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It’s possible that you may share the same disdain for yellow lights that I have. When approaching one, I immediately (and often subconsciously) decide whether to proceed through the intersection or apply the brakes harshly to stop for the impending red light.

It is easy to forget the purpose of the yellow light. They are meant to be a warning. They keep us from being in the intersection when the traffic from the other direction gets a green light and accelerates to get through the space we should not be in. Disobey yellow lights long enough and it will catch up with you, either via a ticket or an accident.

Our daily lives have many yellow lights in them that are not tied to a pole at an intersection. We react to or drive through many of these yellow lights without thinking. We move through life as though on autopilot, often without heeding the warnings and cautions that are in front of us.

Many years ago I was presented with one of those “too good to be true” job opportunities. While there were many signs that this was not the right decision for my family, in the end the promise of career growth and financial reward far exceeded the warnings. So we moved and I took the position. In retrospect, while financially rewarding, the overall experience was a mistake. I made the wrong decision, in large part due to ignoring yellow lights that flashed as I was going through the process.

Yellow lights are not meant to stop us. Just as on the road, they are designed to get us to consider alternatives. The key moment is the reaction to the yellow light. Am I just entering the intersection? If so, I should continue on so I don’t get run into from behind. Or am I still a good distance away and at a point where I should slow down and stop and wait for the light to turn green before I start up again?

This may be the strangest advice I have ever given, but I want you to look for yellow lights when you are getting ready to make an important decision. The process we use to make decisions is vital to our ability to consistently make good decisions. Here is a list of suggestions to help you develop a good decision making process.

  • Slow down and take time to go through a process before making a decision. A yellow light is a potential temporary stop sign. It is designed to cause you to look around and then proceed if it seems prudent. It is not the enemy of action. It is designed to help you take the right action.
  • Gather all the facts. Good decisions depend on having good and comprehensive information. The lack of good information almost always leads to a suboptimal choice.
  • Seek wise counsel. Find an advisor or someone more knowledgeable or more experienced about the issue than you and get their input. However, make sure it is wise counsel. For example, if it is a legal issue, ask your attorney. If it is accounting, ask your accountant. But don’t ask your accountant or attorney how to increase sales or run a business.
  • Consider the impact on those closest to you. For personal decisions, this is your family. For business decisions, the impact is expanded to include your employees, especially key and long term employees.
  • Set a time where you can quietly consider all the information and make the decision.
  • Sleep on the decision, then take action.

Remember, the yellow light does not mean you stop in the intersection. It means you look around and then decide whether or not to proceed or wait for the next green light.
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