Have you ever struggled with a really difficult decision?
What strategy to adopt for your business? What job to take? Who to date?
Modern life gives us more options than ever. We like to think that these options are a good thing, but it’s not always. Having too many things to choose from can leave us paralyzed. It gets quite stressful.
If you struggle with big decisions, the book Decisive, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, can help you. The authors offer a clear framework for making better decisions — both when you have too much information, and not enough.
Continue reading for 10 of the best strategies the Heath brothers offer.
1. What would you tell a friend?
We tend to let our emotions cloud our judgments when we face a big decision. To use a familiar cliche, it gets hard to see the forest for the trees.
But when we’re advising a friend, we don’t make decisions with all of that emotional baggage. We stick to the facts.
One of the simplest and most effective ways, then, is to imagine a friend is in your situation instead. What would you tell your friend to do?
You might not expect this technique to work, but — speaking from experience — it’s the single best way I’ve solved dilemmas in my own life.
2. Travel through time
Another technique that gives you some psychological distance is the 10/10/10 rule. Consider each option, and then ask yourself how you’d feel about it:
- 10 minutes from now?
- 10 months from now?
- 10 years from now?
It works with anything, but this technique is especially good when it comes to procrastination, health habits, or any other temptation. It allows you to think of the long-term consequences of your actions, and you choose the more responsible option.
3. Run a “pre-mortem” and “pre-parade”
Imagine it’s a year from now, and you’ve failed miserably as a result of your decision. Then ask yourself: Why?
What was the reason you failed?
Then, do the opposite. Imagine that you’ve experienced resounding success. What did you do in the past year in order to be successful?
4. Trust the experts
If you want to know, statistically, how likely your success will be, then asking an expert is a great strategy. (Alternatively, you can look it up on Google).
But if you want to know how likely it is that you will succeed, experts are no better than a flip of a coin. That means you need to trust the overall statistics. Avoid believing you’ll be the exception to the rule — that’s a dangerous and slippery slope.
This ties in with the next strategy…
5. Encourage pessimism
You can ask either an expert or a friend, but avoid questions like, “Do you think this is a good idea?”
People naturally want to be supportive, and they’ll give you the answer they think you’re looking for.
Instead, ask questions like:
- “What’s the biggest obstacle you see to what I’m trying to do?”
- “If I failed, why do you think it would be?”
Asking good questions — like these — ensures that you get helpful answers. You’re looking for advice, not encouragement.
6. Consider the opportunity cost
When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.
We often spend money without considering our full range of options. A simple question to ask is, “Should I spend this money on _____, or save it and buy something else?”
This may seem like an obvious — perhaps even stupid — question to ask, but it reminds you that not spending the money is a valid option.
You can do the same thing with your time. Or any other decision you’re making. Identify the options you’re saying no to. Make sure your yes is worth that sacrifice.
7. Try the “vanishing options” test
Pretend that your top choice is suddenly not an option. What would you do then?
This exercise forces you to consider your full range of options, rather than fixating on just a few possible choices. It allows you to come up with new, creative solutions to your dilemma.
8. Build on what’s worked before
Rather than trying to solve your problems, look at what already works. What’s the closest thing you’ve experienced to “success” so far?
Try doing more of that and see what happens.
9. Think “both-and,” not “either-or”
Rather than forcing a decision between two options, consider how you can choose both of them.
Don’t know whether to keep your job or start a business? Why not both? Take some time on the weekends to work on your business, and commit more time to it if your idea takes off.
10. Fight the status-quo bias
We prefer to stick with the devil we know. We’re also twice as motivated by loss as we are by potential gain. The result is that we’re hesitant to venture out and try new things.
Try asking yourself what you would do if you if you were suddenly dropped in your situation with no history or emotional baggage. If you wouldn’t move into your current apartment, then why are you still living there? If you wouldn’t take this job, why do you still have it?
It’s common to feel paralyzed by difficult decisions — especially when you’re a business leader.
You might find it helpful to consider your dilemma through each of these 10 lenses. You’ll unlock new ways of thinking, and have much sharper insights than you might have otherwise.
Bookmark this page or download my handy PDF summary. Return to it whenever find yourself stuck. These strategies have proven invaluable to me.
Image by Richard Due / Creative Commons