How I Stop a Bad Decision in Its Tracks

UPDATED: December 4, 2022
PUBLISHED: December 4, 2022
frustrated women writing impulsive decision email

Less than two weeks from the first day of school, I received an email informing us about a $500 tuition increase. I was outraged. I wanted to scorch the 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 make the impulsive decision to demand my deposit back and switch schools right then and there. I wanted justice, and I wanted it now.

Why I Tend to Make Bad Decisions

When a situation gets my temper flaring, it’s hard to keep my emotions tamped down. I’m not a terribly hot-headed person. Though, 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, impulsive decisions simply because it was so easy to shoot off a response without first coming to my senses.

If I think a decision 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 a situation upsets me, my immediate reaction is to spearhead the problem with a sharply worded response. I’m a writer, after all.

Yet more often than 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. I can talk myself into anything with a lawyer-like persuasiveness, especially when I’m upset.

I texted my mom friends about the tuition hike. My husband heard all about it all evening. My instinct to switch schools was, in fact, correct—I felt relatively certain about it. I was ready to pull the trigger. I wrote out a sharply worded response to the principal, telling them I was pulling my kids from the school and giving them a piece of my mind.

This Trick Helps Me Avoid Impulsive Decisions

I didn’t press send, but I wanted to. Sitting in this limbo of not knowing where my kids would be 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 send that email while the adrenaline was still coursing through my body. Why? Because I finally discovered the key to halting my bad decisions was to give myself a cooling-off period.

Forcing myself to wait 12 to 24 hours before responding to situations I perceive as negative gives my brain time to process more rationally—a simple hack that has saved me from myriad bad, impulsive decisions. After all, those who make quick decisions and seek immediate closure are often basing their decisions on poor judgment. Negative emotions and impulsivity can overwhelm the analytical side of your brain, which you need to make the best choice.

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. When I’m convinced that I’m making a rational decision and sorting 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.

Making Rational Decisions

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 an impulsive decision in its tracks, it’s well worth the wait.

This article was published in October 2017 and has been updated. Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Gemma Hartley is a full-time freelance writer living in Reno, Nevada. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, CNBC, Glamour, Women’s Health, Redbook and more.