Decisions


I awoke to the sound of the panga’s screaming engine, a bright white light, and a large crash. My first thought was that our anchor had dragged, and we had hit the rocks. But that didn't make any sense. I ran on deck in time to see the stunned panga driver look back, before speeding off.


Earlier that day we had been assigned the last mooring in the mooring field. When we tied up, we thought, man, this is right on the “freeway” for boats going into the marina. That thought was followed by the rationalization that they wouldn’t put a mooring there if it wasn’t safe. Our option was to find a place to anchor, but it was late in the day, and that would be a lot of work. We told ourselves, it’ll be alright. It wasn’t.

Bad decisions make good stories. — Ellis Vidler, Author

One view holds that our lives are merely the sum of our choices. While this contains some truth, it does not answer our degree of agency over those choices. Are there any of us who have not made unhealthy choices at the grocery store and elsewhere, even though we were consciously aware of healthier options?

Life is a sum of all our choices. — Albert Camus

We may think we make decisions rationally, but that is rarely the case. Brain researchers using MRI technology have observed electrical activity in the emotional areas of the brain up to several seconds before a decision arrived at the frontal cortex. In fact, people with damage to the emotional part of the brain known as the amygdalae, have their lives ruined because they are unable to make decisions. There is strong support for the case that we make decisions emotionally first, and only then seek evidence to justify our choice.

To the extent that we DO make rational decisions—whether picking stocks or planning a military strategy—we rarely have 100% of the information required. If we did, there would be no decision to be made. Retired General, Colin Powell, has stated that when making decisions, he waits until he has about 60% of the data required, then uses gut instincts, intuition, and personal experience to make the choice.

Values and philosophies can guide many of our decisions. It is much like two sailboats meeting on the opposite tacks and knowing in advance what to do because of the navigation rules. This saves on cognitive energy and stress.

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. — Roy Disney

Once we make a decision, there is a question of follow-through. More than 70% of New Year’s resolutions are broken within the first week. The issue, then, is not so much a matter of making good decisions, but of managing them once they are made.


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The collision did not threaten our safety, although it cost a few thousand dollars to repair the damage. But it was cheap tuition for a lesson we would apply during our next six years of cruising: When you hear yourself saying “It’ll be alright,” that’s you trying to talk yourself out of doing what you know you should do. Remember what happened with the panga.