Indecisive pansies! Serial over thinkers in the back! CAN I GET A WHOOP!
I feel your pain. Dear goodness do I feel your pain.
We’re all faced with a series of decisions every day. Some are easy, like which teeth to brush first or if you want jam or butter on your toast. Some decisions, though, will fundamentally alter the way you live your life.
If you’re like me, those big choices can leave you in decision paralysis/hell for weeks or even months. Heck, even some of the minor decisions can be gut-wrenching in their own way.
To deal with those decision woes, I’d like to offer a few techniques that I’ve relied on over the years. These decision-making exercises are excellent for everything from “Should I buy that skirt?” to “Should I marry him?” to “Should I become a doctor or an artist?”
Technique 1: Hell yeah, or it’s a no
In 2009, entrepreneur and writer Derek Sivers wrote: “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say “no”.” This is an easy decision principle if you tend to overcommit to new projects. It’s also great for avoiding relationships with the wrong people, as Mark Manson elaborates in his version, Fuck Yes or No.
It’s cut and dry, and I love it.
On the flip side, this is NOT good advice if your problem isn’t that you have too many options, but instead you don’t do enough. If you’re naturally a timid person who can’t imagine saying “hell yeah” to anything but bread sticks, consider “hell, why not?” This concept was proposed as a counter argument by Sid Savara, and it’s a nice kick in the pants for those of us who like our hobbit holes and never want to try new things.
Did I just give you totally contradicting directions? Hell yeah I did. The point is that you need to first understand what kind of person you are (overcommitted or under committed), and follow the advice that fits.
Technique 2: Am I the kind of person who does _____ or _____?
Okay, this one’s really good for when you’re torn between two equally good choices.
In her TED Talk How to Make Hard Choices, Ruth Chang tells us to stop focusing on which alternative is better. We have this tendency to make endless pro/con lists, wondering which one will be better for us. But what if they’re equally good? Instead, look internally. Am I the kind of person who picks option one, or option two? Which person do I want to become?
We get used to the idea that there’s always a clear “best choice.” But letting random external circumstances guide your life is a recipe for finding yourself 20 years down the line in a life you hate wondering, how did I get here? You have the power to choose your own life’s path. So choose it.
Technique 3: Make a values sheet
Now, not all pro/con lists are bad. The question is how effective they actually are. A values sheet takes the traditional pro/con list and adds some actual numbers you can crunch, letting you score each option a little bit more objectively.
This technique is good to use when you’re juggling several similar options, but you aren’t sure which one to go with. In fact, this is what I used to choose the next step in my career.
1. Write out all of your possible options
Create as many variations as you need. My list looked something like this:
- Start my own business
- Pursue a management position in my current job
- Pursue a management position somewhere else
- Get a low-stress retail position locally
2. Make a list of all of the desires that would make a difference in your final choice
If I could have crafted the perfect job, here’s what I’d want:
- Have evenings free
- Work with peers
- Become respected in my specialty
- Less than 40 hours in the office
- Ability to explore art and writing
- Mentor others
- Low stress
- Make a decent income
3. Put all of this information into a spreadsheet, with the options vertical on the left, the desires along the top
Leave an extra row underneath the desires (you’ll see why soon). It should look something like this:
Psst… I also have this Excel sheet pre-made and ready to download at the bottom of this post!
4. Start with the first option, and work horizontally, scoring each option according to how well it meets the desire on a 0-10 scale
If it totally fulfills the desire, it’s a “10.” If it fails miserably, it’s a “0.”
5. In the row underneath the desires, give each desire a value from 0-10 of how important it is to you
Obviously, if it’s actually a “0,” it’s not a desire you actually have. So consider “1” as something that’s nice to have, and “10” as something non-negotiable.
6. Multiply the values where they intersect, and add up the totals at the end of the row
Sound a little confusing? Don’t worry, I’ve built the free Excel sheet to do this automatically for you!
This technique works because a pro/con list only talks about desires. One option might fulfill a desire 100%, but that desire might only be somewhat important to you. Similarly another option might only mostly fulfill a desire, but the desire’s high value means that the end result gets boosted.
Even better, this system opens your mind to alternatives. I found, for example, that “Start my own business” scored high in most areas, but was lacking in areas like “Work with peers.” This got me thinking about other ways I could fulfill that desire, such as through getting involved as a volunteer at a local organization or arranging meet ups with other freelancers.
None of these are perfect systems
Making decisions is never a perfect process, and you have to accept that you’ll travel down paths once in a while that don’t lead to good places. But you’ll always learn from them. In the end, don’t let a tough decision hold you back moving forward any longer than it has to.
Want my spreadsheet?
Download it for FREE below
Get the spreadsheet!
Make that big decision faster. Download your pre-made Better Decisions Spreadsheet, complete with step-by-step instructions to help kick your decision-making butt into gear.