Their acronym, WRAP, reminds us of facets of good decision making that often go overlooked.
W: Widen your options
Our thinking is incredibly limited when making an “either-or” decision – do I stay in this relationship or not? Do I take the promotion or not? One of the ways in which to widen your options (and ensure better decision making) is to include at least a third option. The best way to generate that third option is to imagine that your original two options are impossible. (“Ok, so I can’t stay in this relationship, and I can’t get out of it, either. What are my other options?”) This causes us to be creative and not to get stuck in our preconceived, binary notions.
Another idea that helps to widen your options is to find someone else who has already solved your problem. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to go to the Grand Canyon, find someone else who has gone there. (Like me!)
A third point the authors make in this first section is that we approach problems with a “promotion” or “prevention” mindset. The promotion mindset is all about solving problems and seeking positive outcomes, whereas the prevention mindset is all about keeping bad things from happening. Promotion is more freeing, more creative. Prevention is more fear-based, more restrictive. When facing a difficult decision, try to look at it from both angles instead of just one or the other.
R: Reality Test Your Assumptions
Once you’ve got more options (thanks, step one!), it’s worth taking a look at them from some different angles. Zoom in – see what the details of what life with that promotion would look like on a day-to-day basis. And zoom out – get an overview of what would be different if you stayed in that relationship from a big picture perspective.
Another idea the Heaths throw out there is to deliberately make a “mistake.” I do this a lot, especially in dating – going into a situation that I know could be a flop, just to see what happens. 90% of the time, it’s a flop. But every now and then I surprise myself.
And a third idea from this section is one they call “ooching.” It’s kind of a cross between an inch and a scootch, and basically means trying something out in a little way before applying it in a big way. Ooch before you leap. This could mean volunteering or interning in the field you’re considering changing to before getting a graduate degree in it. (I hear this happens a lot with law school. People like the idea of being a lawyer a lot more than the actual practice of it. Working at a law firm can show you what you’re getting yourself into before you acquire years of debt to pay off.)
A: Attain Distance Before Deciding
Short-term emotion is a powerful thing. We see it often in relationships – more easily, however, in others’ than in our own. A friend of mine met a woman a while ago who, when they first met, was The Perfect Woman. She was funny, smart, and could do no wrong. A few months in, however, he found out she was an alcoholic and a cold hearted bitch. So… finding a way to get some distance from the powerful emotion of the moment is very helpful in making effective decisions.
The same holds true for new jobs. The Heaths tell a story about a woman who had a terrific job interview that would create all kinds of wonderful opportunities for her and scratch all the itches her current job was creating. However, after attaining some distance, this woman was able to see that the new job wasn't going to solve all her problems, and would, in fact, create some new ones that were potentially worse than her current ones. How did she decide? She went back to her core values.
Core values are something I talk about a lot with my clients, and I’m glad to see them reflected in a book about decision-making.
A key point the authors make in this section is that we are generally better at giving advice to others than we are at giving it to ourselves, for a variety of reasons (most of which are due to our own biases). If you’re in an emotionally-charged decision spot, a great question to ask yourself is “what would I tell a friend to do now?” Usually that’s pretty good advice.
P: Prepare to be Wrong
One problem most decision-makers face is overconfidence. We don’t expect our decisions to turn out badly, and so once we make a decision, we turn on autopilot and just cruise along. The Heaths recommend creating a tripwire – a condition that will alert us to the failure (or potential failure) of our decision. The example they give in the book is excellent – it’s about David Lee Roth’s insistence on having no brown m&ms backstage.
Back in the day, Van Halen traveled with a lot of equipment and had very complex setups. So they sent ahead a list of things that needed to be done in each venue to make sure that the show would be adequately set up and safe. Buried deep in the middle of that list was a specification that there be no brown m&ms in the dressing room. If David Lee Roth walked into the dressing room and saw brown m&ms, he knew that the venue had not carefully read the list of safety protocols and that the safety team would have to do a thorough walk-through. If there were no brown m&ms, that review could be more cursory. The m&ms became their tripwire.
If you’re facing a decision, what would be your tripwire? If you take that new job in hopes that it will allow you more time with your family, maybe hitting 70 hours a week at work is your tripwire. Identifying it in advance will allow you to go into autopilot without going too far down the wrong road.
There are a ton of great stories in this book, and really useful, directly applicable advice. It’s written in a fun, chatty tone, and has a decent sense of humor for a book about decision-making.
From the book: “Being decisive is itself a choice. Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right, but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret. Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better. Bolder. Wiser. The right process can steer us toward the right choice.”
You can read more about the book here, and register on their website to get all kinds of helpful resources, like a book group study guide or a copy of the first chapter (so you can ooch your way into it).