Wisdom Worksheet

Wisdom Worksheet – A step-by-step process to better decisions.


“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?” “I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” ―Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We are our choices. ―Jean-Paul Sartre

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What’s your process for making decisions?

If you are like most, when faced with a question you start by considering the potential options—option a and option b. Next, you might imagine a future based on selecting option a as well as an alternative future based on selecting option b. Then you weigh the two. Which option suggests a more appealing future? That’s the winner.

Some variation of this thought exercise unfolds any number of times a day.  Here’s an example: It’s late afternoon and the thought of dinner arises. Your mind wanders, welcoming a diversion. There’s Tony’s, the pizza place down the street with the brick oven and a vibrant happy hour. Or, there is that fish in the refrigerator bought at the market over the weekend.

You’re at a moment of choice.

First, you envision the last time you ate a pizza—it’s been too long—the ease of takeout, the taste of fresh tomatoes and basil nestled in Buffalo mozzarella still warm from the oven. (Yum!) Then, you contemplate arriving home, hungry, thawing out the fish, and preparing a meal. Don’t forget the dishes.

Just before placing an order with Tony’s, you pause, and in that brief moment consider the slightly longer term: the part of the evening following the meal. Doing so, you contemplate the last time you ordered from Tony’s. There was that pledge to eat only a slice or two. But then, well…who could resist? And after? It felt like you’d eaten a brick from their oven. Of course, there’s also that recent resolution about eating a healthier diet. Who wants the guilt?

Maybe this time the fish wins. That is if you don’t otherwise rationalize the less-healthy option. You had a great day and want to celebrate. Or, you had a difficult day and want to escape the stress. Your mind would accept almost any reasonable excuse.

While the choice of what to eat for dinner may seem trivial, to paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the sum of even such seemingly insignificant choices determines not only our character, but shapes our destiny. So now take a moment to reflect on how many decisions you’ve made over the course of just the last few days. What number of these were made with care and deliberation? And how many others were the product of impulse, habit, or prevailing emotions? More important, how many of these decisions could have long-term consequences? One may never know.

Of course, your approach would differ knowing the stakes were higher: whether to take an experimental drug or enter into a long-term relationship or accept a job offer in another city. In such event, you would place more thought into the matter. (Wouldn’t you?) You might conduct some analysis. You might even consult someone with experience or expertise. Ultimately, however, you must make a choice knowing it has the potential to alter your life.

So, how confident are you in your decision-making?

Making good choices is really a skill. It is arguably one of the most important skills we can learn. And, it begins with expressing a well-defined question.

Shakespeare penned one of the most pointed (and memorable) questions of all: To be or not to be? Imagine if Hamlet had asked: “How do I ease the pain of losing my father?” Advice such as seek revenge, let time pass, or find a support group fails to address the real issue. Hamlet cannot yet see beyond his grief. For him, the essence of the dilemma is whether: (a) to end his life, thereby extinguishing the pain, or (b) continue living, if only to avoid greater suffering in the afterlife.

Clarifying what’s at stake is only the first step. A good process will also:

*  acknowledge your specific needs and desires
*  prompt you to gather sufficient perspective to avoid missing critical facts
*  integrate both your objective and subjective intelligences in evaluating each option— What’s reasonable? What’s your gut feeling?
*  suggest the best response under the circumstances—perhaps one unimagined when you began the process, and
*  ensure that each decision-making becomes better over time

It’s also important for any process to be both elegant and flexible. If it’s complicated you will not want to use it. If it’s overly specific, there may be few opportunities to use it.

If you already have such a tool, you’re set. If not, then read on. This is for you.

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On the following pages you will discover the Wisdom Worksheet. It offers a five-step process for making better decisions.

At the outset it’s important to understand that to be effective, that in addition to unflinching honesty, the process requires: (a) approaching each question with curiosity, compassion, and creativity, (b) sufficient time to contemplate what we know and what is right, along with (c) the courage to follow through. And, if at any point you feel stuck, just remember the 5 Cs. Curiosity opens our minds and provides the energy to keep asking questions. Compassion opens our hearts to differing perspectives. Creativity ignores perceived limitations in service of imagining a better way. Contemplation, even for a moment, disrupts our normal ways of thinking and serves as a medium through which to attune to the deeper wisdom flowing through us. Courage provides the power to transcend fear and make the right choice, even when it’s difficult.

What does this process offer in return? Clarity, lightness, and purposefulness: to know what is right—the right thoughts, words, or actions; freedom from constraint to pursue it; and, an urgent calling to follow through. Wisdom reveals the path to the life you desire. Each step you take along that path advances you one closer toward the life that is meant to be.

Ready to begin?

Download the Worksheet in PDF here: Wisdom Worksheet.

Examples here: Wisdom Worksheet-Examples.