COMMENTARY: Every Good Decision Starts With a Stop

Most of us are regularly confronted with choices that can have serious and lasting impact on our lives. What’s more, most really bad decisions — the ones that mess up our lives — are made impulsively or without sufficient reflection.

Thus, the wisdom of the oldest advice in the world: “Think ahead.” The maxim telling us to count to three when we’re angry and to ten when we’re very angry is designed to prevent foolish and impulsive behavior. But anger is just one obstacle to good choices. Others are fatigue, frustration, impatience and ignorance.

We can improve our lives immeasurably if we can get in the habit of self-consciously stopping the momentum of thoughtless behavior. We must force ourselves to reflect on what we are about to do. Just like we teach our children to look both ways before they cross the street, we can and should instill the habit of looking ahead in making decisions.

So every good decision starts with a stop. We must stop to sort out facts from rumors, to evaluate the evidence and devise alternatives so we can choose the most effective and ethical course of action. Stopping to think before we act also allows us to muster our moral will power to overcome temptations.

The “stop” is a break in the action that allows us to ask ourselves a few crucial questions that could set us on a better road:

“Wait, what do I really want to accomplish here?”

“How will my decision affect others?”

“What are my alternatives?”

“What could go wrong?”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you to think ahead because character counts.

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Comments 7

  1. This is an attractive image – “start with a stop” – and I know many of us are running full speed and need it as a reminder. I always liked the notion that the velocity at the peak of the parabola (the place the tossed object turns around) is equal to zero. It needs to stop to change direction.

    But, I am among those who tend to make reflection points staying points. And I am not alone. We tend to keep asking, “Do we have enough information?” “Are we really qualified?” “Do we really have anything important to say? and then mark time until we have lost our opportunity. For these circumstances, the stop is a trap rather than and a wise move.

  2. While this is safe advice, sometimes you just need to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I know that to many people seem to have this attitude but if the out come is worth the risk sometimes you have to take it. If we as a society had this approach the North may have not won the civil war, we would never have developed a car, airplane and other modern technology.

  3. I once participated in an exercise that I frequently find useful to recall. Each team was fed intelligence at specifically timed intervals, then deliberated concerning what was the best course of action to undertake. At the conclusion, the “school solution” was provided, based on the judgement of men with decades of experience, advising us at what point sufficient knowledge had been obtained and decisive action was called for, in their judgement. I remember that almost all of the teams missed the window of opportunity to take effective action due to a desire to delay until they were certain. The moral was Patton’s advice: “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.”

    Although I can’t know for certain if this applies, the exercise came to mind recently when it was revealed that reporter James Foley and several captives had been located earlier this year in Syria, but a rescue attempt was not authorized for months. By then they had been moved, so the rescue ultimately failed. The reason given for the delay was that the President and the Secretary of Defense withheld authorization for the mission until they felt they were certain of success.

  4. Every decision that I have made that I later regretted, could have been avoided by taking your advice. Err in haste, repent at leisure. Look before you leap. Even taking the time ask for someone else’s opinion might give you the time you need to simmer down…

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