Posted by: Steven Grabiner | October 11, 2010

INSIGHT: Deciding How to Decide – Part II

Our ignorance of factors that influence the decision-making process can blind us to our own mistakes. As Christians we long for our choices to be guided by God’s Spirit. Prayer is unarguably an important factor in having sound judgment. God is willing to impress our minds, and give guidance where it is needed. However good decision-making, like any other skill, needs to be learned. It is unfortunate if prayer is used as an excuse for lazy thinking.

“Many, very many matters have been taken up and carried by vote, that have involved far more than was anticipated, and far more than those who voted would have been willing to assent to, had they taken time to consider the question from all sides” Christian Leadership p. 51.

This quotation indicates that it is important not only to pray, but also to deeply consider issues from a variety of perspectives. There is a complex interplay of emotional, social and, whether we like it, political factors involved in decision-making. Prejudices that we might not even be aware of can impact our conclusions. Our mental processes can hinder good decision-making. By turning the spotlight on these ‘cognitive biases,’ we can avoid repeating the mistakes that they cause.

One common trap is called the sunk cost effect. This bias is manifest in the following way. When we have put much effort, time, or money into an endeavor, this investment makes us reluctant to pull out because of the loss that will occur. This is true even if the refusal to jump ship will lead to more loss. The mental discord of accepting that we made a mistake binds us to a blind hope. It is certainly true that we should not abandon a project simply due to obstacles. It is just as true that we should not keep pursuing the course we are following, simply because we have invested resources. The decision to keep going and to invest more time and money should be made on larger questions such as ultimate aims and goals, not on past commitments.

Another snare is the confirmation bias. This reflects our human tendency to read materials, or interpret events, in a way that confirms what we already believe. We are inclined to filter out information that disagrees with our viewpoint. Jonah saw the ship going to Tarshish as providence! In order to overcome our own filters, we can intentionally engage in candid conversations. We can seek out diverse opinions and try to understand others’ point of view. We may speak to those who are not on the ‘inside circle.’ After doing this, we may still follow our original opinion, but the resulting decision will be better informed.

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