Truth be told, I hate making mistakes. Yes, I know they can be beneficial IF we learn from them, but I prefer my learning to come in other ways!
Given our human condition and imperfections, mistakes come in many forms, especially during the adolescent years when our brains, bodies, emotions, and lives are changing at breakneck pace. And, at a time when kids are making more of their own decisions, it follows that their mistakes will increasingly stem from flaws in their decision-making methods.
No one will ever bat 1.000, but one way we can all improve our batting average is to understand the origins of common decision-related mistakes. Through both personal experience and our professional work with parents, educators, mentors, and students, we’ve identified nine typical inhibitors to sound decision-making. Our hope is that with training, reflection, and self-awareness, the adolescents under your guidance can reduce their decision-related mistakes. Who says learning has to be done the hard way!
So, are you ready to help yours become great decision makers? Here are some common pitfalls they’ll want to avoid. . .
- Not considering all realistic options: Sometimes there is only one right answer, but often there are many good alternatives. Case in point: college and career selection. Rather than exploring several options with the benefit of assessments/surveys, etc., many focus like a laser beam on one choice and later regret it. By assuming there is only one best fit from the start, we often commit errors of omission, missing out on great options. Alternatively, by starting broadly and then narrowing our choices through research and analysis, we’ll usually make a better decision.
- Not doing the research: Good decision-making means doing our homework and thoroughly vetting the options. Unfortunately, some make decisions impulsively, usually out of haste, by overvaluing their intuition, or from rejecting alternative viewpoints. By doing the proper research and conducting comprehensive pro/con analyses of potential options, their decisions will be on firmer ground.
- Favoring peer input over wise counsel: When making decisions, it pays to seek out wisdom and perspective from legitimate sources. However, during the adolescent years, people often feel pressure to do/choose what their friends tell them to. These sources can prove detrimental if they lack wisdom, are biased, or have ulterior motives. When receiving input from others, be choosy and value experience.
- Letting emotions interfere with objectivity: In the heat of the moment, especially when we’re upset, our objectivity is compromised. Decisions made under those circumstances are generally regrettable because we’re not thinking clearly. It’s amazing how a good night’s sleep does wonders and often leads to a different and better conclusion. To make good decisions, especially when relationships are involved, our mind must be right and our feet on the ground.
- Focusing only on the now: While some decisions have a short-term life, many have long-term, life-altering consequences. Common examples include marriage, college selection, major/career/job selection, living location, and key financial decisions. In these circumstances, it’s important to consider both the near- and longer-term impacts of our choices. Clearly, the longer lasting the impact, the more thorough our research needs to be.
- Disregarding core values and personal fit: One critical ingredient to sound decision-making is self-awareness—being able to answer, “Who am I?” It encapsulates such fundamental areas such as our core values, personality, spirituality, skills, experiences, credentials, interests, and passions. So, when we’re faced with decisions about relationships, career pursuits, employment, community service, and our social lives, they’ll need to be aligned accordingly. Some of our biggest regrets are when we disregard or compromise our values with the decisions we make. “Does this fit with who I am?” is an invaluable question to consider before making a final choice.
- Seeking perfection or settling: Let’s face it, some decisions are hard, especially when there is a high level of uncertainty involved! Some people struggle to decide because they are looking for the perfect answer (or person!) that may not exist. Indecision, fear of failure, and risk aversion rule the day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others are willing to settle or compromise out of fear, despair, hopelessness, and lacking self-confidence. Here, they’re willing to make the call, but take a leap of faith they later regret. There isa happy medium.
- Neglecting intuition: Sometimes we make a preliminary or final decision even though we’re unsettled about it. Here, our intuition or “gut feeling” sends a caution signal that we ignore or minimize at our peril. This is especially true when a decision doesn’t fit who we are. No one knows you like you, so please be cautious about making a decision you’re not at peace with. Rather, do more analysis, pray if inclined, and consult with trusted loved ones to help you reach a conclusion that feels right.
- Disregarding the “how:” There are dreamers and there are achievers. Often, the reason dreamers stay in dreamland is they make a decision that sounds good, but has little or no chance of being realized. In order for a decision to have value, it has to be realistic and achievable by the person making the decision. That means understanding the “what” and the “how” before making the call. Otherwise, it’ll likely end up on a pile of unfulfilled dreams.
So, here’s an assignment for your families and classrooms. Have the children contemplate their decision-related mistakes or regrets and see how many fall into the categories above. There may be other reasons than the nine above and that’s fine too. Challenge them to see if there are patterns to their mistakes. If so, it might suggest a decision-making flaw and a meaningful growth opportunity! Sure, it takes courage, honesty, and humility, but this can be a valuable exercise to sharpen their skills and live a happier life! And, what’s not to like about that?
About the author
Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Through his books, blog, and nationwide speaking engagements, Dennis prepares students for life success and equips parents and educators in their vital training role. You can find him here on Facebook.