Good decisions are the key to consistent, long-lasting success. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding about that statement is what constitutes a “good” decision. Most people judge good or bad based on outcomes, but the quality of a decision has nothing to do with its results—because you cannot control outcomes. You can only control the deliberate intention that you put into a decision.
I love everything about coffee. It’s my beverage of choice. The smell of the beans, the gurgling sound of it brewing, the deep caramel color and that first sip every morning as I try to pick out the subtleties of its heritage. It borders on an obsession. Over the years, I have learned that for me to have a consistently good cup of coffee, I need to honor three specific rules:
1. I need to know its origin. Where were the beans harvested? I prefer beans from certain areas of the world.
2. I need to know that it was ethically sourced and thoughtfully produced. The coffee industry is notorious for using slave labor to harvest its product. I need my coffee to come from an organization that values investing in some of the poorest parts of the world and that provides a living wage for workers. I also want to know that the coffee roaster cares for those beans like their own children, giving them everything they need to achieve their full potential. (I told you I have a problem.)
3. I need to respect my mood. If I’m upset or angry, even the best cup of coffee will taste bitter and I will pick it apart and call out every fault before I judgingly pour it down the sink. But if I can honor these three criteria, I have the best chance of enjoying a good cup of coffee.
I was discussing this with a friend, who quipped that if I go through all that for a good cup of coffee, what must I go through to make a good decision . . . and the seed was planted. As someone who studies, speaks and writes about human behavior, I started down a rabbit hole of research about what makes decisions good, and how to consistently make them so. To my surprise, my coffee rules are eerily aligned with what my research on choices revealed.
To make a good decision, we must follow the “Decision Supply Chain”:
- Account for our core values (our non-negotiables).
- Consider all the facts.
- Honor our feelings in the moment.
It’s that simple. These are the three basic steps between each of us and a good decision. Take them all, and a good decision is achieved, regardless of the outcome. In the decision supply chain, you account for your core values, consider all the facts and honor your feelings in the moment.
The first step requires us to discover what I call your Black Sheep Values. I believe we all have a Flock of Five personal core values that, like a black sheep’s wool, cannot be changed or altered. If we want to do anything “on purpose” we must define these values and begin our thought process by filtering information through them. Would the decision you make honor what matters most to you? Would it violate one or more of them? Without the advantage of knowing our Black Sheep Values, we end up “winging it.”
The second step is about expanding beyond the truth in the room. Sometimes the truth in the room is a limited one. I relate it to searching for a house on a real estate app. If you narrow your search to an overly restrictive set of parameters, your results are confined. Your perception of what’s possible is skewed. But if you expand your search, even by a short distance, the results can grow remarkably. This is why the second part of the decision supply chain is paramount. We need to consider all the facts, not just the facts in the room.
The final step is all about acknowledging our feelings. If we don’t discover our non-negotiables, then what are our decisions based on? Most of the time…the answer is our feelings. Feelings serve an important role in the process, but a tug-of-war between your Black Sheep Values and your feelings is at the center of the battle to make good decisions. Even when you’ve found and empowered your core values, feelings can have the strength of Hercules, the notoriously bad judgment of a crack addict and the stability of North Korea. Allowing your emotions to lead the decision-making process is like asking your drunk uncle to give the blessing at Thanksgiving dinner—dangerous! Feelings change constantly and thus should not be the sole driver of decisions. When you let that happen, you’re much more likely to make catastrophically bad decisions.
You might have noticed that a good decision has nothing to do with an outcome. Using an outcome to justify whether a decision is good or bad is something behavioral scientists call “outcome bias.” Individuals and organizations alike mistakenly use outcomes to measure the value of decisions. In fact, many organizations promote employees based solely on their outcomes. This is a dangerous and uninformed practice for one simple reason: You can’t control outcomes.
Unless your name is Gandalf or Glinda, you don’t have that kind of power. All you can control is the deliberate intention that goes into your decision-making process. Once the decision is made, it’s out of your hands.
My fellow control freaks, as you wipe your sweaty palms and rock back and forth at the mere thought of what you just read, I feel it, too. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to realize that outcomes are out of your control.
Start looking at how you make decisions instead of your outcomes. If you shift your desire from controlling the outcome to finding your Black Sheep Values, uncovering all the facts and honoring your feelings in the moment, you powerfully improve the chances of achieving what you want, without tying your happiness to a result. That is the goal.