How To Make Good Decisions

How To Make Good Decisions

Everybody who lives on this planet has to make decisions every day. Some of those choices turn out to be good ones and some of them have pretty bad consequences. As “12 steppers”, we need to always keep a few priorities foremost in our minds. The main one being, “How will this affect my recovery/sobriety?” However, when we’re being bombarded with all kinds of questions and challenges, when we’re in the middle of one thing and the cell phone’s ringing, we have a tendency to go by instinct. What is even worse then that, is when we make quick decisions without thinking. Granted, the seemingly really big decisions, we know we better think about and maybe even run by our support groups. But all decisions have consequences – how many times have we ordered food at a restaurant and then got bummed out when we saw something really good that somebody else ordered?
So, how do we make good decisions? That depends on what our goals are, what our wants and needs are and what we mean by the word ‘good’. What’s good for one person may not be that great for another. Accordingly, what looks like a good decision “on paper” may not be very realistic. So, in the world of decision making, we have to be honest with ourselves. That includes being able to admit when we want to go against the grain. It’s okay to not follow the common suggestions we get as long as we’re aware of it and willing to accept the consequences.
Let’s start with the “decision making motivator” we’ll call “the easy way out”. Intrinsically, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s the smart way to go – we may need to give ourselves a break. But we need to think first and choose it as a conscious decision. Not as an alternative to doing what we know we really should be doing. Often we find ourselves doing this in issues of work or chores and all of us are guilty of doing the next lazy thing (instead of the next right thing) once in a while. One thing we want to be very cautious about though – when it comes to missing a meeting or calling our sponsors, that is not the time to start cutting corners. Actually, keeping our program together is the easy way out!
Having said all that, there are definitely some decisions we have to make that we don’t want to use as a time for defiance or as an opportunity to assert our independence. Those really important decisions need a good “pros and cons” list, to start with. Then a realistic examination of our motives or our goals might be the next thing to consider. Much has been made (especially in the last 5 years) about “checking our motives”. It’s a fairly good tool to use if we can be honest with ourselves. If we are good at self examination (which is much of what our 12 step lives are about) then we will be able to identify why we are leaning a certain way in making a decision. Even if we see that money is our major motivator, for example, that can be acceptable – after all, we need money to live. But we have to know going in to a decision what our priorities are and can we live with the consequences if we choose to compromise some of our principles.
How about this next popular way we make decisions – gut instinct. When we’ve been in the recovery process for a decent amount of time, we start to think we know how to make good choices. Usually we are right. “Do the next right thing”, we’re taught. However, sometimes we may feel a little “frisky” and go against what we know we should do – that’s a dangerous proposition. We can try that but we’ll be on shaky ground. We need to learn how to pay attention to our own signals. We can feel it in the pit of our stomach if it’s a really bad choice. So lesson #1 in this article is, “At least be aware on what basis are we making some decisions and lesson #2 – are we willing to accept the consequences of those decisions?” There’s no way to be positive about the results of a decision…that’s like predicting the future. The danger of knowingly making some crazy choices is that if we don’t seem to suffer any consequences we may begin to think it’s cool to stop being so righteous – and that can lead to us painting ourselves into a pretty rough corner; one we may not be able to get out of clean and sober. The best advice any of us can follow is to think before we speak or commit to something. If we do “look before we leap”, we can save ourselves a lot of future ‘damage control’. Sometimes a “good” decision is not to make any decisions – that’s why we often say, “when in doubt…don’t”! Sometimes a good decision is just to take our sponsor’s advice. Not that our sponsor’s are never wrong. They’re not perfect. It’s just that we need to learn how to not think we have all the answers.