Out there in the vast, discombobulating world, I’ve noticed, there tend to be two types of decision makers. I bet you can tell me which of the two you are in about 3.48 seconds. Me? I’m a gunslinger. I make decisions so fast you can blink and you won’t see my choice. Which is exactly what I want to happen. I want the choosing to go down immediately—bang!—because I am terrified of not knowing what will happen and of not doing, in general. In fact, the wrong choice is preferable to doing nothing at all and simply considering all the options, because if I’ve ended up executing that wrong choice, at least I get to feel regret instead of panic.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is my husband—let’s call him Lawrence, which is his name. He is a Rip Van Winkle. He will sit under a tree with a decision for years. He doesn’t want to make the wrong one, no sir. He will just leave the store without any milk if he is not sure if we need the blue or red carton. He will take five years (oops, make that six) to build a deck because he could not or would not choose between a wooden or metal support structure. When he does decide, he is usually happy with his decision. But unfortunately, time may have lurched on. The kids have already eaten peanut butter off spoons for breakfast because there was no milk for cereal. The permit for building the deck expired after 90 days.
In the great gamut of decision making, most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. Regardless of your exact type, however, knowing how to game yourself is key—as I found out last month when confronted by three concurrent situations that not only required me to make up my mind but also led me to the one sentence I need to repeat to myself before making any decision for the rest of my life.
(The sentence is not here, but it’s coming, promise.)
Here is what happened: A few months ago, I was nominated by my family to find a money person. Our old money person was our accountant. He is cheap and loving, and he knows our whole fiscal history, as well as the names of our kids. Unfortunately, he is also slow and a little lazy. He doesn’t follow through. This is not fun when you’re middle class and trying to save money for two future college tuitions and a retirement in the town where you live—not the cheaper, very far away town where you know nobody and don’t speak the language.
A coworker suggested I talk to her money guy. This new guy was quick, efficient, professional. He did not sit at his desk with a jar of mini-Snickers, methodically popping them into his mouth as I tried to remember how much I spent on a laser printer last year. My instinct was to say: "Great! Let’s go! New guy does our money! And insurance! Problem solved." And yet knew I was going too fast.
As I sat in the waiting room, I thought of a game (note to reader: We will never, ever tell Lawrence that we play this game). I asked myself the question "What would Lawrence do?"
Instead of dumping the old guy and signing up the new one, Lawrence would put all kind of annoying obstacles in the new guy’s path. Like calling him three days later and asking for his references. Like going in and asking him a lot of questions about tax codes. Like grilling his receptionist, quietly, about her boss ("Does he pay his own bills? Did he treat you with respect? Does he bring his own self-sufficient, thrifty lunch?").
I did these things—simply to slow down the process and not be myself. Interestingly enough, I learned that friends raved about the new money guy, that he had earned his receptionist better-than-average returns on her portfolio and that he ate Traders Joe’s bean burritos for lunch ($2 a pop). Which is when I realized I was ready to decide on the new guy.