Facing a Big Life Choice? This Is the Decision Making Process to Use

Big, life changing decisions are hard to make. We all make it harder on ourselves. The simple WRAP method can put an end to that.

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Tired of making big decisions? We get it. Parents are plagued by a salvo of choices big and and small. What should we have for dinner? Which one of the thousand streaming shows do you want to watch tonight? What should we do on Sunday? Should we move closer to my mother? Should we refinance our mortgage? Is this daycare right for our baby? This comes with the territory: Raising kids and being an adult in general requires one to make big life choices. But thanks to decision fatigue as well as the fact that most humans are simply not well-wired for the correct decision making process means that we all need more perspective when interrogating choices so that we can make the best call. A solution: The WRAP Method. More or less a decision-making blueprint, the simple method helps us all avoid the psychological traps laying in wait for us during decision making so we can make the smartest choice.

Each decision we make comes with its own emotional baggage. As a general rule, we are not very good at making decisions. We tend to work from a place of emotion, allowing our instincts or our fear of the fallout to govern the choices that we make.

“We tend to focus upon information that’s sort of self serving that supports our idea of what we want to do,” explains Catherine Sacer, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist. “Or we tend to think ‘either/or’ sometimes. You know, ‘this or that and,’ and things aren’t so black and white.”

In order to combat the psychological biases that tend to rule our choice-making, Chip and Dan Heath, academics and authors of such bestselling books as Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, devised a method of making decisions that can overrule the biases that tend to cloud the process for most people. The Heaths call this process the WRAP method, and we should all memorize it.

WRAP an acronym that stands for:

Widen your options

Reality-test your assumptions

Attain distance before deciding

Prepare to be wrong

So how does the WRAP method work? Let’s break it down.

Widening your options means just that. We tend to look at decisions from one or two points of view. This is not great. We need a better vantage point.

“Let’s say it’s nighttime and you hear something outside,” she says. “Maybe it’s a raccoon or something. So you go outside, but all you have is a flashlight so you can only see what’s right there. You can’t see the whole picture.

Think about this in terms of decisions: You might think, ‘Should I buy this car or not?’ but you can open it up to ask, ‘How would this help my family?’”

Next, reality testing. This is a way of combating the “confirmation bias” that informs, and very often impedes, our ability to decide effectively. We have a tendency to seek out information that will uphold or confirm our belief in something in order to validate a decision. If someone is opposed to gun control, they will seek out stories and points of view that bolster their own. And, when they find something that might run contrary to their beliefs, they will still filter it through their own bias in order to make it fit with their narrative. This is why we need to reality test.

“Sometimes we get an idea in our head and it’s just all in our head,” Sacer says. “But if you go to Amazon and read a bunch of reviews on an item, maybe your opinion would change. So reality testing can help people not always go with their gut or their emotions.”

Similar to reality testing, attaining distance attempts to override the emotional impulse driving the decision and look at things with a longer view.

“Ask yourself, ‘If I make this decision, how will I feel about it in 10 minutes, 10 days or 10 years?” says Sacer. “And that takes you away from the emotion too, because maybe you want to buy that red convertible Mustang, but how will you feel about it in 10 years’ time?”

The hardest part of the equation is preparing to be wrong. This is a concept that a lot of people can’t get behind, as being wrong is precisely what they’re trying to avoid when making the decision in the first place. However, this step isn’t setting us up to fail, but asking us to simply consider all outcomes. “We don’t always play the tape to the end,” says Sacer. “So it’s troubleshooting and asking yourself, ‘Well, if this aspect of the decision went wrong, what is the worst that could happen?’”

So how can we take this method and apply it to a real world scenario? As an example, Sacer said to consider disciplining your child.

“There are times when you might make a decision in the heat of the moment when you’re very emotional,” she notes, “or you might not react and say, ‘It’s just too tiring. I’m just going to let him do what he does because I don’t want the conflict.’ But that’s a time when you could ask yourself, ‘Will I be okay with letting him get away with this in 10 days or 10 years?’ You need to look at the bigger picture and say, ‘I need to be consistent. Because if I send this message now because I’m too tired or too frustrated, what lesson will that teach my son or daughter?’”

Sacer says that the WRAP method is always beneficial to employee when the decisions you’re making have long-term repercussions.

“Any time you think you’re going to throw a pebble in the water and it’s going to make ripples,” she says, “you should think about it. We don’t make decisions in a vacuum.”

To that end, Sacer suggests that, whether it’s parenting or other decisions, to broaden your scope. “For example,” she says, “Maybe it would be interesting to read up on, say, how people discipline their children in Sweden, just to really broaden the focus. To say, ‘I’m feeling frustrated and this isn’t working for me, but what has worked for other people?’”

Employing the WRAP method, Sacer says, is an effective means of combating the instincts that tend to drive us every day. Which is not an easy task, admittedly. “We get into our routines and our patterns,” she says. “So having this kind of decision making helps you get out of those ruts.” And that’s, as they say, a wrap.

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