Decision making on-farm

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During the last couple of years, agriculture seems to be playing a more significant role in mainstream media.  Often the stories seem to focus on disasters and how people rise above them.  These stories centre on people in highly stressful moments and the decisions made during highly stressful times.  What isn’t acknowledged are the decisions made before and after the disasters, in the ‘good stress’ times that help people achieve resilience.making decisions on-farm infographic

If we were smart, we would be making decisions in the ‘good stress’ times, i.e. before the droughts, floods, fires, and then we would be more prepared for the ‘bad stress’. Good stress prompts the sympathetic nervous system to secrete catecholamines to arouse the brain just enough that our mood is positive and our ability to think and reason is at its best.  During the ‘bad stress’ events, the sympathetic nervous system secretes adrenalin, noradrenalin and huge amounts of cortisol, triggering fight, flight or freeze decisions.  Even though we now live in a computerised, technological age, our decision making is still affected by our paleolithic biology.

So, what tools can you use to help make decisions in the ‘good stress’ times?  One tool that you might like is Colin Powell’s (the American General and Secretary of State) 40/70 rule.  His advice is ‘Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you a less than 40 per cent chance of being right. But if you have waited until you’re more than 70 per cent certain, then you have waited too long” Powell thinks that it’s more desirable to act quickly and risk error than wait too long and be wrong by default.  Powell asks decision-makers to accept the possibility of error but to get on with it anyway.   Does this sound like David McLean’s advice for drought preparation? Do your grazing charts, your grass budgets and sell early, while your stock are in good condition and your country is rain-ready.

Another tool or piece of advice is to give your brain more choices than a yes/no dilemma which can trigger a ‘bad stress’ decision.  Giving your brain a minimum of three options and preferably five or more raises the chances you will prompt the ‘good stress’ chemicals rather than ‘bad stress’ cortisol. As well, don’t just think through the options. If you can, write them down and then read them out aloud, discuss the options with someone else. Doing this allows you to access your visual, aural and kinesthetic part of your brain.  It may never be clear if the decision you made was right or wrong – it can be hard to accept the inevitability of error and that you had to take one option out of many.  However, the worst mistake could be that you didn’t decide early enough and now have even fewer choices open to you.

It can be challenging to find the time to make decisions when the outcomes aren’t urgent or a priority right now.  However, making and recording decisions in ‘good stress’ times before disaster strikes can make the ‘bad stress’ times easier to bear.  And prevent you and your family from being on the front page of mainstream media for all the wrong reasons.

Judy Pownall
RCS Coach and Facilitator