How I Stop a Bad Decision in Its Tracks
Less than two weeks from the first day of school, I receive an email informing us of a $500 tuition increase. I was outraged. I wanted to scorch some earth. How dare they play with people’s finances that way? How dare they wait this long to tell us, when finding another option would be near impossible. I wanted to demand my deposit back and switch schools right then and there. I wanted justice, and I wanted it now.
When a situation gets my temper flaring, it’s hard to keep my emotions tamped down. I’m not a terribly hot-headed person, but with how quick and easy it is to hit “reply” on an email, I can certainly come across that way. In fact, I’ve made many bad decisions simply because it was so easy to shoot off a response without first coming to my senses.
If I think a decision handed down is wrong, unjust or just plain inefficient, I want to speak my mind. I have been bulldozed and taken advantage of plenty of times while learning the ins and outs of life. I don’t let that happen anymore. It took a long time to find my voice. Now I feel compelled to stand up for myself at the first sign of injustice.
When I’m faced with a situation that upsets me, my immediate reaction is to spearhead the problem with a sharply worded response. I’m a writer, after all.
Yet more often or not, after carefully editing my own email and sending it off while I’m still brooding, I end up regretting the swift response. The choice to say something might seem logical in the heat of the moment, but I can talk myself into anything with a lawyer-like persuasiveness, especially when I’m worked up.
It took a long time to find my voice. Now I feel compelled to stand up for myself at the first sign of injustice.
I texted my mom friends about the tuition hike. I raged aloud to my husband all evening. I felt relatively certain that my instinct to switch schools was in fact correct. I was ready to pull the trigger. I wrote out a sharply worded response to the principal, pulling my kids from school and giving them a piece of my mind. But I didn’t press send.
I wanted to. Sitting in this limbo of not knowing where my kids were going to school in less than two weeks was almost physically painful for me. I was ready to jump headlong into a decision, but I knew I wasn’t allowed to. Why? Because I finally discovered the key to halting my bad decisions was to give myself a cooling off period. I couldn’t send that email while the adrenaline was still coursing through my body.
I force myself to wait 12 to 24 hours before responding to situations I perceive as negative. Using this simple hack has saved me from myriad bad decisions. It gives my brain time to process more rationally. Research shows that those who make quick decisions that seek immediate closure are often basing their decisions on poor judgment. The need to respond overwhelms the analytical side of your brain, which you need to make the best choice.
Acting after 24 hours doesn’t have the same effect—and that’s the point.
Anger is a particularly tricky emotion to get around when making decisions. It instills confidence and often fuels a need for justice. That’s why, while writing angry responses, I always feel certain that I’m doing and saying the right thing. Anger helps me ignore the fact that I haven’t carefully considered all sides of the situation, because it feels like I’m thinking clearly.
It also makes the waiting period difficult. Even when I’m convinced that I’m making a rational decision and sorted through all angles, the anger that triggered the initial response wants the satisfaction of action. Acting after 24 hours doesn’t have the same effect—and that’s the point.
When I woke up the next morning with the unsent email in my drafts, I was less certain of my school-switching position. I did a little more research. I asked the school to elaborate on how they came to their decision. Two days later, I did decide to switch schools, but I did so knowing it was the right choice for my family. I wasn’t seeking out justice. I was seeking out the best option.
Quick decision making is not without its merits, but when it comes to a heated moment, sometimes thinking slow is best. Giving myself adequate time to reconsider a brash response has saved relationships, jobs and a lot of embarrassment. It curbs my bad decisions and ensures I’m not relying on shaky logic in my decision making. If 12 to 24 hours is what it takes to stop a bad decision in its tracks, it’s well worth the wait.