At first glance this famous Yogi Berra quotation does not seem to offer much practical advice. However confusing it may seem, it can serve to point us in the right direction.
On a recent school field trip to Chicago we were reminded before crossing the border to turn off our data or face potentially large bills from our cell phone carrier. Later other people found their phone displaying the wrong time as it had not made the time zone switch at the Illinois border.
However, I was not concerned with either situation as the defaults on my phone were already set to turn data off while roaming and to automatically adjust to new time zones.
You may wonder what these cell phone stories have to do with the challenges of decision-making? They illustrate a powerful tool that I call “advance decision making”. When crossing the border or crossing into a new time zone there was no further action needed to be taken on my part because my phone’s settings had already dealt with the situation.
In a similar way we can make decisions in advance, set our personal defaults if you will, to ease the difficulty of some of life’s short-term and long-term decisions. I have found “advance decision making” to be very helpful in many different situations. Setting your defaults in place helps prevent relying on changing circumstances or shifting feelings to make decisions for you. You will not have to take further action, just deal with the situation according to your default settings. And like the default settings on your phone you can always make changes to them as your needs change.
I wrote previously about Getting Off the Goal Carousel and the importance of scheduling in those items that would get you to your objectives, rather than gearing up for a specific goal, achieving it, then falling back into the same bad routines and having to set the same goal all over again.
Advance decision making is the key to breaking this cycle. In order to get into better shape as a lifestyle I have now joined some friends in a twice weekly fitness class. I have decided in advance that Tuesday and Thursday at 6:45 pm I head to the gym. No more waiting until after school each day to decide whether or not I feel like working out. I don’t set my alarm in the morning and decide if I feel like going to the pool or going back to bed.
At this point I don’t have a specific “goal” like an upcoming triathlon, however I have the objective of improving my overall fitness and a scheduled routine in place to do that. I feel already that I will likely want to add one more fitness related event into my schedule and when I decide what that is I will add it into my weekly default settings as well.
I have been eating better and doing so more consistently this year as well. I have decided in advance what foods I will eat more of, what foods I will eat less of, and what foods I have eliminated entirely. And I know what days I will break from this routine. No more opening the fridge or the cupboard and deciding what to eat, or how much of it to eat, based on what is there. I don’t wait and see what my body is craving and feed it whatever it feels like at the time. The decisions on what to eat have been made in advance.
In my high school and university years deciding in advance that I was not going to use and abuse alcohol or drugs meant that I could safely move in and out of any social circle and any social situation and not be pressured into doing something that I would later regret. My default settings were locked in and I simply had to follow them. I had many peers who would try to make these decisions in the heat of the moment and later wish they had chosen differently. And of course there were others whose defaults were different than mine and that was their choice too.
In our marriage my wife and I believe strongly in the sanctity of our marriage vows. We have decided in advance that whatever decisions we make we will make them together, with each other, for each other, and that going our separate ways is not an option. After 22 years we don’t wait to see how we feel each day to decide if we will honour that commitment. The feelings that motivated us to commit to each other originally might not be the same feelings we have every day after that, especially as life throws changing circumstances, children, careers, tragedies and triumphs our way. But we have decided in advance that we were going to love our choice everyday.
Does advance decision have other applications? It sure does.
Have children who you want to help with their education in the future? Don’t wait to see what might be left over after your vacation, golf membership, and new car are paid for - decide in advance to put away $200 a month as soon as you can and sit back and watch their college fund grow.
In school and want to do better? Find it hard to motivate yourself to sit down and study with so many distractions? Don’t wait to see if the course interests you or when the assignments are due. Decide in advance to do 30 minutes of work every day on the course you are worried about, decide what 30 minutes it will be, sit down, put your phone away, do the work and watch your grades improve.
Have someone in your home you butt heads with all the time? Don’t wait to see how they are treating you or if they have stopped doing what bugs you. Decide in advance that for the next 2 weeks you are going to say only positive things to them and watch the relationship improve.
Is your toddler or teen driving you crazy? Are you finding that your response to their misbehaviour varies with your mood or energy level? Take the emotion out of your reactions by deciding, and making it clear, in advance what the consequences of their actions and choices and will be. Then follow through on your advance decisions. Repeat this pattern. Both you and your child will see the benefits.
Adults often need help with our gadget settings from younger people who more instinctive with their devices as they are experienced in dealing with them every day and from an early age. Similarly adults can help young people with their life default settings as we have experience with situations they will face having been through them before.
I used to think that some people were just naturally a certain way; whether that be naturally happy or sad, positive or negative. But I have to come to believe that these settings can also be influenced like the defaults on our phone. Perhaps not instantly; but certainly over time. Decide in advance to see the bright side of situations or not to always point out how someone could have done something differently. Research shows that over time you will find your overall outlook begin to change.
Maybe you want to change the trajectory of your life around how you treat people and being more grateful. Decide in advance to be intentional in thanking people more often.
Yogi Berra may not have been very helpful with the directions to his house when he uttered the now famous phrase, “When you come to a fork in the road - take it.” But his instructions serve to illustrate the importance of being decisive and knowing in advance what you plan do when faced with a decision. When you come to a fork in the road, follow what your defaults are set to and you will avoid unnecessary detours and costly delays on your road to a better place.