Did you know that the best time to go before a judge is at the beginning of the day or after lunch? According to a study of 1,112 Israeli judges on a parole board, 65% of the criminals heard in the morning or after lunch were granted parole, whereas almost 0% were granted before a meal break or at the end of the day.
Researchers found that judges, who make one decision after another, start to get decision fatigue by the time lunch or the end of the day rolls around. And when people are mentally tired, they tend to resort to the easiest decisions, in this case, sticking to the status quo of denying parole.
It turns out that a hungry, tired judge might also be the harshest.
Perhaps you can relate. Known as the hungry judge effect, this phenomenon can affect us as Christians as well. You may not be deciding the fate of an inmate, but did you know that your environment and lifestyle affects your decision-making skills? Fortunately, there are ways that we can set ourselves up to make the best possible decisions.
What the Bible Says about Decision-Making
First, let’s examine what the Bible says about decision-making. Let God’s Word be our foundational basis for making all decisions.
1. Walk with God daily, seeking Him through prayer and His Word.
Staying close to God helps us make godly decisions, as we are more sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV).
As we spend time in prayer and reading His Word, we become more able to discern His will. He then enables and empowers us to walk in His will.
2. When facing a decision, seek God first, asking Him for wisdom.
James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” God doesn’t blame us if we don’t know what to do.
In fact, He wants us to rely on Him, and not on our own reasoning: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
3. Be willing to lay down and surrender all possible options.
This means saying, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Sometimes, He gives us exactly what we want. Sometimes, He softens our hearts in another direction.
Other times, He changes our hearts to want what He wants and then gives us those desires: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). In any case be open to Him leading you.
4. Ask for counsel from trusted Christians.
God has put Christian family, friends, and leaders in our lives for a reason. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Proverbs 19:20 adds, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Let us be willing to humble ourselves and put aside any self-sufficient pride to ask others for help.
Science-Based Tips for Making Better Decisions
What if you have done all these things, and you’re still at a loss as to what to do? Sometimes, when God seems silent, it’s not because He doesn’t care. It’s because in His goodness and graciousness, He gives us considerable freedom to make our own choices. We are the stewards of the resources that He has gifted us.
In addition, the Bible doesn’t spell out every single decision that we face in our complex modern world. Many decisions are nonmoral and nonethical. The Bible teaches us wisdom, but it does not give us specific guidance on how to make that tough business decision, which of two good jobs to take, whether to move to a different state, which car to buy, or how to allocate our budget.
So how can we go about evaluating these kinds of decisions?
Given that you are walking with God daily and seeking Him in prayer and His Word, here are some other science-based approaches to guide your everyday decision-making. Pick a couple of the ideas that stand out to you the next time that you’re stuck on a decision.
1. Wait to make major decisions until the morning.
We can learn from the study of the Israeli judges mentioned at the beginning. Studies have shown that we make the most accurate and thoughtful decisions in the morning—regardless of whether we are morning people or night owls.
We get fatigued as we make tiny decisions throughout the day. By the time the evening rolls around, we are more likely to take mental shortcuts and make poorer decisions. This is also a great reason to pray through decisions during a morning quiet time.
2. HALT when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
Being in these vulnerable states increases the likelihood of making an impulsive or poor decision. As Robert Schuller once said, “Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods.” Wait until you feel better.
But if you absolutely must make an important decision while in any of these suboptimal states, eat something first. Remember the impact that a simple meal had for the Israeli judges.
3. Limit yourself to a few choices, rather than an exhaustive list of options.
Sometimes we can become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to us in our modern age. Limiting choices helps us focus on the quality, rather than quantity of our decisions. It also reduces second-guessing and leaves us with energy to make other important decisions.
4. Write down your thought process.
Journaling our thoughts on paper helps us see the situation in front of us. Write a pros or cons list. Alternately, make a list of the consequences of each option, and decide that way. If you are looking for methods for making complex business decisions, consider a decision matrix or other tools here.
5. Make a list of your current commitments.
Number your commitments by importance. Weigh your choices and evaluate your decision in light of this list. Clarifying our values helps clarify our decisions.
6. Imagine what you would tell a friend in your position.
Studies show that we are more objective in the third person. That’s why it’s easier to give advice than to receive it. Gain a different perspective this way.
