A sign on the side of a road

How to Stop Making Bad Decisions

I saw the funniest sign recently. But it wasn’t funny for long because I started to think about it. Suddenly the humor melted away.

A sign on the side of a road

Ouch! Those 15 words hit hard. I’ve made my share of bad money decisions in my life. 

I’ve come a long way from that dark season of my life. I am determined to not go back, but also to not live with regret for what might have been. Instead of living with my eyes on the rearview mirror, I want to stay focused on the present with eyes toward the future. Which begs the question: How can we stop making bad decisions when it comes to money and personal finance?

Get smart. Despite the fact that research from the University of British Columbia released in November 2013 found the smallest part of the human brain is integral in the decision-making process—and the fact that we do seem to repeat our mistakes—it is possible to become a better decision-maker. With practice, awareness and a bit tender loving care for yourself, you can learn to make better choices. I’ve had lots of feedback from readers of this column who tell me that over the years, they feel as though they have gained the equivalent of a degree in personal finance—one random 500-word column at a time.

Time out. I’ve discovered for myself a simple way to avoid bad decisions. I impose a minimum 24-hour rule where I have to go into “time out.” That means I have to the leave the store, turn off the computer, put the decision on the back burner for at least one full day and night. You cannot believe how that stops me in my tracks. And more times than not, after 24 hours I’ve nearly forgotten what it was that captured my attention. Situations that indeed require a wise decision find more clarity following a period of time out.

Check your history. Sift back through your memory when you were faced with something similar to the thing you’re facing now. Review what happened. If it turned out to be a bad decision—what led up to that? History does repeat itself, but you can change the way you will make this decision. You don’t have to be dumb this time just because that’s how things went the last time. The past if over but the future is still open for discussion.

Look inside. I know for myself that when I am overly tired or hungry, I make really bad decisions. I can’t think straight. I’m prone to compulsiveness. Take a deep breath, address your stress level and then move forward cautiously.

Seek counsel. Unless this decision you are looking at is very personal, very private—call a friend; take your dad out for coffee. Find someone you respect who will will listen and then offer his or her best advice. You don’t have to take it, but chances are pretty good that whatever it is, it will help you to see the picture more clearly.

The best thing about a bad decision is that you can learn from it and apply that lesson to decisions you will make next time.

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4 replies
  1. abeachandabook says:

    I definitely can relate to that sign you posted…been there…don’t want to go back there! I am forever recommending a book on Amazon “Easy Life Skills You Never Learned in School” — very simple, very easy, very low cost. We talk about de-cluttering all the time because you won’t buy things you already have; you make better decisions, etc. The same has to be done with the “junk mail in your head” — needless preconceptions of things you think you need or must do. Clear, creative thinking can literally change your life.

    Reply
  2. Emily Booth says:

    I loved luxury and unfortunately spent years mired in credit card debt because of it. I had no savings. What helped: figuring out what my hourly salary was and asking myself did I want to work XX amount of hours for it. Often, the answer was “no”.

    Reply
  3. Sandra says:

    “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Vince Lombardi said. Most of my bad decisions come from not taking enough time to seek God’s direction and, more often, being so exhausted I can’t think straight. Like now. Winter in Appalachia has worn me down; thinking is hard, chores are hard…heck, breathing is hard! For the next few weeks, caution is my by-word; until it warms up, the snow melts and I’m able to do the work set before me…safely.

    Reply
  4. Carol says:

    All good suggestions, Mary, but I have one more. Prayer. Ask the Lord to direct your paths – your decisions. Read the Bible – His Word for solutions both before a decision – for guidance, and if you have made a bad decision – seek His solution. If you are His, He has promised to guide.

    Reply

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