We’re pretty spoiled these days with the amount of options available to us, we’re called to make decisions every day. Sometimes though, there are so many options we can choose from, we end up choosing none of them. It’s called the paradox of choice.
Sometimes we need a kick in the pants just to make a decision. Think back on your last few major decisions. How much easier or harder was it when that decision was made for you, and you had to go along with it? Suddenly, when that happens, you know with certainty whether you wanted to make that decision or not.
As humans we don’t like being forced to do something we don’t want to do.
My wife will often present me with two options that she can’t decide between. The blue dress or the black dress for example. I’ve learnt now to just pick one for her, without considering the options. I know that deep down inside her she actually knows which one she wants to wear. If I say the right one, she’s happy to go along with it. If I say the other one, she’ll think for a few seconds and decide on the one she really wanted anyway. I’ve figured out that I’m not really there to make a decision for her, I’m there to help he make her own mind up.
We can use this to help with our own decision making too. I use it regularly.
The next time you’re presented with some options and you really can’t decide, try this:
Pick an option and commit to it
Pick the first option and pretend that you’re committed to it. I.e. Actually visualize yourself following through on that decision. If it’s a job opportunity, try and predict what it will be like the first time you walk into that office, what about the fifth, what about a year into it? What do you think you’ll still enjoy about that role? What do you think you won’t enjoy? Are there any alarm bells ringing already? What does your gut instinct say about those choices right now?
Then do the same for the rest of the options available. More often than not, that’ll be enough to make a decision.
Before deciding to make a radical change
It can also be used for making big changes. Not just evaluating a range of similar options, but deciding to do something radical.
For example, I recently made the decision to sell one of my businesses (or at least thought I did). At the time I didn’t know whether it was the right thing to do or not, nevertheless, I forged ahead.
As I was listing it for sale I started listing the benefits for a potential buyer. Once I listed those I started thinking about all the benefits the business provided, and how I’d really set it up to fit my lifestyle, and how a few tweaks to it would make it an even better fit for me.
I then started visualizing me without the business, what I was going to replace it with, and all the work and risks involved with that. I suddenly realized that I was letting a few minor frustrations force me into wanting to sell the business, when all I needed to do was make a few changes.
We made those changes and actually approached the business with a renewed vigor and appreciation for it. I came so close to losing a good thing, and just by visualizing that loss, and starting to miss all the good things about it, my decision was completely reversed!
So the next time you’re thinking of letting something go, visualize you without it. How do you feel? What parts do you miss? Could a few changes have the effect you want without getting rid of it all?
On the flip side, do you feel so much better without it? Does not having that thing free you up for something a lot better? Are the reasons you’re holding on to it far outweighed by the reasons for letting go?
As an exercise, why not pretend that you absolutely have to move to a different continent in a week. Visualize yourself quitting everything, packing up and moving. What things would you be happy to leave behind or quit? What things would you really miss and wish you could take with you? It may just give you a renewed appreciation for some things, and be the motivation you need to make some changes or quit some things.
Find out what you value and don’t value
Lastly, this method can be used to find out what you really value or don’t value. How many times have you been asked what you value about a job, or what would you really like to do? Especially when starting out.
I really struggled with this question, because often what we think we value is not what we really value. What we say is belied by what our actions show.
If you’re in this position, trying to figure out what field you’d like to go into, and with which working conditions, try this:
Make a list of completely unrelated jobs e.g. fireman, doctor, sales rep, accountant, pilot, builder, insurance broker etc. Next to these, make a list of everything you would like about that job. Then make a list of everything you’d dislike.
Suddenly you’ve got a whole list of things you like and dislike. If you can’t pick much that you like, look at what you dislike and then reverse it. E.g. if you would dislike dealing with people as a sales rep, then what you’d like is to work autonomously with not too much interaction with people.
This can very quickly narrow down your options if you evaluate them against these likes and dislikes.
So the next time you’re presented with a smorgasbord of options, or you know you need to change something but can’t figure out what, try some of these techniques. War-game the scenarios. Pretend you’ve already done it and see how that feels. Once you’re committed (in practice or theory) your instinct will tell you pretty quickly whether it’s the right decision or not.