7. Consult professionals if needed. God gives us differing amounts of resources to manage and steward (Matthew 25:14-30). It’s okay if you lack the expertise to make an informed decision. But if God has given you the means, the best decision may be the decision to outsource.
Outsourcing can be a wise and shrewd use of our time and money, allowing us to multiply the resources we have been given. An example of this would be hiring a tax preparer, financial expert, or legal consultant.
8. Do something else, or sleep on it.
Brain imaging research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that the brain continues to unconsciously process complex decisions even when engaged in unrelated tasks. The more activation of those regions on the brain scan during the unrelated task, the better the decisions made by the participants.
Put some space between you and the decision. It might give you more clarity.
9. Put the decision in perspective.
Consider that this world is not our real home. Ask yourself, Will this decision matter a year from now? 5 years? In eternity? If the decision is not that important, avoid wasting precious time and energy. Make a decision that is “good enough,” rather than perfect. (Read why here.)
10. Consider your first gut reaction.
Anxiety and fear can prevent us from taking definitive steps forward, resulting in indecision, procrastination, and avoidance. But not making a decision is also a decision. If you care about the outcome, it is better to make a decision than leaving things to chance.
When stuck in analysis paralysis, go by your first gut reaction. Which option would you choose if forced to choose quickly?
11. Flip a coin (!)
Believe it or not, there is some science behind this idea. According to Friederike Fabritius and Hans Hagemann in The Leading Brain, our gut feelings—or intuition—can be a reflection of years of experience.
Flipping a coin gives us insight into what our gut is saying, if we are not sure. Assign an option to each side of a coin. Flip the coin, paying attention to how you feel when the coin is landing. Are you secretly pleased that a coin landed a certain way, or are you disappointed? What is your gut feeling?
Final Considerations for Difficult Decisions
Sometimes we face decisions that will change the course of our lives or seem impossible to make. Here are a few final considerations for Christians when making these kinds of challenging decisions:
Do you have peace, or does it feel overwhelming? If the decision involves taking on a new commitment, think about whether this something you can reasonably take on. Do you have peace about it? Is it a “have to” or a “want to?”
If it feels overwhelming, it’s probably not from God. Matthew 11:30 says, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” A burden that feels overly heavy could be our own ambitions and desires, or a desire to please other people.
Unless it’s a crisis, err on the side of under-committing allowing for margin in life, rather than overcommitting with added time stress.
Faith is stepping out even when you are not 100% sure. It’s rare that we will have all the information that we desire to make the perfect decision. In Genesis 12, God asked Abram at the ripe age of 75 to leave his comfortable home and travel to an unknown faraway land, where he would later receive his inheritance.
Faith can look like following God’s leading even when it doesn’t make sense from a worldly point of view or when it’s inconvenient and costly to us. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
It’s okay to make a mistake. God sees when our heart is to honor Him. He does not expect us to be perfect. He was perfect so that we don’t have to be.
Even if we make a mistake, God can use that for good in our lives. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Trust that God is still in control of your life.
Focus on your character more than the choice. For all the choices that we are inundated with in modern-day society, let us not lose sight of the most important priority: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Sometimes, it is not so much what we choose, but how we live out the choice.
Many people struggle with decision-making in today’s choice-laden world. Whether you are prone to indecision, impulsive decisions, or overcommitment, let these considerations be an encouragement to you today as you make your next major decision.
Recap: Approaches to Making Better Decisions
What the Bible says:
- Stay close to God daily through prayer and reading the Word.
- Ask God for wisdom first when facing a decision.
- Be willing to surrender all options.
- Ask for counsel from other Christians.
What science says:
- Make major decisions in the morning.
- HALT and postpone decisions when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
- Limit your options to choose from.
- Write down your thought process.
- Make a list of your current commitments.
- Imagine what you would tell a friend.
- Consult professionals, if needed.
- Step away from the decision, or sleep on it.
- Put the decision in perspective.
- Consider what your first gut reaction would be in a hurry.
- Flip a coin to determine what your gut feeling is.
Do you find yourself struggling with decision-making? What can you do to make wiser decisions today?
“In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:6 (NIV)