after 18 years of working and 7 years of higher education before that. I did a lot of what you said…thought about the pros and cons, consulted my husband and father and listened to my heart. I concluded my then 7 year old daughter was my top priority and my career was getting in the way of that. Five years later, I have no regrets.

    I think with certain major decisions your gut check tells you what to do and then you look to other areas to find support and rationalization for that.

  • Marcus

    Kaylee–thanks for sharing that. It’s true, you never regret spending time with your child like that. I can relate in a big way.

  • Yuri

    Another great post!
    Sorry, personally, I skipped the first step.(damn me, stringent atheist!)
    On that note, one of my best friends often uses this step first as well, and it sure works for him!
    I think a decision that changed my life, is one I mentioned on this blog before. When I visited the girl I fell in love with in Denmark, while living in the Netherlands myself, I started to think about my life. I realized that I was missing something in my life. This was not just “love”, but more. When I thought about what would keep me from being with her, I could only think about people that are important to me. My family and best friends. But, these people would surely also be the people that respect and understand me when I follow my heart.
    So, there came this moment where I decided that I would leave everything behind. Everything. My family, friends and places I love.
    Besides my girlfriend I knew no one else in this new city and country. I even had to learn a whole new language. Looking back, this has been the best choice I have ever made. I have grown so much because of this move. I have learned more about different cultures, customs, people and myself. I also seem to go through Step 2 to 5 in thoughts and feelings, and ever since I took this huge step to move, I find it easier to make a decision. Wise words Mr. Brotherton!

  • Marcus

    Yuri, this is such a great line of yours (below). So powerful. Often very required in the decision-making process. To step forward, a person has to let go of what he already has. Thanks–I learned from this.

    “So, there came this moment where I decided that I would leave everything behind. Everything. My family, friends and places I love.”

  • Tobias (GER)

    I have to agree on that! I don’t know if I would have been able to leave that behind! Very powerful, like Marcus said! Hats off!

  • Yuri

    Thank you Marcus and Tobias.
    Reading that line back like this, it sounds pretty heavy. There are times that it sure felt heavy, especially here, now I am in Australia, even further away then before. (Only until next year February, so that’s alright). I think letting go is a big part in decision making. We tend to keep hanging on to things we know, we like, we know that work for us, that feel safe, but this often limits us in moving forward. Thanks for pointing this line out Marcus. Enjoy your weekend everyone.

  • Excellent advice, Marcus. Almost word-for-word the list my pastor has given me when I am looking at which path to take.

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.