Last year I participated in a 12-month coaching training program, and here’s the most interesting thing I learned: The key to making better life and business decisions is actually pretty simple—you need to ask yourself better questions.
When you live a super fast-paced life, it’s easy to be consumed with inventing and creating and doing stuff all the time. Because of that, when it comes to working, you’re efficient and streamlined, and your productivity is through the roof. But you know what you (and the rest of us humans) typically aren’t so great at? Noodling. Marinating. Pondering.
And that’s an important skill when it comes to big life decisions. In order to make smart, informed choices, you need to be able to logically think and emotionally feel through your options from several different angles before actually deciding.
If you’re on the cusp of making a big decision—like whether to accept a job you’ve been offered or introduce a new product to the market—here are eight factors you can use to help you evaluate your options, inspired by Tony Stoltzfus’ book, Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills.
First, run this decision through the rational, analytical part of your brain. Make a list of the pros and cons of your options. If you’re making a decision about whether to take a new job, for example, you might list “more money” as a pro and “less time at home” as a con.
When you find yourself wavering between multiple options, your intuition is one of your most powerful decision-making tools. To hone in on your gut feeling, stop for a moment and don’t think about anything else. Simply sit in a quiet place for a few minutes and reflect on the decision. What feelings bubble up? Happy ones? Or the heebie-jeebies?
Whether you’re married or single, have kids or don’t have kids, live by yourself or with six roommates, your decisions affect the people closest to you. To help you weigh the decision you’re about to make, think about how the decision would affect those around you.
For example, would the new job mean less time at home with your partner? Or would it mean your husband could quit his job because of the pay increase?
You want any decision you make to be aligned with your passions, values, and priorities—or I guarantee it’s not going to feel like you made the right choice. But before you can figure out if the decision is in alignment with the things that mean the most to you, you first need to get clear about what those passions, values, and priorities are. Then, make a list of all the ways your decision aligns (or doesn’t align) with them.
You’re clear about how your decision will affect other people in your life. But what do those same people think about how the decision you’re about to make will affect you? Talk to your partner, family, friends, colleagues, and mentors about your options. What do they think?
6. Negative Drivers
A lot of times, people make decisions based on fear. Maybe you’re afraid you’re not ever going to find a job you’re really thrilled about, so you take the one you feel less passionate about because you already have the job offer in hand—it’s a sure thing. Or, maybe you’re afraid no one is going to sign up for your company’s first conference, so you postpone it a year.
What fears are playing into your decision? You don’t have to solve for them all right now, but understanding how your fears are affecting your decisions will help you evaluate your options more objectively.
While money may not be the ultimate driver in many decisions, it’s an important factor to consider. How does your decision affect your finances? What resources will you need to execute on your decision? What would this decision cost in terms of time?
For example, if you’re the founder of a business and you’re deciding whether or not to introduce a new product to the marketplace, how much would it cost to build the product? Would you need to hire a team of one or 10? How much of your own time would you need to devote to successfully getting the product built and out into the world?
8. Risk and Reward
Finally, think about the risks associated with your options. What’s the safest decision? What’s the riskiest one? Are there any steps you could take to minimize the risk of that option? And then, on the other side, what are the potential rewards of each option? Sometimes the extra risk is worth the reward.
It’s really hard to slow down when you’re used to doing things at a million miles an hour. To make sure you actually give yourself the space to work through your options with these considerations, I suggest giving yourself a deadline to make your decision by. That way, the nagging part of your brain—and anyone waiting on your decision, like a potential employer—will know there’s a decision date in sight, giving yourself the time to explore your options and pick the best, truest one.