6 Steps to Avoid Decision-Making Traps
Whether you’re a solo mom by choice, circumstance, divorce, or the death of a partner, you had challenges before the threat of Coronavirus showed up as an unwelcomed guest. You already had concern about things like childcare, daily responsibilities, healthcare, or earning a living wage, but COVID-19 has likely added additional decisions to your already-precarious day-to-day reality. Now you’re being tested to the limits of your strength and resiliency.
I Have A Big Decision to Make…Alone
Making decisions–for yourself, your family, or one of your kids–can be challenging as a single mom.
When it comes to big decisions, it can be hard to make them without the advice or guidance of a partner. You are profoundly aware that you are it. If you make the wrong choice you don’t have anyone to fall back on, and while you’re aware that your decisions could hurt you, the reality is, they could hurt your kids, too. (No pressure or anything, right?)
While there are many ways to make a decision, not all of them are good for big, important decisions. For example, you could flip a coin. Or you could trust your gut and do what you think is right. Or you could avoid thinking too much and just make a choice at random—for better or for worse.
Those options may be okay for small decisions, but thinking through your options and considering the many paths you could take shows greater wisdom.
Bad Decisions Cause Distrust
We talk to many single moms who beat themselves up over the bad choices they’ve made. We all look back on our lives and think about some of the poor choices we’ve made. The bad decisions seem so glaring compared to the thousands of good choices we’ve made in a week. You may find yourself wondering exactly why you made the choices you made. For single moms, we often hear things that span the scope of decisions like:
Why did I marry someone who was all wrong for me?
Why did I buy that overpriced car when I can’t afford it, have four kids, and really needed something bigger?
What was I thinking when you bought those awful high-waisted jeans last fall?
After enough regrets, you start to lose trust in yourself. But you have everything you need to make hard, big decisions on your own.
While you’ll probably continue to make bad decisions, (you’re only human), you can gain a deeper understanding of the process behind your sometimes irrational choices. Knowing how these processes influence your thinking can help you to make better decisions in the future.
4 Common Decision-Making Traps
#1: The Status Quo Bias
We all have a tendency to stick with what we know, instead of choosing something new and different. We see an alternative option as a risk or just not worth the trouble, even if it might be better. Without realizing it, we can become overly resistant to change. This is how we end up paying more for our cell phone service or staying in an overpriced apartment.
#2: Anchoring Bias
To understand how anchoring works, imagine you’re shopping for a used car at a local dealership. The model you like is priced at $9,999. Then the dealer offers you a discount of $1000. The car is now $8,999. Sounds like a can’t-miss opportunity, right? Not necessarily.
Anchoring is when you rely too heavily on the first thing you hear (in this case, the initial price of the car). The discount becomes appealing because you’re focused on one thing. There are more objective things to consider, like how much the car is really worth, and whether you can find a better price elsewhere. If you’re not careful, the anchoring effect can weigh you down.
#3: Choice Overload
More and more studies show that stress has an impact on both the quality of our decisions and our ability to make them. Choice overload can happen any time you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. When the number of options overwhelms you, you’re less likely to choose anything at all.
There is a well-known study about jam that addresses this phenomenon.
At an upscale supermarket, psychologists set up two displays offering free samples of jam. One gave the customers six different flavors to choose from, while the other offered twenty-four options. The larger display attracted more people, but consumers were ten times more likely to purchase when the number of jams available was reduced six. The reason for this is a phenomenon now known as choice overload.
As in the jam example, you may sooner walk away empty-handed than deal with the stress of choosing from such a large selection. Not making a choice, however, is still making a choice.
#4: Decision Fatigue
Like choice overload, a similar-type thing happens when you’re forced to make multiple decisions one after another—a common occurrence in everyday life. Making a large number of decisions over a prolonged period of time can be a significant drain on your willpower. The result? A harder time saying no to things—like junk food, impulse buys, and other tempting offers.
Fatigue makes it difficult to even think about making decisions, let alone what’s right or wrong, correct or incorrect. We follow the path of least resistance because it’s the easiest thing to do.
6 Steps To Better Decisions
Making decisions as a single mom can be a roller coaster ride, especially when there are long-term consequences to think about. You can’t see into the future, but you can try to be prepared.
#1: Take Ten
Start by taking 10 minutes to clear your mind. Listen to music, pray, pet your dog, take a brisk walk–whatever calms your heart and clears your mind.
#2: Identify the Problem
Once you’re clear-headed, take a moment to drill down on what the main problem is. Identify it clearly and write it down.
#3: Reframe Negatives into Positives
Have you ever had a picture or piece of art that you never really liked? Then, you decide to change the frame around it and suddenly it pops and becomes something you love? Our big decisions can be like that. Start by asking yourself, “What are the possible positive outcomes of this problem?” It will help you realize that, even if you make the “wrong” decision, good can still come from it.
#4: Use Objectivity
Our mind is our most powerful tool, yet we often allow it to become our biggest obstacle. We let our moods affect our choices and trust our emotions over logic. To avoid bias, try to put yourself in a neutral, third-party position who has no vested interest in the outcome of the decision.
A helpful exercise is to write a letter to yourself as if you are someone outside of the situation. What advice would you give? What do you see that may otherwise be a blind spot for someone too close to the situation?
#5: Compare Your Options
Now you’re ready to compare your options. There are a few creative ways you can do this:
List all the factors that you’re considering, then put them in order of which things are most important to you. Volley your options back and forth until the best one comes to the top.
Create a points system and assign each option points. Maybe you are choosing between two places to live. Make subcategories of things like costs, commute, room layouts, and other factors. Keep going down the list until you’ve scored every item, being as objective as you can. Then add up the totals, and see if you have a winner.
Identify the pros and cons by making two columns on a sheet of paper. List everything you can think about and see if there are more cons or more pros.
P.S. It’s OK to be a little subjective in these exercises. Certain factors can and should carry more weight than others. It’s how you feel about them that counts, so be honest about what each item on your list means to you.
#6: Consider the long-term consequences
Say you’re thinking about getting a dog. What do you think the consequences might be in a month? In a year? How about several years from now?
Trusting God’s Plans For You
Making decisions will always be difficult because it takes time and energy to weigh your options. Decisions during a pandemic feel even more overwhelming. You can trust that God has a plan for you and already knows the decisions you will make. Even if the decision turns out to seem wrong, you can rest assured that God’s plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
J.D. Greear, author of Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems, says it this way:
“When it comes to God’s guidance in our lives, we tend to want the answer to one question: Which choice should I make in this decision? But while the Bible gives us wisdom for our decision-making, it puts much more emphasis on knowing and trusting God. It seems that God cares more about us becoming the kind of person he wants us to be than he does in detecting some mystical guidance on a particular decision.”
If you’re making big decisions right now, we would love to pray for you. You can call our 24/7 Prayer Hotline or fill out the Prayer Request form on our website. We also have a new, private Facebook group for single moms. Join us at It’s a Single Mom Thing.
You’ve got this, Mama!
Resource: GCF Global: Free Learning