Your regrets are only part of your story. They don’t have to be the story. Your past should remind you. It doesn’t have to define you.
In Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: 5 Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Move, author and pastor Andy Stanley describes five game-changing questions to ask every time you make a decision—questions that will help you in your finances, relationships, career, and more. Stanley argues that well-timed and appropriate thought provoking questions lead to better decisions and fewer regrets.
Developing the discipline to pause and ask these five questions will result in better decisions and fewer regrets.
1. The Integrity Question
Am I being honest with myself, really?
Decision #1: I will not lie to myself even the truth makes me feel bad about myself.
2. The Legacy Question
What story do I want to tell?
Decision #2: I will write a story I’m proud to tell one decision at a time.
3. The Conscience Question
Is there a tension that needs my attention?
Decision #3: I will explore rather than ignore my conscience.
4. The Maturity Question
What is the wise thing to do?
Decision #4: I will take the past, present, and future into consideration
5. The Relationship Question
What does love require of me?
Decision #5: I will decide with the interests of others in mind.
Good questions lead to better decisions. And better decisions lead to fewer regrets.
Your decisions determine the direction and quality of your life. And while nobody plans to complicate their life with bad decisions, far too many people have no plan to make good decisions.
Private decisions almost always have public ramifications
The easiest person to deceive is the person in the mirror.
You’ve never made a personal decision that didn’t become somebody’s business. Private decisions almost always have public ramifications. Right? Every decision we make impacts somebody in our public, beginning with the folks closest to us. There’s no getting around the fact that well-placed, appropriately timed, thought-provoking questions result in better decisions and fewer regrets.
Private decisions almost always have public ramifications.
Good counselors understand this. Counselors understand that we hominids have a greater propensity to follow through on decisions we make rather than advice prescribed to us. So counselors painstakingly scatter breadcrumbs along our paths to lead us toward making our own good decisions. The breadcrumbs are . . . you guessed it . . . well-placed, appropriately timed, thought-provoking questions.
“Our greatest regrets are associated with things, “opportunities,” and people we sold ourselves on.”
The story of your life.
Every decision becomes a permanent part of our stories. That being the case, we should stop at every decision-making juncture and consider the story we want to tell. Perhaps more compelling, we should consider what story we want told about us. The good news is that you get to decide. But you decide one decision at a time because you write the story of your life . . . one decision at a time.
Our decisions determine the direction and quality of our lives. Your decisions have shaped the direction and quality of your life so far—for good and for . . . well, maybe not so good. You are where you are for the most part because of decisions you’ve made.
You are where you are for the most part because of the decisions you’ve made.
1. The Integrity Question: Am I being honest with myself, really?
“The easiest person to deceive is the person in the mirror.”
You have talked yourself into . . . deceived yourself into . . . every bad decision you have ever made. Worse, you were the mastermind behind most of your regrettable decisions. Financial, relational, professional, academic. You were there for and willingly participated in all of ’em.
You’ve done more to undermine your own success and progress than anyone on the planet. Granted, there were outside pressures. Other voices. People promising you stuff. Maybe even threatening you with stuff. But in the end, you decided. But in most cases, you didn’t decide by carefully weighing all the options and seeking wise counsel. You did the opposite.
In many instances, maybe even most, you knew better. Or, you should have known better. You ignored knowing better and started selling yourself on what you wanted in the moment.
Tell yourself the truth even if it makes you feel bad about yourself.
You may not owe it to anyone else. But you owe it to yourself to be honest about why you choose what you choose, why you’re deciding what you’re deciding. There’s no win in selling yourself. There’s no win in justifying options.
Just tell yourself the truth.
THE 3 DS
The 3 categories of decisions that create the majority of regrets:
• Purchases – Dumb Purchases
Are you rigorously honest with yourself when it comes to how you spend your money? Your business. I’m concerned about what you tell yourself before the transaction. Listen carefully next time.”
• Relationships – Doomed Relationships
Looking back, we wonder how we missed the signs. How could we have been so clueless? But the problem isn’t that we’re clueless. The problem is, like any good sales associate, we assist ourselves in seeing what we want to see . . . while ignoring all the warning lights flashing right in front of us.
• Habits – Destructive Habits
You rarely have to sell yourself on the right thing to do, the healthy thing to do, the responsible thing to do. You just know. Good ideas rarely need any defense. When you start selling yourself, you need to hit the pause button and ask, “Am I being completely honest with myself . . . really? If so, why am I selling myself so hard?” The wise thing to do is usually so compelling it doesn’t need selling.
There’s always an internal conflict between the options we intuitively know we should choose and the options we are tempted to choose, between the options that are best for us and the options we sell ourselves on.
Confirmation bias is the tendency we all have to look for information or arguments that support what we already believe and reasons that support what we are already inclined to do. Confirmation bias empowers us to see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear.
But on a personal level, wanting to be proven right more than wanting to know what’s true will undermine your ability to make good decisions. Worse, it pretty much guarantees bad decisions. A confirmation quest is a dangerous quest. It will blind you to what can hurt you. It sets you up to freely, cheerfully, and confidently choose the wrong option.
Most of us want to be proven right more than we want to know what’s true. We aren’t on truth quests. We’re on confirmation quests.
Decision #1: The Integrity Decision
I will not lie to myself even when the truth makes me feel bad about myself.
