What on earth am I doing here?
It’s 7:45 PM on a Thursday evening, and I’m at a city planning meeting.
I could be at home in front of a crackling fireplace with a purring cat by my side.
The commissioners’ voices reverberate off the high auditorium ceiling.
But I said I’d come. This is a cause I believe in. And belief means action.
Around 8:15, the petitioner whose Tuesday Email motivated me to action steps up to the podium. When he asks for the supporters of his proposal to stand, the auditorium echoes with rustles and stomps.
Look at all these people! A vast majority!
At first, I’m elated. But then, I wonder.
Look at all these people. Do they really need me?
My suspicion is confirmed when the microphone opens for community comment at 9:00 PM and dozens swarm to line up.
Coming here tonight was a mistake.
Good Intentions, Poor Choices
Over the next couple of days, I reflect ruefully on my squandered Thursday afternoon and evening.
Kathi and I spend hours on Wednesday discussing how to make good decisions! How did I go so wrong, so quickly, and so blindly?
I shake my head at the chain of choices triggered by the Email I dashed off Tuesday afternoon.
Subject: If you need another “speaker”
I’m hoping you’ve ben swamped with supporters who are ready and able to step up to the microphone on Thursday night.
If, perchance, you’re still in need, I can offer the perspective of …
I recall my thrill at receiving the quick response:
Yes! Absolutely! I will add you to our list! Thank you for being such a wonderful…
My thrill … oh man, that was a red flag. I totally missed it.
It was the first of many.
Missed Warning Signs
I’d been gone all day Wednesday — on the road from 5:30 AM – 7:30 PM — so I woke up tired on Thursday.
While putting in my contact lenses, I thought:
I need to get my hair cut. And while I’m there, I might as well have Veronica style my hair so I look presentable tonight.
When the latest appointment I could set was 4:00, but the meeting didn’t start until 7:00, I told myself:
I’ll hang out at The Buttery and work. Treat myself to a mocha and a scone.
I got almost nothing done on Thursday. My logic went like this:
I need to leave by 3:30, so I can’t really get started with anything. I’d hate to be in the middle of a project and have to abandon it.
What began as a 60 seconds “speech” morphed into a frittered day and 6 more hours away from home.
The total financial drain was $50. Which may not sound like much, but we’re in the midst of a minimum-spend month. And every dime of that $50 went toward a non-essential that was not in our budget.
After the fact, I learned that Daniel, who usually has praise and worship band practice on Thursday evenings, had been home all evening. I usually ask him about his plans, but this one time, I’d neglected to.
But that wasn’t the only question I forgot to ask.
The Clarity of Questions
My word for 2016 is, ironcially, ask.
Yet I failed to ask:
- How long is the meeting likely to last?
- How many other people are on the list of “speakers”?
- What’s going to be my total time investment, door-to-door?
- What’s happening the day before? Is it something for which I’ll need recovery time?
- How will this impact the same day? Will it make time-blocking difficult?
- What’s the financial impact? How can I minimize it?
- What will Daniel be doing? Will he be busy, too, or will he be home?
- Can I take work along and multi-task? Or will this be non-productive time?
I forgot that I wrote the “No is a Complete Sentence” chapter of The Cure for the “Perfect” Life, in which I urge readers to stop answering to the call for Somebody or Anybody.
I forgot my “6 Clarifying Questions to Ask Yourself” blog post from 2012.
I forgot the 1 question from the “How to Say ‘No’ to the Hardest Person to say ‘No’ to” blog post I wrote earlier this month:
Is there space on my plate?
I write about making wiser, better choices all the time.
So, why didn’t I make a better choice?
Knowing Better Doesn’t Always Mean Choosing Better
My Thursday night mistake didn’t have any terrible, dramatic consequences. Nobody was injured. The worst result was my To Do lists growing instead of shrinking.
But the whole incident irked me.
I knew better!
WHY didn’t I choose better?
While pray-cessing my poor decision, I realized a disquieting truth:
I didn’t choose; I triggered.
…the brain’s alert center, the amygdala, operates much faster than the brain’s cortex. It takes two hundred milliseconds for the amygdala to compute … compared with three to five seconds for the cortex to make a more judicious decision and weigh what’s happening. [We can] have a knee-jerk reaction before we think.
Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal (pg. 87)
Tuesday’s Email flipped my High Stakes Performance switch far faster than I could consciously process what was happening.
I didn’t ask all the questions I needed to ask in order to make a wise decision because the space between stimulus (the Email I recieved on Tuesday) and response (the Email I sent back) was too small.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor Frankl
This space is the all-important battleground for those of us who fall easy prey to impulse.
We must intentionally increase the space between external stimuli and our own responses.
3 Quick Questions to Ask Before Saying “Yes”
The first step — which I clearly missed on Tuesday — is to Push Pause.
Do nothing. Say nothing. Email nothing.
In that space, ask three quick questions:
1) Why this? asks whether the commitment is even a match for you. In my case, Thursday night’s cause was a strong match.
2) Why me? asks whether the commitment calls specifically for you or if anyone will do. Thursday night’s cause did not need me, just a mass of supporters.
3) Why now? asks whether the timing is a fit for your calendar and physical capacity. Thursday night’s meeting was a terrible fit. After having a full day away from home, I needed a full day “in.”
Three quick questions can transform an impulsive “Yes” into an intentional “Yes”: