We all have to make decisions in life, and more importantly take responsibility for them.
It’s the big, life changing ones that can be daunting and cause us stress and anxiety. At times we can agonise and procrastinate over them for days or even months.
Should I go for that internal promotion?
Should I take a new job and switch companies?
Should I change career?
Should I leave my partner?
Should I start a relationship with person x?
We seem to be fantastically good at imagining the big, scary consequences of such decisions. We exaggerate the negative implications and then create pictures and movies in our head for how these will play out. And then we repeat them over and over, until they become accepted as fact.
Sometimes it’s not even enough to do this whilst we’re conscious, we even do it in our dreams too!
Have you noticed that we rarely do this for how things could play out positively? Can you even remember a time when you imagined how things would work out for the best, let alone exaggerated and repeated over and over?
Why the hell do we do this?
Fear, self doubt and anxiety tends to get a hold early on, and from there it just completely takes over, distorting everything. Once it does this, it’s hard to snap out of it and get a balanced perspective again.
I wanted to share a simple technique which helps to break down big decisions logically, enabling you to make these big decisions quicker and more confidently.
The best and worst case scenario technique
With most decisions, you have a current situation (lets call it A) and the decision you make, will move you to a new situation (lets call it B).
The first thing to do is simply sit down quietly and make a list of what will happen in both the best and worst case scenario if you actually made the decision and moved to situation B.
Start with the worst case and then do the best case. Take your time and be realistic – particularly with the worst case scenario.
Keep an eye out for exaggerated worst case scenarios. I.e being homeless, having your partner leave you, having your reputation destroyed etc.
With most decisions, none of the above will actually happen. If in some unlikely turn of events it starts to look like they might, I’m betting that you probably have friends and family that would intervene way before they actually happened right?
Lets look at an example. If I went ‘all in’ on a new business project (money and time) and it failed, would I lose my house, have Ella leave me and be the laughing stock of my friends and colleagues?
I doubt it. In fact, it would never happen.
Firstly, I know I could rely on many friends and family to ensure I don’t sleep rough. I know Ella would stick by me and I also know that I have the right types of friends and ex-colleagues who will be supportive of either outcome.
Therefore, the worst case scenario is a bit more like getting into some debt or moving in with friends and family and probably then landing a decent job at a tech company.
That doesn’t seem as bad as being homeless, alone and a laughing stock does it? 😉
Sometimes it just takes sitting down and writing things out logically as a best and worst case scenario to gain a proper perspective.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different and we will all have different options available to us. But that’s the great thing about creating a best and worse case scenario list – it’s your list and your situation.
Ok, so you have your best and worse case scenario lists – now what?
What you’ll normally find is that the worst case scenario feels a hell of lot better than you expected; and the best case scenario gets you pretty damn excited.
Sometimes the worst case scenario can still scare the crap out of you; and the best case scenario doesn’t excite you.
Either way, you can now use these to help guide your decision.
You don’t have to make the decision there and then, often sitting on it for a few days will help. However, with a best and worst case scenario list in front of you, it should now be easier and quicker to make.
Using the best and worst case scenario to mitigate risk
Another big benefit of making a best and worst case scenario list is that you can often mitigate the risks in the worst case scenario.
For example, lets say you are weighing up whether to take an internal promotion. One of the worst case scenarios might be getting dragged into working too many hours and this wrecking your work / life balance.
Now that you have actually thought and anticipated it, you can start to consider how to mitigate it.
For example, one of the things you could do is have a candid discussion with your boss and make it clear what your worry is and also what your expectations and limits are when it comes to working hours.
You may surprise yourself in that you don’t have a problem after all. Or perhaps it’s not quite as bad as you expected and you can agree a compromise which suits everyone.
And even if it is as bad as you thought. At least you know for sure now and can make a better, educated decision.
You’ll find that as you start to list out the worst case scenarios, you automatically start to think about ways to confirm and mitigate them – this is very powerful.
A few tips and pointers
If you’re still struggling with the best and worst case scenarios or the actual decision itself, take a few days out and try not to think about it. Often when you return to the exercise, you’ll find you see things more clearly. It’s amazing how some downtime can clear things up.
If you’re still struggling after that, it can also be useful to get some help from a friend or mentor. Just make sure it’s someone you respect and whose judgement you value.
Walk through the decision you’re faced with, the best and worse case scenarios and what your gut is telling you to do. Have an honest conversation around it.
You should find that your perspective is better afterwards and it helps to steer your decision somewhat.
‘Steer’ being the key word there.
Remember, it’s your decision, not theirs. What you’re looking for is validation on your best and worst case scenarios, a better perspective on the risk involved and ideas for how to mitigate. That way, you will be better positioned to make the decision for yourself.
A last word on decisions
Most decisions are a catalyst for starting a journey and rarely do they impact you in a permanent way. Sometimes you just have to make the call, push forward and adjust if necessary. The best decision makers tend to weigh things up thoroughly, but then assertively make the call and commit.
I wrote a bit about this when I reviewed my favourite book, The Alchemist. Below is an excerpt:
‘Big decisions are simply that – a decision. In themselves, most are unlikely to impact your life in a permanent way or for 5+ years. Instead they are often just a catalyst for starting a journey where many other subsequent decisions will follow. This is well represented in the decisions Santiago has to make along his journey.
At the end of the day it is better to simply be decisive and then if you feel like you are moving down the wrong direction, you can always take the learnings and make another decision to pivot. And in fact normally you find yourself taking a route that was entirely unexpected and would not have been considered if you didn’t make that big decision in the first place. Sometimes you just have to commit and push forward.’
Last, last word
I’m certainly not claiming that making big decisions or dealing with the anxiety around them is easy.
I still find it hard and sometimes fall into the traps above. I still have to fight to push self doubt to the side and to stop those damn horrific movies in my head.
However, I’ve found that the best and worst case scenario technique helps to rationalise things and allows you to move forward quicker and easier.
A good example is recently I have decided to pursue life and business coaching. I felt great about that breakthrough and decision – particularly after a few months of uncertainty.
However, it didn’t take long for self doubt and worst case scenario movies to come knocking. What if I got NO clients – how embarrassing! How would I explain that to a future employer? Will I be judged by my friends and ex-colleagues as a failure? I felt like an imposter for believing people will pay me to help them be more successful! etc. etc.
So, I sat down and laid it out as a best worst case scenario and the actual worst case scenario looked just fine.
Lets imagine it doesn’t work out. I would spend 6 months coaching just a few people (I can’t imagine I would attract zero clients) and the chances are I would help them in some way. I would learn how to be a better coach. My savings would take a hit (no change there – they are currently anyway!). And afterwards, I would then seek another opportunity which takes advantage of my skills (which I am confident I would be able to find). I can even see how I would talk about this period with a new employer in a positive way and the fact that I would be a better coach of people would be a big plus for a future leadership role.
So, in summary I help a few people, become a better coach, my savings get depleted some and I would have to re-channel my efforts elsewhere.
Doesn’t look so bad huh?
But the best case is both awesome and exciting.
I would get both personal and business clients and make a real difference by helping them be more successful. I would be doing meaningful work that I love. I’d be improving my coaching skills. I’d be meeting lots of new people and getting an insight into many different companies. Best of all, I would have found something I love doing, can get paid well for and allows me the balance in life I have been missing for so long.
When you look at it like that, it’s a complete no brainer to commit to situation B (more on this over the next few weeks). The worst case is just fine and the best case has tons of upside.
The next time you’re faced with a big decision, give the best and worst case scenario technique a try for yourself. I think you will find it very useful.
Thanks to Barry Avraam and Jess Ratcliffe for reading drafts of this.
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