How Can I Make Better Decisions?

Today, I learned that the word “prudent” is a contraction of the word “provident,” which is related to the word “provide.” All of these words descend from the Latin compound word providere “to look ahead, prepare, act with foresight.” (The prefix pro- means “ahead” or “in advance,” and videre means “to see.”) (See “prudent,” Online Etymology Dictionary.)

As I thought about how to make better decisions today, I recognized that a key element is looking ahead—anticipating the consequences of my decisions, ideally seeing far into the future.

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi illustrates a poor decision-making process with a short time horizon using a quotation from Isaiah:

Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die (Isaiah 22:13).

Isaiah prophesied that clueless inhabitants of Jerusalem would make this statement to justify their irresponsible indulgence on the eve of the Babylonian captivity. At a time when they should have been circumspect and serious, repenting and pleading for deliverance, they would persuade one another to ignore the looming catastrophe and thoughtlessly enjoy the moment.

Nephi prophesied that, in our time, some people would behave with similar recklessness:

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us” (2 Nephi 28:7).

…or this slight variant (which posits a relatively painless pseudo-punishment for bad behavior):

“Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 28:8).

In contrast, God’s prophets encourage us to take the long view. Alma, for example, asked the inhabitants of Zarahemla to visualize themselves standing before God to be judged. Would they be proud of their actions?

Can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth? (Alma 5:16)

In our most recent general conference, President Dallin H. Oaks taught that we make our best decisions when we are fully aware of their consequences:

Our present and our future will be happier if we are always conscious of the future. As we make current decisions, we should always be asking, “Where will this lead?” (“Where Will This Lead?” General Conference, April 2019).

I enjoy playing chess. When I’m not playing well, I can generally tell that I’m not making enough effort to think through the future ramifications of my moves. When I’m at my best, each move is part of a larger strategy. I have already considered what my opponent’s likely responses are and how I will counter each of them. Poor chess decisions are disconnected. Strong chess decisions are part of a larger strategy.

Today, I will consider the trajectory of my decisions. I will take long enough to visualize where each decision is leading, and to ensure that I am happy with the possible outcomes. I will be prudent—looking ahead and making decisions with foresight.

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