Have you ever struggled to confidently make decisions? This happens to each of us, for example, when we need to buy/rent an apartment or accept a job offer. I even remember my friend Daniela being undecided about renting one of three apartment options in New York.
Here, I will present you with a methodology that can help alleviate the burden of indecisiveness no matter what situation is at hand.
Even tactical short-term decisions can have a huge impact on our future. Think for example about moving from one city or country to another, changing a job and/or a company, choosing a master’s degree and/or a university, and so on.
For these types of decisions, I recommend considering answering this question: where do I see myself in the next 5-10 years? Imagining yourself from a longer-term perspective is a way to check if today’s choices are consistent with who you want to become. We will come back to this question later. Let’s start with the first step: the methodology.
To illustrate our model, we will take the case of my friend Daniela as an example. She needed to move to a new apartment and had three options: two in the same neighborhood as she currently was living in and another one on the other side of town. She was very undecided since on one hand, she wanted to stay in her current location even though the other apartment had a better layout.
Here is our methodology in five steps.
First, I asked her to list her criteria by answering the following questions: “what is important to you in an apartment? What are the most important features you are looking for?”
- Size and layout
- Kitchen size
- 2 bathrooms
Secondly, I asked her: “what’s the ranking of these criteria, from the most important to the least important?” She said:
- Size and layout
- Kitchen size
- 2 bathrooms
In this illustration, you can see her ranking.
Third, I asked her: “how many points would you give to each apartment option from zero to three: zero is if the apartment doesn’t meet the criterion at all, and three is if the apartment meets this criterion 100%. You can see how she scored each of them.
Forth, I highlighted the two most important criteria to give them more weight, Location and Size/layout, and added the sum of these two scores to the total sum, like this:
Upon this exercise, apartment Y was the one that best meets the criteria.
Having said that, there is a fundamental fifth step: the guts!
Our body is a fantastic decision-maker, in particular, our gut which is also called our “second brain.” Doctor Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center says that “The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system,”, which means that our gut in a certain way “thinks” and gives our brain precious information. Doctor Gershon adds that “90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around.”
This means that when you make the right decision, you can literally “feel it.” It’s like your body is open and relaxed, and you physically feel better. On the contrary, if the decision doesn’t “feel right,” your guts send a message. It’s when you have the sensation of feeling sick to your stomach.
Therefore, the question I asked Daniela was: “How do you feel it in your gut?”
She was quite surprised, and at the same time she admitted that she was feeling liberated from the burden of this decision. Yes! “This was it!”
Of course, when you make a decision, you also need to let go of the advantages of the other options. So, for one moment, Daniela said “yes, but in apartments X and W I liked the location better…”
In this case, the best next step is to sleep on it and check if the next day this same decision, apartment Y, still “feels good.”
Let’s do the same thing for someone who is deciding between new jobs. If you use this same methodology for a new job, your final-decision making table could look like this:
How to combine the long-term and the short-term?
As I was mentioning before, for important decisions, you need to check to see if your decisions are consistent with your long-term goals.
For Daniela, it was clear that she wanted to rent and not buy to have more flexibility. She was not sure she wanted to spend more than an additional five years in that city. She also chose to move to another neighborhood in the same city because she knew that if she didn’t like it in two years she could find a better option in her previous neighborhood. All of this was consistent with her short and longer-term plans.
A recent client of mine decided to accept an offer (corresponding to company Y in the above figure) because he wanted to make something purposeful for himself which could last in the long term. This was consistent with how he was seeing his purpose in life.
Here are some questions that can help you to reflect on the short-long term consistency:
- What does this decision allow me to achieve?
- Is this decision making sense for me, for who I am?
- What are my options for the next five years professionally and/or personally?
- Is that decision consistent with my options?
- Does it hinder my options?
I hope this article helps you to make decisions that are good for you and your well-being. Let me know!
Here you’ll find some other newsletters related to choices and decision-making
 Adam Hadhazy, Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being, Scientific American, February 12, 2010, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/