What is the secret of happy and successful people? Entrepreneur and success coach Mike Whitaker has the answer: They consistently make good decisions. That may seem like an obvious answer, but the fact is that most people don’t make good decisions consistently — which is why Whitaker’s practical and insightful book, The Decision Makeover: An Intentional Approach to Living the Life You Want, is a unique and welcome addition to the ranks of the self-help genre.
While some of the big decisions will be obvious — who to marry, where to live — Whitaker points out that we are, in fact, continuously making decisions, and all of those decisions have big and small impacts. In fact, he writes, “Often, we are presented with a small question and without realizing it, we are in the middle of a big decision.” Finding a life partner might have begun by accepting lunch with a co-worker, for example.
Of course, it would be difficult to make it through the day if every decision had to be considered potentially life-changing. Nevertheless, Whitaker’s point that our lives are made up of multiple forks in the road, with each decision at those forks impacting where we ultimately end up, is well taken (and well illustrated with a graph of a path through multiple forks — one of many effective illustrations in the book).
Early in the book, Whitaker offers a list of the big decisions in our lives, explaining why each of these “decision categories” — such as choosing a life partner and deciding whether to have children, to making career, money, health and lifestyle choices — has a major impact. Some of the items on the list, such as hobbies and lifetime curiosity (not to mention the felony-conviction decision category), might be surprising.
Why We Make Bad Decisions
In a vital chapter in the book, Whitaker explains the three core reasons most people make bad decisions. The first and probably most damaging thing that we do wrong, writes Whitaker, is that we make decisions for the wrong reasons. We might make decisions because of how we feel, he writes, which might feel right at the time but may later be regretted (in an interesting dissection of the post-decision process later in the book, Whitaker notes that the anxiety that people feel about a decision turns to regret when the decision is confirmed as poor).
The best decisions will be made, he writes, when we consider whether the decision will advance us toward one of our goals in life. “A goal is a good why,” he writes. “It’s an easy question: ‘Will this choice get me what I want?’”
The second cause for wrong decisions is that we are not in the right mind. For example, desperation, haste, ego, pride, fear or grief, anger, fatigue, and even hope or optimism can push us into wrong choices. Finally, the third cause cited by Whitaker for bad decisions is our failure to ignore the consequences, which can range from mild to severe and long-term.
In sum, he concludes in this chapter, asking whether there is a valid goal-oriented reason for making the choice, whether you are in the right state of mind to make a decision and whether the consequences for making the decision are acceptable can guide people toward better decisions.
To help readers follow these guidelines, Whitaker offers four key tools, each focused on goals: 1) make a list of the top five “prime” goals for your life; 2) figure out the number-one goal (which helps prioritize your decisions); 3) determine if a decision that emerges impacts one of your prime goals; 4) recognize the momentum toward your goals (which reinforces your decisions and encourages you to continue goal-oriented decision making).
Packed with valuable insights, exercises and illustrations, The Decision Makeover is practical, detailed and thought-provoking — which is why reading this book may be one of those small decisions with surprisingly important consequences.