The 3 ways we decide anything!
I’ve made some pretty big decisions in my life - Leaving the BBC to start my own business aged 30. Leaving London to live in the countryside. Selling the house and setting off for a year in a campervan…
And I’m sure you have too.
And there are plenty of times when I had an idea and didn’t pursue it. For one reason or another I didn’t launch my “E-Male” business (get daily emails and gifts from a virtual boyfriend for a reasonable monthly subscription), I didn’t get hair extensions (I was thinking of re-inventing my look before starting university), and I didn’t buy a holiday home as a bolt hole (because I decided to take the whole family on a year-long tour of Europe instead!).
We all have a few brilliant ideas stashed under the metaphorical floorboards. But the process by which you decide which to follow and which to dump normally falls into one of three categories. Being aware of your process can help you embrace your natural decision-making style and not become influenced by other people who tell you to decide their way.
1. Research then decide
This is the way you’re supposed to make a decision!
You have the idea, or more than one, and go through a methodical process of researching the pros and cons, maybe even referencing a set of criteria that you developed up front with which to grade ideas.
For instance, you’re considering changing career. You make a list of all the criteria your new career needs to fulfil. You then list all possible options and research them fully. You grade each option according to the criteria you identified (maybe enhancing the criteria as you become better educated in the topic) and the winning idea will be the one with the closest match to those criteria.
If this is you, your decision will be very well thought through and easy to justify to yourself and to others if required. Logically they make perfect sense.
It’s possible that making decisions takes you a while however and you may sometimes get bogged down in the detail.
It’s also possible that while the winning idea makes perfect logical sense it doesn’t make your heart sing, unless “Makes Heart Sing” was one of your criteria.
I use this process when I’m not particularly drawn towards any specific outcome, I just need to pick one. I also use this process when I can outsource the research to someone else, for instance when we had to choose a CMS system for the business and my Office Manager did exceptional research into options and then presented me with a summary of her findings and a recommendation. Brilliant.
Some people are more driven by data than by gut-feel and this is the perfect decision-making process if you’re like this. If you’re more of a gut feel person the process won’t be authentic. You’ve already made up your mind.
2. Decide then research
This is mainly me.
People who decide then research rely heavily on their gut-feel to make decisions but they want to check out their gut-feel before they commit.
While researching they reserve the right to change their mind. For instance, my idea to buy a holiday let was made. I started researching and then felt cooler about the idea. A better idea came to me and I decided on that instead and that decision stuck.
This can be confusing for people around you. You’ve decided and then you un-decide. At what point can they be sure that a decision you’ve made is your final decision and start either celebrating with you or harshly judging you?
However, people who decide then research have, in their own mind, really decided...until they change their mind. They don’t start off with a list of 10 equally valid ideas. They whip through their first few ideas fast until they find one that stands up to scrutiny after the decision has been made.
The benefit of this approach is that it’s fast. Rather than going deep into a number of ideas, you go with one until it stops working for you. You have a trustworthy gut-feel and don’t find yourself on a path that ticks all the boxes but doesn’t feel authentic or connect with your passion.
The downside is that your decisions are a little “loose”. Because you reserve the right to un-decide you leave yourself a get-out when the going gets tough. I’ve dropped a couple of really good “decisions” at this point when a more logical thinker would have gone back to their original checklist and been reassured that, of all the options, this was scientifically the best.
3. Act then research
The third type of decision-maker acts first.
On a whim (or so it seems to the outsider) they buy a ticket to Indonesia and tell you they’ll figure it all out when they get there. Or they buy a campervan and then post on Facebook “Anyone know anything about campervans?”. Or they hand in their notice at work after a row with the boss and then try to figure out on the way home how to tell their partner.
Of course, there’s usually more thought gone into such seemingly rash “decisions”. The action has been brewing for a while. But the individual hasn’t been forced to find out exactly what their decision means until there’s no turning back.
The upside of this approach is that it’s refreshingly bold! Rather than umming and ahhing and doing nothing year after year, such individuals grasp at opportunities when they arise. They may be people who trust themselves to be able to cope with the fallout. They don’t want to waste time doing research or tolerating an intolerable situation that’s not going to change. They bite the bullet. I used this approach when we bought our rabbit, Max. We only popped into the pet shop for some dog food but we came out with a bunny, a cage and a book called “Your First Rabbit - Dos and Don’ts”. It all worked out fine.
Sometimes these people win and sometimes they lose. They may have paid the price occasionally for their lack of preparation. I’ve certainly seen posts on Homeschooling Forums where a parent has announced that they’ve just this morning handed in their deregistration letter at school and are now homeschooling, following up with the question “Does anyone know if we have to follow some kind of curriculum?”. Personally, I would want to have some kind of plan before Day 1, but having said that all of my plans turned out to be completely whimsical, as I realised when I tried to implement them! So perhaps it’s better to just go for it and figure things out as and when required!
4. The Don’t Deciders
I said there were 3 decision-making styles and, of course, most of us will use all three at different times depending on the circumstances.
But there’s a bonus 4th decision-making style that all of us, at some time, default to: Not deciding.
The decision not to decide is a decision. But this is rarely recognised as such. As a result, it’s seen as a decision without consequence, when the truth is entirely opposite. The consequences of not deciding are rarely anticipated or weighed and that’s where this approach is dangerous.
The decision to delay making a decision is often the result of trying to avoid a hard truth or the hard work involved in facing reality, or a tough decision that is going to hurt someone (maybe yourself).
People who are used to deciding not to decide will spend months and maybe years fantasizing about ideas that they will never turn in to plans. They will keep researching, or wait until the time is just right, or change their criteria, or make mini-decisions which don’t deal with the core problem but do reduce the pain of the status quo temporarily.
They may even joke that this is what everyone does - “We’ll still be talking about this in 10 years time, won’t we?” they josh. And people like them will agree that everyone just talks about this stuff. No one actually does it!
Except that some people do!
Because whatever your preference between 1, 2 and 3, at least there’s a decision at the end! Action happens. And when you take action things change. They may not go well, or as expected, or have the results you desire and you may have to make a new decision (however you do these things).
But when you don’t decide you cause ripples that you haven’t intended to create. A chain reaction has occurred but you’re not aware of it. You’re not monitoring it. And then it comes back to bite you.
Knowing your decision-making process helps you manage the limitations of your approach and leverage the benefits. All three approaches have pros and cons. But at least you’ve decided. And that’s a step towards turning your dream into a plan!
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