Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

By Joryn Jenkins

Ted Talks is an abundant resource for advocates of the collaborative dispute resolution process. Set the app so that it offers you Talks that will be of particular interest to you, and you will consistently unearth presenters who will reignite your creativity in fresh ways.

I came upon Ruth_Chang’s_How_To_Make_Hard Choices/ this week; this Talk’s not just beneficial for our divorcing clients, but also for ourselves! Chang began her career as a lawyer, but made the hard choice to become, of all things, a philosopher. In this Talk, Chang explains what her research can teach us about how to make those difficult decisions, not just in the crucial decisions that have lasting impact, like those in our professions and our divorces, but in our day-to-day lives, too.

How do we help our divorcing clients make those tough decisions? Aren’t those the decisions that often slow the process down for one spouse or the other? It’s not unusual to have a quick-thinking decision maker married to a slow and thoughtful processor. After all, “opposites do attract.”

Your decisions define you, your life, and your children’s lives. And your family’s lives. Knowing this, don’t those tough decisions get in the way of getting things done? Or can we simplify our approach to making the hard choices?

Here are my top five tips for tough decision making:

Focus on the Long-Term

Make meaningful decisions with care for the lasting impact and the long-term effects. Most of us are conditioned to respond as quickly as possible. After all, any caveman who took the time to consider “Hhhmm, does that T-Rex look too full already to eat me?” didn’t stand much of a chance of procreating.

In today’s world, our needs have changed. We must quiet our reactive mode and, instead, make decisions based on thoughtful consideration.

Dr. Edward Banfield, a Harvard business professor, finds that the most economically successful of us “are intensely future-oriented.” So consider the lasting consequences of your decisions. What will happen if I decide to do this? And then what might happen? And after that, what ? Pondering the results over the long-term will help settle your thoughts and shift you from reaction to strategy mode.

Take a Breath

There’s a reason I advise my clients to take a few deep breaths before reacting, especially in the midst of divorce negotiations. Ensure that, when it comes to a decision, you give yourself the space between the stimulus and your response to think. This will free your mind from reaction mode.

As Lao Tsu suggested, wait for “your mud” to settle and “the water” to clear.

Avoid Decision Fatigue

We make so many decisions every day that, when we pile on the big ones, the mental energy they require may be too much to handle. So, first, schedule tough decision making for early in the day.

Second, affirmatively reduce the number of decisions, even trivial ones, that you have to make the same day. Even a pile of small choices will set you up for failure with the biggies. So lay out your clothes the night before. Pack your lunch the evening before, or even the Sunday before for the entire week. Schedule your workout routine once a week for the entire week, instead of making that daily, somewhat innocuous, but grinding resolution. Take Mark Zuckerberg’s advice:

I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. . . . And I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.

Finally, you can even automate some of that decision making, can’t you? Ask the waiter what “everyone orders” instead of choosing from the innumerable items listed on the menu. Use Amazon, Sam’s Club, Filter Buy, and The Vitamin Shoppe to subscribe (and save!), cutting down on the times that you consider those sometimes difficult (which a/c filter is the one you use?) but ultimately insignificant choices of groceries, sundries, vitamins, and supplements.

Avoid Analysis Paralysis

Overanalyzing or overthinking a situation can freeze your ability to decide. Although considering all of the possibilities may seem the best route to the best solution, the line between thinking and overthinking is thin. Decision making can stall in an endless pursuit of the best answer, completely stymying any forward motion.

Avoid “What If?”

Once you’re close to what you feel is the right answer, it’s easy to get sucked into continual reviewing the potential solutions over and over again.

Counterfactual Thinking describes how we may dwell on the outcomes of the solutions we didn’t actually choose. “What if I’d answered that question differently?” “What if I’d told her what I really thought?” Don’t play the “what if” game.

At a certain point you need to trust that you’ve put in the thought and work to make the right decision and just commit to it. As Chang explains:

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.

For more on how to market your professional practice, reach out to me at or find me at Joryn Jenkins, because your marketing is my marketing!

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

Brighten Up Your Inbox

Let’s Hang Out

Most Popular