Except for the most spontaneous and risk-taking among us, big life decisions are not usually made lightly. Our brain starts playing ping-pong with the choice, and before we know it the decision is weighing us down in the absence of any real forward motion. For our biggest choices, simple cost/benefit lists don't quite do the trick (though if you are looking for a way to amp up your pro/con lists, check out Paul Williams' great post on Decision-Making Tools).
One of the exercises that I frequently suggest to coaching clients (and that never fails me personally) is a decision-making matrix that helps distinguish between internal concerns (gremlins, doubts) versus external concerns (process-related, "how" questions, next steps).
Enter the 8-Step Decision-Making Template!
This template will help you unpack all the various thoughts, feelings and concerns swirling around your big decision. By writing them down (and separating self-doubt from concrete questions) you empower yourself to be much more creative about how you move forward. Sometimes moving forward just means doing more research to help you feel comfortable making your decision.
And of course, sometimes big decisions just take time. The template will only take you so far -- at some point you just have to trust your gut -- you'll know when the time (or choice) is right for you to move forward.
How to Use the 8-Step Decision-Making Template:
- State the problem or decision you are facing.
- Re-state the decision as a question (this will open your brain up to a more creative thinking state).
- Over the course of the next week (or more), document your questions/concerns around the decision. They may not come all at once. List one concern per line, and distinguish between internal and external concerns. Oftentimes people get bogged down in the "tyranny of the hows" - they feel paralyzed on a big decision because they don't know how to get there yet. This process will help you outline all the various aspects of the decision.
- Rate the intensity of that question, concern or inner critic on a scale of 1-5. How strongly do you feel about the concern? How much will it affect your decision? (Handy template feature: cells change color based on the number you enter!)
- State the underlying values or priorities for each concern. What is the essence of your concern? What does it reveal about what is important to you?
- Brainstorm solutions or replies. For each concern, brainstorm at least three potential solutions or counter-arguments.
- Gut reaction. Based on everything you've listed, how would your gut answer the question you posed in Step 2?
- Next steps. If you are clear on your answer to Step #7, what are the immediate next steps to take? Brainstorm a list of 5. If you are not clear on your answer, what other inputs or information will help you make your decision? Brainstorm a list of 10.
- Bonus: The second tab will help you inventory all of the advice you receive from other people (friends, family, blogs, books, etc.), determine whether or not you agree, and decide whether there are any related next steps to take.
You might also be interested in these related posts: How do you make decisions? (the comments are incredibly helpful!) and the related template: 10 questions to help you stop thinking and start DOING.