Every day, we make a million small decisions. What we’ll eat for lunch, who to ask a question at the office, which route to take home, whether we should pick up takeout or cook dinner, if we want to take a walk, who will drive the kids to practice, and when to go to bed.
When you’re in one of those life or death situations, you must have the ability to quickly come up with the options, figure out what could go wrong, and decide which holds less risk.
Here’s an example.
Recently, I had a business trip to New York City. My daughters wanted to come so we opted to take a couple of days to see the sights. (I know, I know, you would never take your kids to the city and you think I’m a terrible mom. But this isn’t the point of the article.)
We had a great time, and on our last evening there, we decided to stop for ice cream in a beautiful public square in front of Macy’s at 33rd Street. As we were hanging out, eating our ice cream, I noticed a few cops wearing shirts that identified them as part of the NYPD counterterrorism unit. Of course, I immediately began paying close attention.
At the same time, I got a notification on my phone from a business that monitors DHS and other anti-terrorism organizations. It stated that New York and other cities were checking out some public places “out of an abundance of caution” because the US had just bombed Syria and they were concerned about potential retaliation. (Several people have asked about the service I was using. It’s a paid subscription and worth every penny: http://www.alertsusa.com/)
I honestly seemed to be the only person in the entire area who noticed that these officers were checking planters and trash cans for I can only assume were possible explosive devices. Everybody else was too glued to their phones to notice. I actually saw a woman in her 20s be asked to move so they could check the planter she was sitting on and she did so without ever looking up, making eye contact, or assessing the situation.
So I had a small decision to make.
Here were my options along with the details.
Option1: Take the subway, which had a stop a couple of blocks from our hotel.
- The subway would take 15 minutes to get us back
- But did we want to be stuck in train underground in the event of a terror attack?
Option 2: Take a cab, but the cab would have taken us through the Holland tunnel.
- The cab ride would likely be 40 minutes.
- This would take us not only underground, but also under the waters of the Hudson River.
I opted for speed. We walked briskly to the subway and were safely in our rooms within half an hour.
Obviously, nothing happened, so this was not an “important” decision. But it had the potential to be.
Other examples of small decisions
There are so many times in which your ability to rapidly assess a situation and make a small decision could be vitally important. These are some examples.
When the plane hit the Twin Towers on 9/11, people in the towers had to make several decisions:
- Should they go immediately or wait until it is announced?
- Stairs or elevator?
- Did they need to find out what happened?
- Which exit should they head toward?
When flames approached homes in the Napa Valley wildfires last year in California, these were the things to assess:
- Should they go immediately?
- Which route should they take?
- Did they have time to save their livestock/pets?
- What should they take with them?
- Would they be safe waiting for the official evacuation notice while they gathered their possessions?
A mom is with her children in a convenience store when it gets robbed.
- Should she hide with the kids?
- Should she tell the kids to hide so she can use her concealed carry firearm to confront the robber?
- Should she risk the noise of calling 911?
- Should they make a break for the emergency exit?
Civil unrest erupts in your town while the kids are at school and you are at work.
- Should you tell the kids to get home on their own?
- Should you leave work to go pick them up?
- Should you all shelter in place?
- Should you all head for a meeting place other than your home?
You’re vacationing at a touristy spot in a city and there’s a terror attack.
- Are you in a place where a vehicular attack could be possible?
- Where could you go to be protected from such an attack? (Into a building, behind a concrete barrier, etc)
- Where are all the exits?
- Where could you go if you needed to take cover?
A hurricane is barreling toward your coastal city.
- Should you plan on hunkering down despite evacuation warnings?
- Should you go at the last possible minute?
- Should you take highways or backroads?
- Should you leave well before it hits?
As you can see, many of these small decisions must be made in a split second. You may not have time to map out all the pros and cons. You may become indecisive when you’re afraid.
You can train yourself to make decisions more quickly.
Begin to think about all of your decisions in a different way. No matter how small they are, there are always variables that you can weigh. The more you do this, the faster you will become at making well-thought-out yet speedy choices.
Whenever you’re making a choice, ask yourself these questions and answer them as rapidly as possible.
- What are my options?
- What is the upside of each?
- What is the downside of each?
- What could potentially go wrong with each?
It may seem silly to decide which route to take home from work this way or plan the evening schedule with a decision tree, but you’ll soon find that your choice-making is occurring faster and faster.
Then, when a real emergency strikes, you’ll be ready.