My dad had a terrible habit.
I thought it was terrible, anyway.
He wouldn’t tell me what to do.
Specifically, he wouldn’t tell me what to do when I didn’t know what to do and wanted him to tell me what he thought I should do.
True, most kids don’t want their parents telling them what to do. And I was like most kids most of the time. But on occasion, I wanted him to tell me what to do. And he wouldn’t. Worse, instead of answering my questions, he asked me questions! His go-to question was: What are you going to do when I’m not around to tell you what to do?
My go-to response was: But you are around, so tell me! Clearly, his response did not indicate a lack of interest on his part. Just the opposite. As it turns out, I employed the same strategy with my kids . . . or tried to anyway. Maybe one day they’ll write a book about it.
His go-to question wasn’t his only question. During middle school and high school, his arsenal of questions included one of the five we will explore later: What is the wise thing to do? As a teenager, that pesky question usually eliminated most of my preferred options. But when I leaned in, it eliminated unnecessary regret as well.
What I didn’t appreciate then, that I most certainly appreciate now, was why. Why all the questions? Why not just tell me what he thought I should do? The reason was simple. He was teaching me how to make decisions. Good decisions. He started early. Maybe too early. But to his credit and my advantage, he started when the stakes were low.
Perhaps unbeknownst to him, my dad was teaching me something else as well. That something else is the point of the small group study Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets. By opting for questions over direction, my dad connected two important dots for me. Dots many folks never connect. He helped me make the connection between good questions and good decisions. To tease that out a bit, he helped me make the connection between well-placed, appropriately timed, thought-provoking questions and good decision-making. Simply put:
Good questions lead to better decisions.
And better decisions lead to fewer regrets. This is why, on the back side of a bad decision, it’s not unusual to hear someone say, “I should have asked more questions.” Why? Because we know intuitively that the more questions we ask, the more information we acquire, which leads to greater insight and, hopefully, better decisions. But pausing to ponder a list of potentially disruptive questions is neither easy nor intuitive.
Truth is, most of us resist uninvited questions when making a decision. In the moment, we feel like we’re being questioned rather than simply being asked a question. Big difference. When we confuse one for the other, our defenses go up and our learning aptitude goes down. It’s virtually impossible to welcome new information or insight when we’re convinced our judgment is being questioned. This is especially true when making personal decisions. After all, they’re personal! Translated, it’s nobody’s business.
But let’s be honest. You’ve never made a personal decision that didn’t become somebody’s business. Private decisions almost always have public ramifications. Right? Every decision we make impacts somebody in our public, beginning with the folks closest to us. There’s no getting around the fact that well-placed, appropriately timed, thought-provoking questions result in better decisions and fewer regrets.
Clay Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, said, “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question—you have to want to know—in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”
Good counselors understand this. Counselors understand that we hominids have a greater propensity to follow through on decisions we make rather than advice prescribed to us. So counselors painstakingly scatter breadcrumbs along our paths to lead us toward making our own good decisions. The breadcrumbs are . . . you guessed it . . . well-placed, appropriately timed, thought-provoking questions.
But . . .
But what if you knew the questions ahead of time? What if you had a list of questions you could ask yourself when faced with important decisions? Imagine the money you would save by avoiding all those trips to the counselor!
Seriously, imagine having a list of questions that served as the grid or filter by which to evaluate your options? If the idea of a decision-making grid strikes you as odd, it shouldn’t. You already have one. You use it every day. You just aren’t aware of it. Every time you make a decision, you unconsciously ask questions such as:
- Will this make me happy?
- Will I enjoy this?
- Will this hurt me?
- Will this hurt anybody else?
- Will anyone find out?
While some questions we intuitively ask ourselves are helpful, others aren’t, especially those first two. Those first two are essential ingredients in the recipe for regret.
Familiar with that recipe?
Yeah. We all are.
My purpose for this video series is to give you the questions ahead of time. Not all the questions. But five questions I’m convinced will result in better decisions and fewer regrets.
I want to add five questions to your existing arsenal of questions. Five questions to ask every time you make a decision of any consequence. These questions are so simple that once you see the list, you may wonder if you even need to watch the video series.
But before you empty your cart, consider this:
There is no necessary correlation between knowing and doing.
There should be. But there isn’t. Knowing the questions to ask and actually pausing to ask them are two completely different things. And although we’ve never met, I can promise you this. Developing the discipline to pause and ask these five questions will result in better decisions and fewer regrets. So I hope you’ll dive into the video series with your team or small group. My hope is that these five questions will inform your conscience and in that way become permanent fixtures in your decision-making process.
Here they are:
The Integrity Question: Am I being honest with myself . . . really?
The Legacy Question: What story do I want to tell?
The Conscience Question: Is there a tension that deserves my attention?
The Maturity Question: What is the wise thing to do?
The Relationship Question: What does love require of me?
Communicator, author, and pastor Andy Stanley founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995. Today, NPM consists of six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of more than 90 churches around the globe that collectively serve nearly 185,000 people weekly.
As host of Your Move with Andy Stanley, which delivers over seven million messages each month through television and podcasts, and author of more than 20 books, including The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating; Ask It; How to Be Rich; Deep & Wide; and Irresistible, he is considered one of the most influential pastors in America.
Andy and his wife, Sandra, have three grown children and live near Atlanta.