The Art of Good Decision-Making

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Every day we are faced with a thousand little choices of what to do and where to be. Do I hit the snooze button? Do I check my email before getting out of bed? What type of coffee should I have? What should I wear to work? And that’s before we even leave the house! Do these little things really matter in the long run? The outcomes aren’t as important as the way we handle our affairs. Our attention to the little things sets us up for success. 

In a recent episode of Always Hope, I interviewed Sr. Josephine Garrett, CSFN where we had an in-depth conversation about the relationship between emotional health and readiness to pursue God’s will. Our discussion built upon her amazing presentation “Daily Bread Discernment” for OSV Talks (which if you haven’t seen, go do so after reading this post!) where she makes a compelling case to see God’s will as a part of our daily living. After seeing that presentation and interviewing her for the show, I had some lingering thoughts on the subject I wanted to share. 

As Sr. Josephine stated in her presentation and we discussed in the podcast, discernment is the art of good decision-making. Rather than approaching discernment as some BIG THING, consider it a regular exercise of human living. Discernment is like the fundamentals of sports. Every sport has the basic moves to master at a young age. These fundamentals are never negated, no matter how high the level of competition. When a professional athlete neglects the fundamentals and forgets to “keep his eyes on the ball” or doesn’t “follow through with his shot,” it is obvious and immediately chided by the announcers. Those little things matter a lot in sports, and it’s the same thing regarding discernment. The more we get better at making decisions with little things, the better equipped we’ll be when big decisions arise. 

Does God Care?

I believe one of the reasons for this disconnect is because we often feel like God is separate from our lives or doesn’t care about the minutiae of our existence. We fall into the trap of thinking we are left alone to our vices and God is somewhere off in a distant celestial plain barely aware of our existence. But that belief runs contrary to the Christian message. Listen to Jesus’s words on the Sermon of the Mount:

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:31-33).

Hear that again: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” God cares about our worries and desires. The whole plan of salvation is built upon the notion that God cares. (See John 3:16.) But above all our worries and desires, we need to place the worship of God (“seek first the kingdom of God”) and personal integrity (“and his righteousness”) as the highest values. Those are the best choices within our control. The rest is up to God, as they say. 

But do we believe all our little worries will be taken care of if we genuinely seek God’s kingdom first? Have we become “practical atheists” (as Benedict XVI phrased it), a people who profess belief in the Triune God but rarely call upon him for assistance? Or are we afraid of the cost of letting go like the Rich Young Man in the Bible? These are questions worth pondering in our hearts.

How to Make Better Decisions

If God does care and wants to be a part of this journey of life with us, how do we get better at improving our decision-making skills? (Great question, glad you asked.) Let me offer a few practical steps to help:

1. Prayer

This sounds obvious because it is. But if we are not in regular communication with God, then how can we expect to see what He is up to in our lives? As we grow in intimacy with the Lord, we become more aware of how present He really is. We don’t have to go looking for signs and wonders if we have the eyes to see the majesty in the mundane. God is the very fabric of reality itself. He is here, now, always, and forever. Prayer is the key to unlocking that.

2. Practice making decisions

Let me summarize Dr. Jordan Peterson: if you are the agreeable type and usually defer to the group on where to eat dinner, then it’s time to start stating your preferences. You may think that picking a place for dinner is insignificant, but, if you routinely defer, then you are not learning how to be honest and seek what you want. Part of life is learning how to navigate differences and negotiate disagreements. While this may lead to conflict, it’s better than being passive. You don’t always have to wait for things to come to you. Engagement in life is crucial.

3. Pay attention to the fruits of your decisions

My old spiritual director used to say, “All the way to heaven is heaven,” meaning we can choose to see the glory of God in our daily midst as we journey through life. So pay attention. Keep your eyes open. See how you feel after you stand up for yourself. See how you feel after you get better at making decisions in greater alignment with who you want to be. That’s God’s kingdom being made manifest through your actions. You get to participate in that reality. 

The opposite is true. You may realize that driving across town to get that cup of coffee you really wanted wasn’t worth it and probably a waste of time. It’s not something to beat yourself up over, but it’s something to pay attention to. It reveals that good coffee isn’t as high on the list as you originally thought. Learn from that feeling, and you’ll be better prepared to offer it up when the urge remerges. 

Pray, Engage, Reflect, and Trust

I know it can be hard to be “on top of it all” and feel overwhelmed by the constant distractions in your mind. Be patient as you make changes. Accept ambiguity as part of the journey towards clarity. Surrender to God’s providence as things unfold. When you grow in your capacity to engage with the little daily decisions in life, the bigger stuff becomes clearer, and decisions become easier. You’ll be on your way to becoming the saint God wants.

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Associate Director of Faith and Marriage

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