The Enterprise crew has a lot of experience solving the intra-galactic quandaries of the 24th Century. Sure, your 21st-century life might not be rife with near-disastrous first encounters or space-time anomalies. But I’m willing to bet you could use some advice from the Enterprise crew from time to time. I know I could.
Last summer, for instance, far from the hustle and bustle of the halls of the Enterprise, I was on the Earth’s surface, driving slowly past the house I was supposed to be buying in my rusty 2009 Toyota Prius. I was taking one last look. My fiancé and I had had the inspection done earlier that day, and it was time to sign the paperwork. I gazed at the home’s reddish stucco in despair. Its neatly coiffed yard. The heavy power lines hanging just beyond its roof, over a row of trees lining a short bike path.
Housing prices shot up last summer, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a first-time homebuyer, I was getting cold feet at the idea of going into so much debt. The house would need a lot of work on top of its premium price. Still, owning my own home was a dream of mine, and my fiancé and I had finally settled on one we both (mostly) liked. Besides, I was tired of throwing money at rent month after month.
By the time I was back at our rental, I was in an indecisive panic. I sobbed to my fiancé, and later that evening I sent an email to pull out of the deal. No debt — and no home.
But the feeling of panic stuck with me for weeks. Had I made the right decision? In The Next Generation, Picard and his crew have to make hard decisions with only minutes on the clock. Why couldn’t I?
What Would Geordi Do?
Different perspectives on the house continued to clunk around in my head, yet I couldn’t get a fix on them. My decision did not feel well reasoned. It felt rushed.
You know what might have helped? If I’d had access to the Enterprise briefing room to sort through my thoughts. In the briefing room, each member on Picard’s team has a chance to offer their perspective before a final decision about action is made.
When you are able to reflect on each perspective, then at least you can understand why you made it — even if you end up regretting your ultimate choice. You understand that the decision you made was the best one you could have made with the information you had at the time.
I wonder what the Enterprise crew would have said if I’d had them in my briefing room when I needed to decide about the house with only minutes on the clock? After they got over the bafflement of needing to pay for personal lodgings, of course.
Perhaps Worf would speak up first. Always defensive of his crewmates, if a bit trigger happy, Worf might have suggested I demand a fair price on the house, even if this offended the sellers. Worf would say: “You should fight these dishonorable sellers for an outcome that is just.” He would pick up my phone, thrust it in my face, and say, “Call!”.
But then, Deanna Troi might ask, her head at a tilt, if I would be happy there, the financial risk aside. She might also add that humans only started to consider home ownership important in the 20th century. “Is owning a home the only option you can feel good about?”
Data might offer his two cents by analyzing several years of market data. He might then point out that since the market generally goes up, the house was probably a safe bet in the long term. “If you are going to be staying in the home for more than several years, why are you hesitant to make the purchase?” he’d say. Never mind that the market is a bit rocky in the moment.
Geordi La Forge would think outside the box, pondering the problem for several moments before speaking up. “What if you invested in some land instead, got a trailer for it, and used salvaged materials to build yourself a semi-submerged earth ship?” No doubt if he were in the market for a new home, this is what he would do!
And I would have to remain an active listener this whole time, just like Picard would have done in my shoes. I’d be open to all of these ideas, shutting none down until they had all been heard. Then like Picard, I would square my shoulders and passionately make my point to my fiancé and to the realtor.
Inside the Briefing Room of Your Mind
What if you could use the Enterprise crew to organize your thoughts about anything?
Say you were facing a question about whether to make a big career change. Let’s leave the briefing room and wander the ship a bit. You might find yourself in Ten Forward, seeking out wisdom from the barkeep Guinan. She’d offer you a little synthohol. Maybe another tasty something. And she'd slip in, with a wink, that whatever career you pick, it would be up to you to make it great. “Look,” she’d say, “if I can keep the ship running smoothly from behind this bar, you can make web programming into an artform.”
The cool thing is, if you can conjure the briefing room at will, you can start to move past decision paralysis. You can start to find new kinds of solutions to problems.
There is science behind the idea that sometimes, others can make better decisions for you than you can for yourself. One study on “decision fatigue” in Social Psychology and Personality Science showed that it’s simply more enjoyable to make decisions for others. One's own problems are exhausting. Perhaps more importantly, a related study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin calls attention to how we tend to make more creative decisions for others than we do for ourselves. This creativity might lead to a better solution.
Now, obviously, because the briefing room is in your mind, you are not actually getting advice from other people. But I’ve found that this method can take me almost entirely outside of my usual choice patterns — the ones that too often leave me exhausted and dissatisfied.
So, for instance, right now I still need to process my feelings about the house. We just signed a lease to stay another year in our rental. How do I move forward with the house thing? Will I be renting forever? Home prices are even higher than they were last summer.
Instead of mulling over my regrets, what if I sat quietly for a moment, and listened to Will Riker? He might tell me to sit back and enjoy renting for another year. Renting means fewer repairs. Fewer repairs means less stress, and it also means: more leisure time. He might give a metaphor: “When on Risa,” that gorgeous planet of pleasure, “you should make the best of it.” The rental has a big, private backyard; maybe I should add a hot tub rental for next winter!
So next time you are in a bind, with minutes to make a life-altering decision, who will you ask for advice?
Sophie Strosberg (she/her) is a freelance writer who turns weird, ah-ha moments into essays. She also works on SEO content and is writing a memoir. Learn more about her many interests at www.sophiestrosberg.com or drop a note to @sophstros on Twitter.