[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Do you ever get stuck unable to choose among options? Do you wish you could just go with something and be done with the choice?
I found a couple useful models to help me choose.
Model for choosing 1: my skiing model for choosing
I wrote a few times about this model. Here’s the most comprehensive post on it. Briefly, the model is this: when you ski a slope, the path forks, and you can’t tell which path you’d enjoy more, sometimes you can’t get all the information you’d like before choosing.
In that case, I conclude my best strategy is first to eliminate any options I can, then to make a choice rather than standing in the cold while other people pass me. Then to make the best I can of the choice I made.
I’d rather ski than stand in the cold. And I’d rather take responsibility for the choices in my life than abdicate it. Even if my choice leads me somewhere I didn’t want, if I chose the best I could at the time, I never have reason to regret my choice.
(I also think about this model in terms of surfing, deciding which wave to take. You can never tell how a wave will turn out until you get on it and surf, which means letting go of other options, but if you don’t pick a wave you’re just sitting on a board, bobbing in the water. Once you choose a wave, the best thing you can do is ride it as best you can.)
Model for choosing 2: choosing the one you want isn’t hard; rejecting the others is.
When faced with many options, it’s easy to choose ones you like. The hard part is letting go of the ones you don’t choose.
I also wrote about this model before. English and some other languages show this hard part in the language: the -cide in decide is the same root as in insecticide and homicide. It means cut or kill.
So the hard part of choosing is cutting or killing the options you decline.
When I use these beliefs
I use these beliefs when faced with choices among things that are hard to compare (should I use the money I saved to take classes or to travel for a vacation?) or nearly equal.
These beliefs help me avoid getting stuck analyzing things for too long, help me not regret choices after making them no matter what the outcome, and motivate me to enjoy the choices I’ve made and the responsibility that came with choosing.
What these beliefs replace
These beliefs replace getting stuck choosing forever, over-analyzing and feeling like victim of fate. I remember first starting to develop this perspective in second year of business school, when many of my classmates had multiple job offers. Instead of choosing one and getting ahead, they went back and forth between choices, living in limbo when they could have been laying down foundations for where they would work.
Where they lead
These beliefs lead to taking charge of your life through taking responsibility for your choices and relaxation that even with important decisions, it isn’t that hard to accept you have to choose with less information than you want.
So when I have to pick between two job offers, or I have to pick one entrée from the menu, or can’t figure out which party to go to on a Saturday night, I ask myself
Do I want to stand in the cold watching others enjoying skiing or do I want to ski myself?
Of course, I still remember I can still wait. I just remember the cost of not choosing.
Once I’ve chosen, if I learn something that changes what choice I would have made I remind myself
I didn’t know that when I had to choose. I still made the best choice I could have at the time.
Finally, once I’ve chosen and I think about what I might have done or wonder what I can do, I think
The best thing I can do on this slope is to ski it as best I possibly can, get as much out of it as I can, and enjoy life as much as I can.
Then I do.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book