Decision Making Process Part 5c – Identify and Analyze Your Alternatives

Many of us tend to think in a binary manner when it comes to decision alternatives. We think it is an “either / or” situation or “this or that”. This limits us to two options when in fact there may be more. Here are some methods you can use to expand your options:

  • Replace the “or” with “and”. For example, you may have started with “I either stay in my existing job OR change careers”. This can be replaced by “I stay with my existing job AND change careers”. This enables you to consider looking for different or additional responsibilities within your existing job or company. Try it with a decision you are now facing and see if it helps expand your thinking.
  • Remove both options. Then what? If your decision is “I either stay in an unhappy marriage or get divorced” and both options are off the table, you need to think about options to improve the relationship. Brainstorm ideas such as counseling, communication, empathy, etc.

Another consideration when making decisions is “opportunity cost”. Whenever you spend time and or money with or on something, that is time and money you are taking away from something else. For example, if you are considering upgrading your mobile phone for $700, think about what else you might do with that money that could be more satisfying. A trip? New clothes? Whatever it is, it will help expand your options and prioritize your alternatives.

If you can find someone who has solved your problem, seek them out. For example, if you are thinking of starting a consulting business, seek out others who have done this and learn from their experiences. This will help you avoid some bad decisions.

You can also look to others who had success with the alternative you are considering. You can seek online reviews for many types of decisions including purchases, places to work or live, contractors, stores, vacation spots, hotels and many more. These are valuable sources of information and should be part of your decision making methodology.

Decision Making Process Part 5b – Begin with the end in mind

Before starting on any journey, you need to know the destination. Stephen Covey wrote in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that we should always “begin with the end in mind”. Our brains are wired such that if we envision a desired destination or an outcome, it immediately starts trying to figure out how to get there.

Start by listing the desired outcomes of your decision. I list here some guidelines to help you get started: Desired outcomes should satisfy one or more of the following:

  • Make or save money
  • Advance your career
  • Increase your job or general life satisfaction
  • Improve job or family relationships
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase satisfaction

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. They are simply a starting point. When you list your desired outcomes, avoid being so specific that you limit your options or solutions. Here is an example:

  • “I want to move to Florida” is not a good desired outcome. It is too specific and excludes other options that may be more satisfying.
  • “I want to live where the weather is warm and the housing is affordable”. These are good desired outcomes. There are many places, not just Florida, that satisfy these conditions.

You also will want to think in advance how you will measure success. In the above example, what does “the weather is warm” mean to you? It may mean something different to someone born and raised in Minnesota as opposed to a life long Texan. You might measure success by stating “I can go swimming and cycling at least 9 months out of the year”. Knowing how success will be measured helps in the decision making process.

In your “portfolio of decisions”, you will want to avoid taking on too much risk, and conversely, being too conservative. You do this by toggling between preventing negative outcomes and promoting positive outcomes. An example of preventing a negative outcome is buying insurance. An example of promoting a positive outcome is a career change. I’ll post more about this in the upcoming post on the topic of risk management.

 

Decison Making Process Part 5a – The Process Overview

In this series of posts so far, I have presented the following:

  • Why we struggle with some decisions
  • The consequences of poor decisions
  • The outcomes of a good decision-making process

In the upcoming posts, I will present a decision-making process I follow for all important decisions. Here is a summary of the eight-step process. Each one will be expanded on in future posts:

  1. Begin with the end in mind – know your outcomes
  2. Analyze your alternatives – there may be more than you think
  3. Identify and mitigate risks
  4. Distance yourself from short-term emotion
  5. Have contingency plans
  6. Make the decision
  7. Evaluate the outcomes
  8. Tune the process

Following a good process does not guarantee a successful outcome. But it does put the percentages in your favor and when you look at your decisions as a whole, instead of each in isolation, you will see a pattern of success.

Think or yourself as “The CEO of your life”. Make decisions as if you were in charge of “You, Inc.” In fact, you are the one in charge. Don’t be a victim. Use a sound decision making process.

Decision Making Process Part 4 – Outcomes of a Good Decision Making Process

So far in this series, I have shown why we struggle with some decisions and the consequences of a poor decision-making process. In this post, I will present the positive outcomes of a good decision-making process.

If you employ a sound decision-making methodology, you can expect to…

  • Eliminate decision paralysis: Having a strong vision of desired outcomes, identifying and analyzing alternatives and their risks will give you confidence to proceed with the selected decision, knowing you are going in “eyes wide open”.
  • Reduce stress: Much of the stress of decision-making comes from the nagging doubt that you have considered everything of importance. A good process allows you to eliminate those doubts, and with it the accompanying stress.
  • Keep you moving forward: When you are stuck on a decision, your attention and focus stay on that decision which means time is being “stolen” from other important activities. A good process has well-defined steps that sustain your forward momentum.
  • Eliminate Regret: Have you ever been victimized with the thoughts “I should have”, “we should have”, “I shouldn’t have”, etc ? These regrets are another “time-stealer” that hurt everything else you are trying to do. Using a decision-making methodology means that even when the outcomes are not in your favor, you know you made the right call given the information available at the time. You also have anticipated and know how to deal with the unfavorable outcomes.