Black Olives, Green Olives & Better Decision-Making

Black olives and green olives. Now that is a simple decision. In my experience, people have strong opinions one way or another – there’s not a lot of gray area here. For me, few ingredients can ruin a recipe or pizza faster than green olives. And you can’t just pick them off; their vile juice spoils the entire dish. Meanwhile, black olives are a culinary gift. They make almost everything better. (I know I’ve offended some of you – my wife doesn’t agree with me either.)

My point is that black and green olives are easy decisions. Unfortunately, many of our personal and business decisions are not so straightforward. In the midst of making an important decision, you may be bogged down by a variety of concerns.

If you are like me, you may have worries such as:

  • Am I moving too quickly? Should I wait?
  • Have I already missed my opportunity?
  • Do I have an accurate idea of how much this decision will cost me in terms of money and time?
  • How will this decision affect other important people in my life?
  • Have I done enough research? Am I missing another option?
  • Will I ultimately regret this decision?

Our emotions will often cloud the picture. This is not because emotions are inherently bad. In fact, our emotions can be important signposts related to our most strongly held values. But our emotions surrounding a decision will often span from the past, to the present and into the future. And that can create problems when we try to live in the past, present and future at the same time.

This often arises when we are considering a new action or initiative. For example, let’s say you are considering a new preplanning educational program. Given that some community members may be hesitant to attend a group meeting in a public setting, you decide to offer your first online preplanning seminar.

Your concerns may include things like:

  • Will anyone register?
  • Even if they register, will they actually log on and attend?
  • Will the technology work correctly?
  • How will I look and sound on a webinar?
  • Will the time and effort ultimately be worth it?

These are all reasonable concerns, and we might feel paralyzed by them. The best way to get past these fears is to focus on how we will feel about the decision in the future. After all, we need not worry about the past – we cannot change that anyway. And we shouldn’t overemphasize our current fears, because they are often temporary and will soon become the past. Our decision should be made based primarily on how we will feel in the future and the long-term prospects of this decision.

Using our example, here are some future-oriented emotions about having the seminar that may influence your decision-making process:

  • I am proud of myself for trying something new – regardless of the specific outcome.
  • If the event isn’t successful, there’s no more guessing and I can focus on trying other strategies.
  • I am learning a great deal about marketing and prospecting online and can now make adjustments.

“But Jason,” you say, “what if no one shows up for the seminar? What if it is a big failure?” I am certainly not saying that focusing on how we will feel about a decision in the future will guarantee success. I am simply saying that this will help reduce the influence of our past and present concerns which we may be overestimating.

There will always be fears about choosing to do something new. Sometimes the right answer is “don’t do it.” But we should not make that decision based entirely on our current fears; we must focus more on how we predict it will affect us in the future.

Dr. Jason Troyer is a grief expert, author, former psychology professor and therapist. He helps funeral homes and cemeteries connect with their communities through Facebook content and grief support materials and provides community presentations, professional workshops and trainings.

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