Oh, how I hate having to make choices. It can be so hard. Sometimes, I don’t where to start. Or sometimes, all options seem equally good (or equally bad). Or I think that everything has to happen now. So I can’t possibly not do all the options. And, what if afterwards, it turns out that it was the wrong choice. All in all, if I don’t do it right, making decisions completely drains my energy.
Though, the funny thing is, I love having made a decision. But only afterwards! After I’ve made a decision I feel free. Lighter. Clearer. (Side note. This is similar to waking up early. Or exercising when you’re tired. The universe plays sick games sometimes.)
When in the process of making a decision, I use up a lot of mental capacity trying to predict what will happen. I build up this complicated mental picture of all the possible outcomes of the options. After I make the decision, I free up all that capacity.
To decide comes from the latin verb decidere, which literally means “to cut off”. It gives this beautiful metaphor of pruning a tree. Cutting off one branch (of thought) allows the tree to focus all its energy on the remaining branches. So making choices gives focused energy. Choosing is good for the remaining to do’s.
Additionally, you only have so much of this energy to spend. The capacity to make choices is like a muscle. It gets tired. And when it’s tired, you make bad decisions. So better save that energy for the important decisions.
There are two ways to do so. Either, you can make fewer decisions. For example, by always wearing a black turtleneck sweater and jeans or always having the same morning routine. Or by getting a boss or by planning ahead and sticking to that plan. This way you only have to decide once and the rest of the time you’re on auto-pilot.
The other option to reduce the usage of your decision-making-muscle is by making decisions faster. And that is what this article is about. Here, I give 11 ways to reframe a choice you have to make. Reframing it so you can look at the decision differently in a way the best option lights up.
I’ve bundled them into 3 categories:
- Doing vs doing perfectly - When the desire for perfection blocks you from doing.
- Doing vs not doing - When it’s scary to start.
- Doing A vs doing B - When all options seeming equally (in-)adequate.
Here they are! 11 ways to reframe the way you look at the choice at hand.
Doing vs perfection
1. The good enough thing you do is better than the perfect thing you don’t do.
Or, a life-changing idea that is not acted upon doesn’t change any lives. You start creating value that others can benefit from only from the moment you start acting. So, even when you haven’t thought of the perfect-all-world-conquering plan yet, start! Even when you might later think of a better way to do it, start! Because only then does it benefit someone.
And, remember, you can always improve on it later. “Good enough” actually means “perfect not yet”.
2. Everything is an experiment
Perfection is overrated. It’s ok to fail. Things don’t have to go right. Especially not the first time. Treat the plan as an experiment. That way, any outcome of it will be good because you’re making progress and learning. Sure waiting might result in a smarter plan. But starting now will make you find that plan faster.
You could even lean into doing an experiment more. Lean Startup talks about a Minimal Viable Product. What is the smallest way you can test a working prototype? This will allow you to learn about what works and what doesn’t so much faster!
Plus, when everything always goes according to plan, maybe you’re not really trying anything new or daunting. Seth Godin has this beautiful mantra of “This might not work”. With every project he starts, he checks if there is a possibility it might not work. Only if there is, is it worthwhile to do is.
But what if it turns out I chose the wrong option? Well great! You chose that option with the best of your knowledge and capabilities. Taking action was simply needed to realize it was the wrong option. Or, what if later new information comes in that contradicts my assumptions? Well great! The information, combined with the experience you have now built up, gives you even better chances. Good progress!
3. There is no perfect solution
Some situations are so complex that you can’t out-think the problem. So, waiting to do more thinking or research might not actually give you more information or a better plan. Only seeing the effect of your actions can give that. That means that the only option to get new information is doing something. The horizon changes with every step you take.
You can view this as extra stressful because you only get to work with imperfect plans. But it is also liberating. If there is no perfect solution, all actions are imperfect anyway. That means that nobody has the perfect plan and you can start now!
4. What’s the worst that can happen?
Really, what is? Say you go ahead and just start. Will anyone die? Will you go to jail? Will you go bankrupt? Probably not. Check what the worst is that can happen when you try. And if it’s not one of those three, is the worst case scenario really that bad? And remember, the worst that can happen usually won’t.
Seneca (one of the old stoics) used to practice being poor so he wouldn’t have to be scared of becoming it. If the scary potential results of the plan are financial, could you do with less?
Doing vs not doing
5. Not choosing is also a choice. You can not not choose.
Anytime you postpone starting because of some reason, you’re choosing not to start. So you might think that you’ve postponed the choice. But, in fact, you’ve just chosen not to start.
Not choosing for it is also a choice. So, if you feel that you can’t choose, know you just did. And is that the choice you want to make?
When struggling with starting, I often ask myself “what is it that I still need to know?”. Often it is nothing and I’m simply scared to start. And sometimes there is some essential information missing. If so, I can postpone starting and choose to take action to get that information.
Or I can choose not to do anything. Doing nothing is ok too. But only when I do so consciously so I can put it to rest. And don’t do nothing just to avoid taking action.
6. Cost of inaction
Don’t solely think of the benefits of taking action. Also, think of the costs of inaction! Not taking action has cost to it. You’re wasting time. And you’re not reaping the cumulative benefits of your actions.
To really feel the costs of it, try the Dickens Process. Picture waking up in 5 years and still not haven taken any action. See the situation not changing, but you change. You have grown older. Then picture waking up 10 years from now. 20 years. And you still haven’t started. Holy crap! Start. Now!
7. Don’t be a donkey
Storytime! There once was a donkey that was hungry and thirsty. He was standing in between a barrel of hay and a barrel of water; exactly in the middle. So he started thinking. “What shall I do? I’m hungry. But I’m also thirsty.” So he waited till he knew how to solve both at the same time. But that moment never came. So he fell dead to the ground.
We’re supposedly smart animals. We know that when this day ends another day will start. We know that when we use this moment to work on project A, we can use the next moment for project B. Life is a series of actions. That means not everything has to happen at the same time. We can always do the other project later. So, don’t be a donkey and just pick one!
Doing A vs doing B
8. Choose the option that adds the most value
Sometimes there are multiple options that all could add value. But which one adds the most value? Sounds simple. But it requires knowing what you want to reach and why you do what you do. Getting clarity on this gives you a compass in making difficult decisions.
9. Choose the one that makes you most uncomfortable
Say you have two options that seem equally good. And one option is safe and the other could be really good but has a lot of uncertainty in it. Then, choose the one that makes you most uncomfortable. Why? Because your head has leveled it out.
Let me explain! Your head is scared of unknown things that are hard to do. So, it’s screaming at you not to do it. Now, be aware that when you’re trying to reason your way to a decision, your head has home court advantage. In your reasoning, the safe option gets a bit of extra weight and sounds better. But, that means that when both options feel equally attractive, the one that is the scariest is actually also the one with the highest benefits! Your gut probably already knew this, but your head just needed some reassurance.
10. Choose the option that makes the other options easier or redundant
When there are multiple options and at the moment you can only do one, choose the one that makes the other plans easier or redundant. Often, there is one option that - when performed - makes the others easier. Or even redundant. Often, this is the option that addresses the most important issue. The one that adds the most real value.
11. When in doubt, maybe the options are roughly the same
And when you really can’t figure out which option is better, does it really matter which one you choose? Maybe both are equally good. And you’re wasting time trying to see which of these two snowflakes is whiter. So just pick one! Heads is A, tails is B. Go!
I hope these ways to reframe a decision or choice are helpful to you! If so, please let me know how. And what other ways of decision-making mechanisms work for you?
And maybe you want to like or share it. Perhaps it will help some other people!