Way #13: Think About It
We make snap decisions or may mull over decisions for too long. Become skilled at a happy medium of decision-making.
Imagine walking on a tightrope high above Niagara Falls. As you inch along, you see a maniac coming at you from behind. No longer are you just concerned about falling to either side, you also have to make sure the maniac doesn't catch you!
In a sense, life is the same way. Every step we make has real consequences – yet we have to continue to move forward.
People want immediate results and tend to lack patience when it comes to making decisions. People may even throw themselves into a certain decision – for better or for worse – just to get the decision out of the way.
Others may excessively mull over decisions, lacking the confidence to come to the right conclusion.
Whatever the case, decisions can come back and haunt us. And we wonder: "Why didn't I think this through better?"
Take note of how you make decisions. Do you deliberate and consider the weight of important issues? Or is it impulsive and without thought of consequence? Or do you simply shrug your shoulders and make a decision out of ignorance?
Way #13 is Bi-yishuv – literally "by sitting." Life has decisions to be made at every moment. So don't be hasty. Slow down. Examine all the aspects. Reflect. Deliberate.
Make the best decisions you can, but don't get so wrapped up in yourself that you're afraid to commit to a final decision.
These techniques will help you solve problems that inevitably arise in career, marriage, and parenting. And once you do make your decision, you'll move forward with confidence, knowing it was the best decision possible.
Four Steps of Deliberation
"Deliberation" means to ponder insights, events, ideas – whatever we encounter in life. Let things lie for a while, then go back and mull them over.
The Sages say that whatever you encounter, study it four times. This process is likened to the act of planting – because wisdom is for the soul what food is for the body.
- Plowing – The first time you go over an idea, try to figure it out. That's "breaking up the soil."
- Planting – The second time, the idea begins to make sense. You're "putting seeds into the ground," planting it into yourself.
- Harvesting – The third time, you come to an experiential and intellectual understanding. It's "reaping the wheat."
- Digesting – The fourth time, you integrate the idea into your life. It "nourishes" your soul and is now part of you.
We all want to achieve great things with minimum effort. A great sage said: "A person wants to become great overnight, and get a good night's sleep, too!" Realize that true growth is a long process. That's why deliberation is an important tool, because it forces you to slow down, exercise patience, and stretch the limits of your powers.
With everything you want to achieve – and the short time you have to do so – taking time to deliberate is the best investment you'll ever make.
Six Tools of Deliberation
Tool #1 – Nightly Recap
Before going to sleep, look back and review the events of your day. Try to identify what you learned. Then project toward the future. Anticipate what you expect to encounter the following day, week, or month.
Set a schedule to review your life regularly. In Judaism, the appointed times are every week before Shabbat, every month before Rosh Chodesh, and every year before Rosh Hashana. You can also do this before a birthday, graduation, wedding or other milestone.
Do this consistently for the rest of your life. Deliberate on what you've done in the past, and what you hope for the future. Without this, you're just running aimlessly through life. Sure, you'll eventually end up someplace – but you won't be happy and you won't know how you got there.
Tool #2 – Capture & Concretize
We all have an occasional flash of truth: moments when we realize what it means to be a friend, what we are doing wrong, what we really want out of life. We may think the moment of realization has changed us. But often the moment is lost. Because unless we concretize the insight, we'll never act on it, and the effect dissipates altogether.
The next time you get a great insight, stop. Freeze. Don't move. Think about what the insight means in the overall scheme of things. And figure out how to put it into practice.
Imagine you encounter the suffering of poor people and are moved to tears. If you want to help, you'll need to structure a careful, detailed plan. Otherwise, all your good intentions are unlikely to amount to anything.
Tool #3 – Think Before You Speak
We all have ups and downs, good days and bad days. Hasty reactions are a defense mechanism, and usually not the most effective one. If we're not on guard, we can act impulsively.
Criticism has a way of getting under our skin and making us attack the source of the criticism. So before you react, give yourself a chance to consider the comment, what it really means, and if perhaps there's some validity to it. As King Solomon says: "Don't be quick to respond."
When someone hurts or insults you, wait before you react. You're naturally on the defensive. Be careful not to say anything you'll later regret. Before you start shouting, pause. Catch a hold of yourself and count to 10.
Similarly, when someone asks you a question, think before you answer. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." When asked for your point of view, learn to say, "I'm not sure," or "It seems to me..." In the long run, you'll gain respect.
Tool #4 – Analyze The Info
If it's not worth mulling over, it's not worth studying in the first place. Because all that information may just overload and confuse you.
When you hear or read something, train yourself to sum up the central point in a few words. If you don't take the time to think over what you've learned, you're viewing the world blindly through someone else's eyes.
Next, examine the implications of the new idea. It helps to have a list of standard probing questions like:
- Is the source objective?
- What is the evidence cited?
- What aspects don't I understand?
- What are the implications/consequences of this for my life?
Asking these questions will sharpen your analytical abilities, and will help you apply what you learn.
Next, take a piece of paper and write out the pros and cons. This gets the ball rolling in a constructive direction.
Even though it may seem like this process will slow you down, once you master the technique, it will become more automatic. Then you'll be able to analyze things with lightning speed, and make better, faster decisions.
Tool #5 – Be Prepared
You need to distinguish between "reality" and "moods." Deliberating before you confront a problem will enable you to act with greater confidence when the problem does arise.
So before you enter a situation that could backfire – a job interview, a family gathering, etc. – consider in advance what you'll have to confront, and practice for it. Role-play in front of a mirror (or with a friend) and prepare catch-phrases that – in the heat of the moment – keep you focused.
When you're prepared, you're confident. And then no one will be able to pull the rug out from under your feet.
Tool #6 – Give It Time
Did you ever go to sleep with a problem and then wake up with a solution?
To gain clarity, you sometimes have to walk away from a situation and then come back to it later. If you feel yourself coming up empty, take a break for while and come back refreshed. You are more clever and resourceful than you give yourself credit for. Solutions may jump right out at you the next time around.
Over time, we get answers. So stick with it. Ask others for advice. Ask God to help. The clarity will come.
Why is "Thinking About It" a Way to Wisdom?
- We all want greatness. It takes time and hard work to achieve it.
- When you reach an impasse, pause and analyze. Deal with the problem. Don't look for the quick, easy solution.
- Careful reflection ensures a much wiser response than an impulse reaction.
- To know what you're living for, take the time to think it through. Otherwise you could end up with a very superficial life.