In my last post, I shared the fascinating insights of authors Chip and Dan Heath in their recent book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Beginning with the surprising revelation of our society’s dismal record of decision making, the authors unveil four primary obstacles that tend to keep us from making consistently wise choices. They are:

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1) Narrow Framing – We often consider only one or two alternatives among many.
2) Confirmation Bias – We allow our own “echo chambers” to blind us to only those options that serve our interests.
3) Short Term Emotion – Our feelings can easily impair our perspective, leading to regret later on.
4) Overconfidence – Like Harry Warner’s (of Warner Bros Studios) famous statement at the prospect of talking films, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”, we sometimes fail to consider the possibility of being wrong.

For each of these decision-making fallacies, there’s a corresponding antidote.

Antidote #1: Widen Your Options

Rev. Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes the tendency of parishioners who seek his advice to present extremely narrow decision dilemmas: Is this the person God wants me to marry? Should I take the job I’ve been offered in another part of the country? Should I become a priest? Often, they are surprised at Fr. Bransfield’s response as he challenges them to think more broadly:

“There’s a myth that there’s only one thing that God wants you to do… Actually, there are 18 things that God would be very happy if you chose. You’re not cornered into becoming a priest or not. You’re not cornered into marrying this woman or not. There are 6 billion people in the world. You’re telling me that God looked at you and said, ‘There is only one thing you can do in your life — I know it and you have to guess it or else?’ Could it be that you are putting your own constraints on God?”

Fr. Bransfield’s advice challenges the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, by broadening your perspective to consider more options.

I recall some close friends of mine struggling to decide whether to buy a boat or not. With school aged children, they were looking to spend fun, memory-making weekends as a family, but found themselves paralyzed by narrow framing, unable to move forward with the decision or not. This is a classic example of the constraining nature of “whether or not” decisions, as if boating is the only option for memory-making family fun. Instead of asking, “Should we buy a boat or not?” trying asking, “What else could we do with the same time and money?” A camper or motor home? Perhaps a time share at a resort? A back yard sports court or swimming pool?

Often, being trapped in a narrow frame can be hard to recognize, but one of the best warning signs is paying attention to “whether or not” decisions.

Can you recall any decisions in your past in which you got stuck in a narrow frame? How did it work out for you? What might have you done differently if you had widened your options?