An Effective Way to Make Big Decisions

Decision Making

Big decisions can be made quickly and easily if you simply compare the best-case scenarios — and commit to doing the work to achieve the best outcome.

This is a brilliant idea of Brooke Castillo’s that cuts through fear, doubt, and uncertainty and propels you into action. I’m sure you need convincing, so please hear me out as I explain the process and answer the obvious objections.

The process

The process is simple. Suppose you are deciding between putting your energy into getting a salaried position or starting your own business. Here’s what you do:

1) Describe the best-case scenario for each option. 

This will be different for different people.

One person might think the best-case scenario for a salaried position is that she gets on the fast track to management, becomes a highly paid executive in just a few years, and can see herself creating real-world results faster and easier than if she started from scratch. The best-case scenario for starting her own business might be she gets into an incubator, gets early funding, attracts her team quickly, has enough early results so she never has funding problems, and creates something innovative that could never be done by an established company.

Another person might have a completely different vision, involving different values. He might think the best-case scenario for a salaried position is that he finds a local position that ensures he gets super interesting work dropped on his plate, a reliable salary, and can meet all of his financial goals for retirement on schedule so he can travel. In contrast, the best-case scenario for starting his own business is that he consistently finds interesting, high-paying consulting work through networking with friends, so he doesn’t need to do much marketing per se. Although the money isn’t as consistent, it’s still enough to meet his financial goals and it means he has more flexibility about possibly working part time after he retires if he wants to continue to make money.

2) Identify the one that would be most amazing.

Which option would be the most amazing for which person? I don’t know. I’m not them! But they would know. It’s pretty easy to see which you’d find most amazing when you look at the upside.

If “she” is more focused on making her unique vision come true, she’ll choose starting a business. But if she is more focused on creating real-world results than building a team and getting funding, she’ll pick the salaried position.

If “he” is more focused on financial stability or staying local, he’ll choose the salaried position. If he is more focused on interesting work, he might very well want to start the consulting business.

3) Then commit to make that best-case scenario happen.

This is the crucial and controversial step: You now commit to doing whatever it takes to make your amazing vision become reality.

This takes a lot more than decreeing you’re going to do it. A commitment is serious business. It means you’re committed to overcoming whatever obstacles there may be, even ones you haven’t yet envisioned. (I discuss this in other articles.) And following through on that intention takes specific skills. If you don’t already have the skills to undertake a big goal and work through the obstacles, then part of your commitment is committing to learn them.

But what else are you going to do with your time and your life? Isn’t the most amazing result — the one that is most meaningful and spurs your imagination — worth creating? This is how you make your life worth living.

Don’t you need to think more about the risks?

This decision process sidesteps a focus on risks and ensures you make a decision based on what would be the biggest positive, not the least negative.

You always have a choice regarding which standard you use to make a decision. Consistently choosing to go after the biggest value sets up a virtuous cycle of productive effort that grows your skills, fosters your happiness, and adds meaning to your life.

In contrast, consistently choosing to minimize the downside shrinks your horizons, kills your creativity, and ensures that fear is your dominant emotion. It’s no way to live.

Maintaining a consistent value-orientation is the main work of happiness. If you want to live a rationally selfish life, it is a principle to follow.

Incidentally, I see Brooke’s process as closely related to an in-depth decision process I have taught for years. That process is what first opened my eyes to the importance of a consistent orientation to values, or “Motivation by Love.” The process is called “Decision Cards” and it is described in this article, explained in the Thinker’s Toolkit, and featured in Do What Matters Most.

Based on this in-depth, longer method, I will add one caveat. If one of your options involves some intolerable risk — like you would need to do business with a gang of hoodlums and literally put your life in the hands of criminals — then you should feel free to reject that option. That is true as long as you don’t conclude that you have no choice. You always have a choice. You may not like your choices, but don’t get tunnel vision to think you don’t have more than one.

Looking at the best-case scenarios makes it easy to reach certainty

So often people drag out big decisions. They live in confusion and conflict, half-heartedly pursuing both. They keep doing research because they want to make the “right” decision — the one that will have the best result. They try to make a big decision from the ground up.

But that is not practical. The truth is, you can neither predict nor control the future. If you try to predict how each option will play out in detail so that you can then figure out which is best, you will be mired in conflict and confusion. You will never reach certainty — because you will never be certain about any of those predictions.

More details do not even help much to choose a direction. In fact, usually they push you to the wrong decision because it’s a lot easier to imagine problems than it is to figure out solutions.

In contrast, when you zero in on the most amazing outcomes for each option, it is simple and easy to see which you’d prefer. You can be certain about which direction is most meaningful to you. And you can be certain in about 2 seconds.

Then it is up to you to make the commitment to do what it takes to make your vision a reality.

Even if you don’t get those amazing results you envision, you will not regret your decision

Making that commitment and following through on it is what ensures you will never regret this decision.

First of all, a vision of an amazing result is the proper motive power for all personal growth. You will grow amazingly as you identify and overcome the obstacles in the way of your big goal.

Second, even if your particular vision turns out to be impractical and you need to course correct on the way, maintaining a value orientation means that you are tuned in to your creativity and will see the alternate paths to amazing outcomes that are practical.

And finally, of course, nobody feels regret on their deathbed for having pursued an amazing goal. The regrets are all for not having pursued it.

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