I never put much thought into making a decision. Maybe I create a pros and cons list. Or I do some research on the internet. Sometimes I trust my gut and then find evidence to support my gut reaction. So I was excited to read through Yes or No by Spencer Johnson, which is a guide to making better decisions.
Spencer provides a simple framework, comprising two areas, the head and the heart, and three questions each (six questions in total). Having a framework helps because it is a checklist – all the questions you should consider as you ponder the big questions in life.
The six questions are:
- What is the real need?
- What are my options?
- What is the long-term impact?
- Am I telling myself the truth?
- Does this feel right?
- Do I believe my actions show I deserve better?
Let’s take a look at each question in more detail.
The Head (the rational)
The first three questions are part of the Head. They are part of the Head because they are the rational questions you should ask yourself. They are questions designed to gather more information about the decision.
What is the real need?
When you are making a big decision, make sure you are focusing on the real need. For example, if you want to buy a car, what is the real need? Do you want to get from point A to point B? Do you live far away from work? Identifying the real need will help you come up with better options (the next question). If you’re stuck on buying a car, there are different cars you could buy. But if your real need is to get from point A to point B, there’s public transit, purchasing an e-bike, carpooling, car-sharing and more.
What are my options?
In my experience, the more options you have, the better decision you can make. When people think they only have two options, they are most of the time wrong. For example, imagine you have received a job offer in a bad economy. You might think your options are to either accept or reject. But there might be other options: short-term contract position with the same company rather than full-time employment. Or accepting the job so that you can apply to other internal positions.
What is the long-term impact?
When deciding between different options, one perspective that seems to be missed is the long-term view. Sure, buying a used car now can address your immediate travel needs, but do you have to take out savings to buy the car? Have you factored in maintenance, gas, parking, insurance, and other future costs as part of car ownership? Asking yourself “what’s next?” and “and then what?” helps you see the long-term impact of a decision.
The Heart (the gut instinct)
The second three questions are part of the Heart. They are part of the Heart because they rely on your gut instinct. Good decision-making is based on agreement from your head and heart.
Am I telling myself the truth?
Don’t fool yourself with the decision or the options you are presenting yourself. For example, I was talking to an acquaintance at the gym the other day. As I was talking to him, an older girl came up to him to tell him she was going to shower and change and then walked away. I looked at her and then when I came back to the acquaintance, he told me “she treats me well”. From what he said, and from his reaction, I could sense he wasn’t completely into her.
Remember, if you lie to yourself, it only hurts you later as you won’t have the full and best information for a decision.
Does this feel right?
As you are deciding, your gut will tell you whether it feels right. If not, here’s one way to tap into your gut instinct: suppose you have two options and you can’t decide because they are equally good (or bad). Flip a coin in the air, and as the coin is in the air, notice whether you want the coin to land heads or tails. OR once the coin lands, notice when you see the outcome, whether you are excited or disappointed.
Your gut instinct is an immediate visceral reaction. When your gut instinct tells you something trust it. It’s also why it’s only one of six questions you ask yourself because your gut is not the whole story.
Do I believe my actions show I deserve better?
The last heart question is about asking yourself if you deserve better. For example, when I was looking for work during the recession, I received one job offer which took me a long time to decide. Looking back at it, I had a scarcity mindset brought about by the recession so I took the first job offer that came. But evaluating it with hindsight, I believe my actions didn’t show I deserved better. I could have held out for a better job.
Is this the best or only decision framework? Not at all. But it is easy and covers the major questions you should consider as you are making the big decisions in life. And rather than haphazardly deciding or developing a pros and cons list or even without a general strategy for how to make decisions, this framework can help you make better decisions in life — and those great decisions will pay dividends.