At A Crossroads In Life? These Decision-Making Models Can Help You Make Better Choices
Do you have to make a huge decision that could potentially change the course of your life? It’s definitely not easy to be facing crossroads, especially when we know that the decision we’re about to make will significantly change our lives, and maybe those around us too.
Whether or not we like it, we will come across these junctions. As such, it’s important to be equipped with the right sets of information in order to make a good decision, while also considering both short- and long-term implications. If you feel like you’re facing an intimidating crossroad, fret not, here are some frameworks to facilitate some thought processes.
1. Pros and cons list (on steroids).
You can never go wrong with a “pros and cons” list, but instead of writing pointers down from your current perspective, it’s important to have a long-term timeline in mind. For example, if you’re making a decision for your career on whether or not to specialize in a niche or to be a generalist, think of the outcomes 10 years down the road and do the necessary research to make an accurate forecast. For example:
- Create the context or scope of your choices
- Be as specific as possible
- Make assumptions where necessary, but make sure to highlight that these are assumptions (which may be biased)
While reflecting, it’ll give you the necessary insight, such as your preferred standard or way of life, to come to a decision:
- Do I want to enjoy my riches progressively or only much later in life?
- Will my skill sets still be relevant in years to come?
- What do I and my loved ones need more – security or excitement?
- Do I have an exit plan for each decision? (e.g. if specializing doesn’t work out, I can always work as a generalist; whereas if I just start as a generalist, it will be much harder to re-route into a specialist path)
We often make decisions with our ”gut feelings” (which aren’t always wrong) without considering what our future selves need or want. With this list, we can have a better idea of the consequences of our choices before making them.
2. Apply the 80/20 rule (from multiple angles).
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, basically talks about how 80% of output is achieved with 20% of the input. This was initially observed in how 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to 20% of the population during the twentieth century. This was also seen in other facets of life: 20% of sales representatives in the company bringing in 80% of total sales, or how you spend 80% of your time on the same 20% of mobile apps you have downloaded.
In making life-changing decisions, try applying this rule from multiple angles, for example, who are the 20% of friends or family or customers that bring the most joy? This can determine who you should spend time with or on. Perhaps you can also think of what hobbies, which small business you own, or which customers bring in the most sales or revenue? This can determine what you invest your resources in.
Another angle to think of this 80/20 rule is to use it as a guide to measuring your personal fulfilment. For example, your current job or relationship might make your life feel 80% complete, however, what makes up the other 20%? It is important to make sure that the next person or venture can bring in additional value (it’s 85% or 90% fulfilling) and not just perceived value. Do not fall prey to the availability bias because you might end up filling the 20%, but losing the initial 80% you had to begin with.
3. The Personal Compass.
The Personal Compass is a visual-planning workbook with templates to guide thought processes about your past, clarify dreams, assess your skills and create action plans. The entire workbook considers a lot more aspects, but let’s just focus on one: When at a crossroads, you might be focused on future outcomes, but it’s also important to remember your past. After all, it is what got you here.
Envision a road: there are multiple routes ahead of you, but one path that led you to that junction. Think of where you come from, what made/makes you who you are, for example:
- What are your values and/or principles have guided your decisions?
- What were your dreams?
- What about the world did you want to change when you were young?
- What were you passionate about?
- How did you find the strength to keep going on?
Now look ahead, envision the path ahead and think:
- Which path is the most aligned with your values?
- Would you choose a path where you’d have to give up certain values or principles?
- Which path brings you one step closer to your dreams or goals?
- Do you want to work on something you are passionate about or do you have other motives (e.g. money)?
The idea is to tap into your roots and to make choices that are true to yourself. Of course, the reality is that the work we do or the company we work for might never be a true reflection of what we want, but it is important that you make a decision with a clear conscience.
4. Asking the 5 or 7 “Why”s.
By digging deep and understanding why you want to do what you want to do, the path ahead becomes clear(er). This was inspired by the inventor, Sakichi Toyoda, when trying to solve crucial problems within Toyota. It’s a simple method, but the process takes effort and a bit of soul-searching. For example:
- Why do you want to switch jobs? Because my career growth is stunted.
- Why is it important to have career growth? Because it’s important to have learning opportunities – both in terms of client projects or training programmes – and to gain expertise.
- Why aren’t there learning opportunities where you are now? Because Covid-19 has impacted the economy and businesses are not willing to spend, the company has no new or recurring clients and the company cannot afford to run training programmes.
- Why do learning opportunities have to come from within the company only (instead of external means e.g. taking online courses)? It’s important to me that my company invests in my growth as an employee.
- Why is it important for the company to invest in your growth? It shows that the company cares for me.
This process might help you realize a few things about yourself and also the context or environment in which you’d have to make this choice. For example:
- It made you realize that it is not necessary to switch jobs
- It made you realize that you could have been more proactive in creating other learning opportunities for yourself
- It gave you the idea to run internal training to support both your own and your colleague’s growth
- It gave you greater awareness of what matters to you
- It helped you realize that other companies are experiencing a similar budget cut, therefore, no other companies are offering robust training programmes anyway
Not only can these models be applied to making work-related questions, but can also be used on a personal level; and also for couples to make decisions together (such as what, where, when to buy a house; when to get married or have kids; where to send your kids to school).
To the best of your abilities, live with no regrets. This can be done by being more intentional with your choices and thinking through the scenarios, results or negative consequences before actually making a decision. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and address the “why” behind what you want to do, or what you want for yourself. Only through that deep sense of self-awareness will you then be able to make decisions that you can be proud of.
For further reading, check out this article on why having too many options can sometimes paralyze you.