Use The Military Decision Making Process to Hack Your Life

I’m sure it has happened to you. Life happens and you face down a major decision that is going to have long lasting ramifications for the present and the future. You sit down and you turn the options over and over in your mind. Maybe you lose some sleep. Maybe you get an extra wrinkle or two as you try to ensure that the right decision is made. Even after you’ve already made the decision you look back and wonder if there is some sort of lifehack that could make the process of thinking through major decisions easier and more predictable.

You are in luck. For a long time the United States Army has recognized the value of having a formal and predictable method for analyzing a mission (problem), thinking through it from every angle, and then creating and executing a well-planned and well-resourced mission order. An Army staff that is well-versed in MDMP can use the process for everything from planning troop morale days to executing exceedingly complex missions in combat.

This formal method of decision making helps ensure that multiple options get put on the table, that all the planning factors are considered, and that positive and negative repercussions of certain decisions are all weighed prior to executing a mission. If that sounds like it would be a helpful framework for making major life decisions, I would agree.

So let’s walk through MDMP for a hypothetical situation that will illustrate how you can apply this proven process to everyday life. For our situation a man named Joe has just been informed by his wife, Jody, that they are expecting a third child. Jody tells Joe that the subcompact car they’ve been driving can’t fit three carseats across in the back seat so they need to look for a larger vehicle. Jody doesn’t really care what kind of vehicle so long as it has three rows of seats.

  1. Receipt of Mission — Joe’s mission is to find a three row vehicle
  2. Mission Analysis — Joe starts researching three row vehicles. He logs onto car review and comparison sites like Edmunds or KBB. He digs into statistics like cargo room when the third row is in place. He reads reviews from professionals and consumers. He looks at things gas mileage and ownership cost. Periodically he will bring a question to his wife based on his research to make sure he is on the right track and meeting the needs she has. For example, at one point he finds out she wants to have four cup holders accessible from the front seat so he takes that information and uses it to refine his search. He is taking all this research and information and using it prepare some potential courses of action that he can present to his wife.
  3. Course of action (COA) Development — At this point Joe brings all the research and planning he has done to the table and he works to narrow things down to a small handful of possibilities. He considers the guidance of his wife and rules out some COAs until he has a refined list of vehicles that potentially meet the mission requirements his wife has laid out.
  4. COA Analysis (aka Wargaming) — At this point, Joe has three vehicles that he thinks will fit the bill. Now he takes all his research and planning and essentially looks at the vehicles side by side. He does this online and he makes a trip to the dealership and does it in person. While all this is happening he’s continuing to ask questions of his wife to ensure that he is checking all the boxes for what she wants in a new car. During this wargaming phase, Joe is considering all the positives and negatives of a particular vehicle. For example, maybe he really likes how one looked on paper but then when he drove it he found out it was a land yacht and was hard to park because of a large turning radius.
  5. COA Comparison — After Joe has thrown every potentiality he can think of at his list of cars he sits down with this new information to figure out which COAs he wants to present to his wife. He rules out a Suburban because it was just too big. A Dodge Durango doesn’t make the cut because the cargo space is too limited with the third row in use. He’s left with two vans that meets the mission requirements laid out by Jody.
  6. COA Approval — Joe presents Jody with a Toyota Sienna and a Honda Odyssey. They head to the dealer and drive each vehicle. Either one would be a good choice but ultimately Jody goes for the Odyssey. She likes the way it drives and the comfort of the seats. With the COA approved, Joe and Jody move onto the next step of preparing to execute the mission.
  7. Orders Production, Dissemination, and Transition — Once a decision is made on the vehicle and armed with all the information from the previous research, Joe and Jody are able to make a decision from an informed position. They are able to negotiate a good price with the dealer because they’ve done thorough research so they know exactly what they need and won’t get upsold on add-ons that will increase the cost. They know exactly what burden their finances can handle so that they can get payments down to a manageable amount. In the end, Joe and Jody drive off the lot with a vehicle that should see them through many long road trips full of kids songs and cheerio covered floors.

There’s a good chance you already do something like this unconsciously when making a major decision. What MDMP does is formalize the process so that when you are faced with a major decision or something that is high stress, you have a step by step process you can walk through. It helps ensure you don’t miss something along the way and that when you make your final decision that you have done your due diligence. It’s a proven process that staffs all across the United States Army use on a daily basis and you can use a version of it to help you make decisions in everyday life.

Experienced Chaplain. Photography Enthusiast. Lover of learning. Reader of books. Sci-Fi fan.

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