Fresh perspective for financial success

Being More Decisive: Attain Distance Before Deciding

In the last two articles in this series, we have seen how we:

  1. Can widen our options to make sure that we are really considering all available,and not just choosing between two, and
  2. Might evaluate those options through experience and questions to overcome the confirmation bias.

As an example, we have used these techniques in attempting to help my colleague make an informed decision as to whether she should consider becoming an employed physician, or not. The next step is to make a decision. However, if you fail to identify short term emotions that might be impacting your decision, or if you have conflicting priorities, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

My colleague was agonizing over her decision. She was thinking about it for months before she brought it up at dinner one evening. Chip and Dan Heath point out in “Decisive” that such agony is a sign of conflicted priorities. Likewise, over time as my colleague sat down to make a decision, all sorts of emotions got stirred up, from giving up her independence, to becoming an employee and worrying over what would happen to her office staff.

Take a minute and think about decisions over which you have agonized. It is likely, as it was for my colleague, that the agony was not due to constantly being faced with new information. Rather, it was being faced with a very emotional decision. If you are agonizing over a decision, be on high alert for both an emotional component and conflicted priorities. Making decisions based on short-term emotions and conflicted priorities places you at risk for making a bad decision in the long term.

One way to overcome this challenge is to utilize the 10/10/10 tool developed by Suzy Welch. To apply the tool you ask yourself how you will feel about the decision in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. You can also assume the best and worst possible scenarios to add a slight twist. The exercise allows you to place the distance of time between your decisions and level out the emotional playing field. In 10 minutes my colleague might feel good that she was leaving her problems behind. In 10 months, how will she feel if:

  • she stayed in her current practice
  • her problems are the same in a new job
  • or, the problems are infinitely better?

In 10 years, will she be asking “what if” or basking in the glory of a great decision? I make no value judgment on a long-term versus short-term perspective. The exercise simply prevents influence only from short term emotions. It can bring out my colleague’s core priorities by really asking what she would regret more: quitting now and potentially failing, or not quitting and wondering what might have been?

Distance Yields Clarity

In “Decisive” the Heaths recount an experiment where students were asked to pick a job for themselves or for their best friend. Job A was what your parents might want for you, including prestige, money, success in a career you are prepared for, but less likely to find fulfilling. Job B was non-traditional and would lead to less prestige and money, but more likely be something you love and provides fulfillment. When the students were asked to pick jobs for themselves, 66 percent chose Job B for themselves, while 83 percent chose Job B when asked to advise a friend. Distance yields clarity.

Decisions for ourselves are clouded by the stuff of life–relationships with parents and spouses, money, what others might think, and other things that impact our short-term emotions. Advice for others, on the other hand, naturally focuses on the single most important factor that might be best for a friend. Additionally, when we provide advice to others we tend to eliminate short-term emotion. Think of an adolescent counseling a friend who is scared about running for a student government office that requires a speech in front of the school. The friend is afraid he will be laughed off stage and lose in a landslide. While the adolescent might say that he wouldn’t run himself, he may well advise his friend to go for it.

The solution here is really simple. Go and ask a friend, mentor or colleague (I suggest that my mentees actually ask all three) what they would do. If my colleague does this, she will get narrowly-focused advice that the friend, mentor and colleague thinks is best for her. The advantage of asking people from multiple perspectives is that they know a different part of your life, making “what’s best for you” slightly different. If you cannot do this, simply go through your decision and ask yourself what would you tell your best friend to do.

Now that you have made a decision, the next, and last article in this series, will help you prepare to be wrong.

You’ve Got to Make a Decision, But Do You Trust Your Gut?

The 4 Villains of Decision Making

WRAPing Your Way to Better Decisions

Widening Your Options

Reality Test Your Assumptions

Dr. Pat Bass

Dr. Pat Bass is a physician, writer, educator and scientist that cares for both adults and children. Currently an Associate Professor of Medicine & Pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Science Center in Shreveport, he participates in an active clinical practice, medical education activities and health literacy research. View full bio on authors page