2. The Legacy Question: What story do I want to tell?
Every decision you make, every decision becomes a permanent part of your story. The story of your life. Every decision you make has an outcome, a consequence, a result. It may be good or bad. Desirable, undesirable. Expected, unexpected. Whatever the case, that outcome becomes a permanent part of the story of your life.
Decision by decision, you are writing the story of your life. So, when you’re making a decision of any magnitude, you owe it to yourself to pause, look ahead, and ask yourself: “What story do I want to tell?”
The decisions you’re in the middle of making right now . . . this week . . . today . . . are going to be reduced to a story you tell. Once it’s behind you, it’s a story. Period. If you lost your job recently, surviving this season without a job is going to be a story you tell someday.
What story do you want to tell?
THE FOG OF NOW
The primary reason we don’t think in terms of story when making decisions is that story is later. Decisions are now. We think about later, later. As in later when it’s too late to do anything about it. We don’t think in terms of story because we’re distracted by the pressure and emotions we feel in the moment.
The reason we have regrets, the reason we look back and wonder, What was I thinking? is because we were presented with something that had strong emotional appeal.
Focalism, or anchoring as it’s sometimes referred to, is the tendency we all have to rely too heavily on initial information and the emotion it elicits when making a decision. The initial information, enhanced by the accompanying feelings, becomes larger than life and taints or blurs other facts and bits of information that should be taken into consideration. Essentially, we lose focus of our surroundings, our decision-making context, and hyper-focus on the thing, opportunity, option, or person in front of us.
When focalism kicks in, and it kicks in more frequently than you might imagine, everything except the thing we’re fixated on is blurred by comparison. Including the future. Our stories.
When confronted with anything or anybody that has strong emotional appeal, press pause, not play. Strong emotional appeal should trigger a red flag, not a green light. When something is emotionally appealing, instead of leaning in, we should step back. Not because he’s not the one. He may be. Not because it’s not a good investment. It may be. Not because it’s not the perfect job. It may be. We should step back because anything with strong emotional appeal . . . even the right thing . . . clouds our judgment. So pause. Get your bearings. Go home and think about it. Call a friend. Consider your story.
“Decision #2: The Legacy Decision
I will decide a story I’m proud to tell. I will not decide anything that makes me a liar for life.
3. The Conscience Question: Is there a tension that needs my attention?
We fall prey to this fallacy when we discount information based on the source rather than the merits of the information.
Pay attention to the tension.
If something bothers you, let it bother you. If something bothers you about him . . . about her . . . about that job . . . that offer . . . that invitation . . . that deal . . . that contract . . . face it. Embrace it. Don’t excuse it. Face that tension until either it goes away or you decide to go a different way. Pay attention to the tension. What begins as an uneasy feeling is often supported later with reason. Information. Insight. But if you don’t pause, you won’t see it.
We believe we can predict outcomes
One of the reasons we ignore the tension when we are making decisions . . . one reason we push through and ignore the advice of other people or the voice of our conscience is: We believe we can predict outcomes. Don’t we? We think we know. But we don’t know. You don’t always predict outcomes accurately, do you? Does anybody? If you’ve ever been disappointed, you know this to be the case.
Pay attention to the tension. If you don’t, you may wake up on the other side of a decision you wish you could go back and unmake.
Decision #3: The Conscience Decision
I will pause even when I can’t pinpoint the cause of my hesitation. I will explore, rather than ignore my conscience.
4. The Maturity Question: What is the wise thing to do?
- If it’s not wrong, it’s alright.
- If it’s not illegal, it’s permissible.
- If it’s not immoral, it’s acceptable.
- If it’s not over the line, it’s fine
Nobody is doing anything wrong until they are.
Drawing our lines, setting our limits, establishing our moral and ethical standards on the borderline between right and wrong, legal and illegal, healthy and unhealthy eliminates any margin for error. It’s a foolish and dangerous way to live. You’re dry and safe and then you’re drowning. You’re sober and then you’re not.
The moment you would give anything to go back and relive or undo. The tipping point. The point of no return. Your greatest regret was preceded by a series of unwise decisions. They weren’t wrong. They weren’t illegal or immoral. But looking back, they were terribly unwise. And it was that series of unwise decisions that paved the way to the moment in time you’ve regretted ever since.
In light of my past experience, my current circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?
5. The Relationship Question: What Does Love Require of Me?
We usually know the answers before we finish asking the questions. And once we know, we can’t unknow. And once we know, we feel accountable.
What you won’t know can hurt you. What you refuse to acknowledge will follow you into your future. It will shape the story of your life.
Predeciding to protect the integrity of a relationship redefines what it means to win. Love doesn’t seek to win the argument. Love seeks to protect the relationship. Besides, nobody ever wins an argument when family is involved. I’ve seen too many parents win all the arguments and lose their kids in the process.
Decision #5: The Relationship Decision
I will decide with the interests of others in mind.
Good questions lead to better decisions. Your decisions determine the direction and quality of your life. Your decisions serve as the framework for the story of your life. So write a good one. While there’s nothing you can do about the decisions you’d choose to go back and unmake, remember this: Your regrets are only part of your story. They don’t have to be the story. Your past should remind you. It doesn’t have to define you.
Your regrets are only part of your story. They don’t have to be the story. Your past should remind you. It doesn’t have to define you.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.