Leading well when tough decisions need to be made can be challenging.  We are often asked to make decisions on the spot and I have always admired folks that can make a big decision in a snap. I’ve wanted to be one of those people so badly and I think that when I first started leading, my inability to make really good decisions on the spot made for some poor ministry choices. Becoming a better thinker and making strong decisions has been something I’ve been working on. One book that has helped me significantly in the world of thinking has been Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Often times, we shine up the word “think” and say “process” or a much more grand phrase.  The truth is, we think all the time. Kahneman’s research shows that we process thoughts primarily using two systems.  In his book, he describes the two systems in the following ways:

System One thinking operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort

When we make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture
When we know the answer to 2 + 2
When we read words on large billboards

System Two thinking operates more carefully and more slowly, with deliberate effort

When we monitor the appropriateness of our behavior in a social situation
When we count the occurrences of the letter a in a page of text
When we park in a narrow space
When we compare two washing machines for overall value

Now think about your work day Yes, today. Think about how many decisions have you had to make.  A lot, right?

What am I going to wear?

Where to grab coffee?

What time do I have to leave to not be late?

What’s my first meeting?

And the decisions go on and on and on an on and on and on and on and on and on…

Our brains are muddied with thinking and decisions!


When you think about making decisions in this way, it changes your perspective. This book did this for me. Actually, I developed some strategies after having read this book. Here’s what I do differently now:

Determine if you are a morning person or a night person

Seriously. This is important. Understand which time of day is best and then use that time of the day to make system two decisions. Personally, I am an early riser. I have found that I usually do my best thinking before 7:00 am. By the afternoon, my sharpness has slipped.  I save easy task type decisions for the afternoon.

Create systems that help relieve some System One decisions

Start with something easy and then add to it.  Develop a routine and stick with it. I pretty much have the same routine every Monday morning. It helps me start my week off on the right foot and I notice less pressure because so much of my Monday is routine.

Use a calendar to schedule time for both types of decisions

I place a note pad next to my computer.  I divide the paper in half and add issues to the list placing them either in the system one or system two.  When it is time for me to think through and process all my system one decisions, I get to the end of my list quickly and efficiently.  This creates great space in my brain for my System 2 decisions. Once I know I have all the “little things” handled, I have much more margin to tackle the more complicated decisions.

I also learned this about myself as I read the book. I don’t make my best decisions when I am busy or tired. This seams obvious, but we often neglect this truth when faced with a decision. When our days are incredibly busy, that busyness can lead to poor decision making.  I learned that slowing down and not allowing myself to use system one to make system two decisions is critical to my ministry.  Of course there is always a need for System one decisions, but my decisions have far more impact when I slow down and let System two take control.

Book Club: Thinking Fast and Slow

Layout 1In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.