Follow These Steps To Stop Making Bad Decisions

March 25, 2016

In a world where things can “live forever” on the Internet, we all need to be careful when posting things to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media platform. A funny, in a not very funny way, example of that happened with the rapper 50 Cent before he appeared in bankruptcy court recently. He posted a photo of himself sitting on the floor with stacks of money spelling out “B-R-O-K-E.” His creditors were NOT amused. (Note to self – when trying to show impoverishment, it’s best to not have a flamboyant display of wealth posted to social media.)

We’ve all made mistakes or put our foot in our mouth or done something to help someone else point out the error of our ways, but this is one of my all time favorites. It’s not quite as colorful as a story in my local paper when I was a kid about a guy who tried to rob a gun store at knifepoint (I’ll let you do the math and figure out how that ended) but the concept is the same. I wonder if at any point before having that photo snapped, 50 thought “this just might be the worst idea I’ve had in a long time?”

Again, we all do silly and not brilliant things from time to time, and I’m no exception. I’ve pushed myself too far too fast when recovering from injuries and ended up needing surgery. The worst part is I knew that surgery could be a result if I didn’t dial back, but I didn’t listen to the little voice in my head that said “this is really stupid!”

This week, I spent the majority of my time talking with people in financial coaching sessions and I heard a lot of people acknowledge that they made very dumb (their word, not mine) financial decisions when they KNEW it was a mistake before doing it. It made me wonder how often that happens and why we do it. Why do we make bad decisions?

I’ll let you read that article and hit Google to do more research, but regardless of the “why,” it’s something we humans do. And I’m noticing it everywhere now. The more people I talk to, the more admit to knowing before they made a bad choice that it was a bad choice. We willingly disregard our instincts and move forward to make regrettable choices.  My challenge to myself and to you:  STOP IT!!!

When you are about to spend way too much money buying something that you don’t really need – don’t do it! When you are thinking about reducing your 401(k) contributions for a short term reason – walk away from your computer and don’t allow yourself to do it! When you are about to buy a car and the payment is almost as much as a mortgage on a small house – be like Nancy Reagan and “Just Say NO”

Prolific business authors Chip and Dan Heath have a book about decision making. Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work is a great read. It goes into the “4 villains” of bad decision making:  1 – Our focus it too narrow  2 – We have confirmation bias 3   – Short term emotions get in the way 4 – Overconfidence hurts us.  If you can understand why you are about to make a bad decision (I recommend reading the book so you get a full explanation of each of the 4 villains), you’ll be less likely to follow through with it.

Where the book gets even better is when it moves from diagnosing why we make bad choices to building a good decision making process.  There are a few simple steps there that we can all use to help us make better choices in life. They call it the WRAP method:

W – Widen your options. Move from “this or that” to “this AND that.” Don’t limit your view.

R – Reality test your assumptions. Try to see the decision from your point of view, the points of view of your friends and family, and people who would disagree with the decision. The more angles you see, the better your decision becomes.

A – Attain distance before deciding. I love the 10/10/10 rule. How will you feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years about this decision?

P – Prepare to be wrong. Build in time for the unexpected. Anticipate problems and don’t let a bad decision linger.

There is a lot of info packed into each part of the WRAP process. (Here is a great summary of it.) If you are looking for a way to improve your decision making process, whether it’s already good (like I claim mine is!) or if it needs some work, head to your local library (trying to be financially sound) or hit your local bookseller to look for this book. Maybe it can awaken your inner “is this a good idea?” voice. When managing your financial life, slow down, take a deep breath, and try to listen to that voice.